Columbia Alumnus & Real Estate Developer speaks on #StudyAbroad
Updated: Sep 17
Follow Guest Speaker Series on Nirali Advisory to stay updated for similar interviews.
Under Grad: Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI) - Civil Engineering
Post Grad: Columbia University - Master in Construction Engineering Management
Current Role – Real Estate Developer at Nawany Group
" More than the Columbia experience I think the New York experience makes it much easier to move on to the next phase after education."
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your Educational and Professional Background? Which college, company and role did you work in to get you where you are today?
Post that I did my Masters at Columbia University in Civil Engineering specializing in Construction Engineering Management. It’s a course that can be completed in 1-1.5 years depending on the credits you opt for.
Post graduation, I worked AECOM, which is one of the largest Infrastructure Engineering Consulting Firms in the world. I worked there as Deputy Project Manager for two and a half years. My role included working with and assisting Project Managers and helping them with Project Controls which includes Managing and tracking Construction Projects by analyzing at the schedule and cost implications and building dashboards. Currently, I am a Real Estate Developer working with the Family Business with the Nawany Group. We do Construction of industrial buildings and warehouses. We also have a Logistics vertical which transports construction material like cement and fly-ash. That's been my journey since college, post-grad, and my work experience as well.
2. What was your undergraduate Major? What prompted you towards it?
I did Civil Engineering. I was always into Science and I wanted to study more in that field. Considering my family had a construction background, I had a natural inclination towards construction. So Civil Engineering was definitely on my mind. And I definitely enjoyed studying the technical parts of it. But over time now, I have moved towards more Management aspects of Construction Projects, which is what I currently do.
3. When and why did you decide to study abroad?
So initially I was applying for MBA colleges in India, but at the same time, I also began applying for Master's Programs in the US. In 2014 I started my application process and I ended up going to New York in the Fall of 2015. It was definitely a great decision because it does teach you a lot. It makes you independent. It makes you change your point of view of the world and also work on yourself in more ways than one.
4. Did you receive a scholarship? Do you recommend any good org/institutions that provide for scholarships or financial aid?
At Columbia, I didn't receive any scholarship, but I did research on some Scholarships with places like the Tata Group and others. So I would definitely recommend doing some research around scholarships and applying for all of them and like choosing on the basis of that too.
5. Is it worth taking a loan to study abroad? How does one measure one’s ROI?
I did end up taking out a loan with HDFC Credila. I think it is worth it because even though you can fund your program a little bit by yourself, a loan make things more convenient in terms of the initial tuition or living expenses. Because once you do actually start earning, especially in major cities like Chicago, New York, Boston, it becomes easier to start repaying the loan if you are managing your money well and you have savings. So if there is a financial difficulty and I think a loan makes sense, if you get a good job and can start saving and repaying the loan or sending money back.
6. Why did you choose that particular university/college for your studies abroad? What was the process you went through while choosing the university/college?
I applied for two kinds of courses one was Masters in Construction Management and one is Masters in Engineering Management. I selected universities based on safe, medium or opportunistic profiles. I got into North-Western University and Columbia University.
For me Columbia made sense because of it's affinity to New York City. The course is a practical course and it becomes easy to get a job if you are in a major city. This is because professors and networking events make it much easier to actually connect with people in person. In the US networking is important so networking, events, LinkedIn connections, actually being there and going for interviews makes it much easier to get a job and of course New York has the network. More than the Columbia experience I think the New York experience makes it much easier to move on to the next phase after education.
7. Any particular advice you would like to give for the application process from SOP Writing to Academic GPA to Other things which you thought were important that helped you get in?
Advice for SOP would be being original and doing some thinking for how you want to put your story across. Since everyone does have a story, how you project is what actually matters a lot. Of course GPA and other scores also matters, but a lot of it is about the story and how you are interested in the subject, the course and the particular university.
8. Were you satisfied with your choice of university? What is your most and least favorite thing about the university experience?
Columbia for the most parts because of the network it brought. Some of the courses in the Business School that I had an option to pick were really good. But from an Engineering stand point some courses were great but some courses weren’t as good. So, it was a mixed bag. Plus even though there is a lot of value to be in New York City, I do think a college town experience shapes a University Life Experience much better than a City College Experience. So from a College Life stand point, it was very practical and very fast paced. More so get a job immediately and apply, and it was very practical in that sense. So the University life as such wasn’t as satisfying as it would probably be in a college town but at the same time the pros are that you get to connect with people and find a job much more easily.
9. How is the Indian fraternity over there? How is the overall campus diversity?
The campus is definitely diverse. It was harder to connect with people initially but there was definitely an Indian fraternity, there were Indian events. I think for Master’s program it’s harder to meet people but there was definitely an atmosphere and socials where you could connect and meet people.
10. Tell us something about the faculty and resources which were there on campus
Some of the courses were very interesting. There was also a Guest Lecturer in Real Estate Development. So that gave me a lot of practical experience. The faculty definitely helped with Letter of Recommendations (LOR) and in finding a job. In fact, my job also was through faculty recommendation which was great for my career.
11. Tell us about your journey from the first semester to the last both academically and non-academically? What was campus life like? What were extracurricular activities on campus?
Extracurricular activities included events, games like basketball or football. They also had a good orientation, and there were lots of socials, fresher events and also Halloween parties. The University definitely did its bit to be more inclusive
12. What did you learn and what were your most dear experiences? Any suggestions or recommendations for freshers starting out?
I learnt to be independent, to be able to solve problems for myself. I think when you live in another country you have an ‘immigrant mindset’ that makes you actually push yourself to do better. There is also that inherent pressure to get a job and persevere. So I think overall that teaches you a lot. Additionally New York as a city challenges you in more ways than one. For example finding an apartment, going through that whole process of negotiating, finding a new job, the whole interview process etc. All these experiences are very fulfilling which make you independent and gives you the confidence to keep going forward.
13. How is the quality of education compared to Indian institutes? How did you manage to cope?
I feel as Indians, from a technical stand point, especially engineers, we are definitely quite well prepared. So I didn’t think the education was very difficult. Of course, there was some level of work to be put in, but overall I didn’t think I was stretched in any way for my resources. The US education definitely had a more practical approach, where there were case studies. There was learning in a very different way than we do in India. I liked this because it give an overview of ‘how to think’ more than ‘just studying notes or technical stuff.’
14. What were the career opportunities available? How does one manage to grab them?
There were definitely career opportunities there. I eventually ended up getting almost four jobs that converted for interviews. At the time, a lot of professors helped me. So there were definitely opportunities. It's just that it's a long, drawn process. You need to keep consistently pushing, keep talking to people on LinkedIn, doing informational interviews, presenting yourself in the best way, going for career fairs, pushing and actually getting what you want instead of just passively applying. I think once you do that, you definitely can get a job and get an opportunity. It is just you need to keep trying for that.
15. Tell us a little bit about your current job profile and work.
In my own profile, I work as an Operations Director with our family business Nawany Group. We are a Real Estate Development Firm. We build Industrial Buildings and Warehouses. I've been back in India for almost two years, and I've been working with them and understanding the processes and systems that are currently in place and also trying to improve on them. I am also looking at Project Management of one of our construction projects. So looking at approvals, understanding the technical aspects, and talking to consultants, lawyers, land aggregation and things like that.
16. Any other suggestions or pieces of advice you would like to give students who are starting out the study abroad process?
My suggestion would be to be patient, apply to all the universities that you think you can get in. And with time, as humans, I think we adapt. You adapt even to a different culture and that transition happens and you're settling in the new country. And it's a difficult but also fulfilling process, which definitely takes its own course of time. And I also recommend being patient applying, focusing on your story, focusing on your S.O.P, on your GRE scores etc. Just get the right resources and going for it.
17. Tell us a little bit about being a Columbia Alum?
Since I've been back up and I've been in the Columbia Mumbai Club of Alumni. It is actually very, very active. We have over 200 people here. And we have a Whats App group, a Facebook group, and there are regular events. There are many social and networking events. I've been going to these events and it's definitely a very active community in Bombay. It is really great to have like-minded people in the same city where you can learn and grow with.
We hope that you have found this interview insightful. Do let us know how in the comments section below!