In the MBA Admissions Clinic, the Fortuna Admissions team of former admissions directors and associates from Wharton, INSEAD, HBS, Chicago Booth, UC Berkeley Haas, IE, NYU Stern and London Business School evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of MBA applicants and provide advice for improving the chances of getting in. The profiles are based on real people, although details have been changed to protect their identities.
Francesca has always thrown herself into projects with great energy and passion, but can she convince Haas and Stanford that she can make a real impact, and also handle the quant side of the MBA?
Francesca, 27, is a product manager at First Solar, a publicly traded renewable energy company in Arizona. She has an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Wellesley College with a 3.42 GPA. During undergrad she started a non-profit to make it easier to recycle phones, laptops and other electronics. Her 730 GMAT score places her in the 98th percentile on the verbal section and 68th percentile on the quantitative section.
She plans to apply to UC Berkeley Haas and Stanford.
Why an MBA?
A series of job cuts earlier this year has made her feel that she needs to expand her horizons, and would be interested to switch towards a role in private equity or a start-up where she has more say in the running of the company.
Francesca has made solid progress at First Solar, moving her way up from an analyst position to now lead a team of eight people. She spent four months on assignment in Malaysia, and loved working with an international team.
Now five years into her career, she realizes the value of mastering the finances that underpin so many of the strategic decisions made by the company.
A friend working in private equity has encouraged her to consider doing an MBA to switch to this lucrative career, but Francesca is not convinced. She recognizes that she has no former banking or consulting experience, and feels that she would be more motivated working in a start-up environment where she hopes to continue with her passion for renewable energy.
Francesca is drawn to UC Berkeley Haas and its focus on clean tech, but attended a seminar organized by Stanford’s Institute for Energy which convinced her of the school’s relevance in the field. One of her colleagues has also pointed her towards UT Austin.
She will approach her immediate boss for a recommendation, but is unsure who else to approach.
The recycling association started at college still exists, now present at more than thirty institutions on the east coast, though with her move to Arizona Francesca now limits her involvement to an advisory position.
Francesca has a solid academic record from a school with a great reputation for producing thoughtful and engaged citizens. She has been at the same company since she graduated, and her career progress is strong with numerous examples of her team ethics. She has continued to play a recruitment role for Wellesley, and has been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters since she moved to Arizona.
Her boss is not familiar with the world of business schools, but she can count on him for a strongly supportive letter that singles out the reasons for her selection to work on assignment in southeast Asia.
While her overall GMAT score is actually above the 717 average at Haas, the lack of quant courses on her undergrad transcript, coupled with her 68th percentile on the GMAT quant section, means that she needs to demonstrate her comfort level with numbers.
First, Francesca will need to show that she’s got the quant skills to handle areas of the core MBA curriculum. While Haas is not as unapologetically quant focused as the likes of Wharton, Booth and Sloan, the selectivity at the school has seen quant scores for admitted Haas students rising steadily over the last few years to around the 85th percentile.
If Francesca struggles to push her GMAT quant score much higher at the second attempt she could sign up for a course in finance, accounting or statistics from a reputable class or online provider. She should also see if she can assume a new project or responsibility at work that has a strong analytical focus. In addition to providing the school with an academic record of her quant abilities, this also shows a level of self-awareness and determination, and could be a point of discussion for her boss to include in his recommendations and in her interviews.
The path to private equity is highly selective, and though Stanford is one of the strongest feeder schools into the industry, there is little in Francesca’s background that would make her stand out. The GSB admissions office will be aware of this, so we recommend that she takes the time to reflect on both her short-term and long-term career goals to develop a more achievable and coherent career narrative.
Francesca should consider using her Wellesley network to reach out to alumni who attended b-schools that she is interested in, as well as find others in renewable energy or a similar field where she can leverage her knowledge base from her current job.
Haas is looking to develop responsible and innovative leaders, so whether running a company, joining a startup, or contributing to a non-profit, they will want to see evidence from Francesca’s past of why she is well cut out for such a role. Her recommenders can go a long way to reinforce these qualities, and she should spend time with them to make sure they understand how best to address them through specific examples. Alongside the letter from her boss, she could look to her non-profit work for an endorsement of her level of commitment and ability to make a difference.
Haas is very clear about the four principles that define and differentiate the school: question the status quo, confidence without attitude, student always, and beyond yourself – the idea of ethical responsibility in our decisions and actions. Francesca has great examples to draw upon in her essays and resume, and should take the time to reflect on what she can bring to the diversity and perspectives of the MBA classroom.
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