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MBA Admissions Clinic: The Back Office Banker

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.

Darsana has been on the fast-track at UBS for 5 years. She feels, however, that she has learned all she can in a non-revenue generating role and wants to make the switch to front office finance. Will top finance schools Columbia Business School, NYU Stern and London Business School think she has the necessary skills and drive to make this difficult transition, particularly when competition is so strong?

 The Applicant

Darsana, 27, grew up in India and studied at National University of Singapore, where she majored in Technology and Finance with a 3.4 GPA. She is an Assistant Vice President at UBS and recently relocated from Singapore to London. Her 730 GMAT score places her slightly above the average of the schools she’s applying to. Outside of work, Darsana is an accomplished pianist and enjoys mentoring underprivileged children. She also likes the occasional dabble in the stock market.

Why an MBA?

Darsana is seeking a new professional challenge and, with a passion for finance, she is looking to switch from her technology-focused role to a core banking role where she can have a direct impact on the bottom line. She needs an MBA from a school with a strong finance curriculum to do this.

The Background

Darsana has been with UBS for three years, after a two-year stint at Barclays Capital as a technical analyst. She has climbed from her entry role to her current role of Assistant Vice President quicker than most. She has worked predominantly in Singapore but is currently based in London, managing the operations of the IT Operating Model Strategy & Execution team. Darsana is hoping to join an Associate program in investment banking after graduating from her MBA.

She is looking for a top finance school that is located in a financial hub, so will be applying to London Business School, NYU Stern and Columbia – all highly reputed business schools with strong finance curriculums, and of course, based in the two major financial centres of the world – London and New York. With London experience already under her belt, she is lured by New York but is also drawn to the international nature of LBS. She is keen on the accelerated graduation options that both LBS and Columbia offer. She has been speaking to management within UBS and has been able to secure a pre-MBA internship in their investment banking division in Singapore.

The Assessment

Darsana has solid academic credentials from a good university and is progressing very well in her career at a strongly branded, multinational company. She has led some complex and interesting projects that have allowed her to demonstrate her leadership and team skills, and has had solid international stints in both Singapore and the UK. Her GMAT score is competitive for her target schools (NYU Stern – 723, CBS – 716, LBS – 700), and importantly for such strong finance schools her quant score puts her in the 88th percentile. Her current and previous manager are both very supportive of her decision to switch to front-office banking via an MBA and will be able to provide glowing references. However, moving from back-office to front office finance is a very popular career switch via an MBA, but not an especially easy one. Darsana will need to work hard to convince the schools that she has the necessary skills, drive, and passion for finance to excel in this area.

The Recommendation

Darsana will need to provide solid reasoning and concrete examples from her previous experience that showcase she has what it takes. She will need to demonstrate her depth of understanding of how each school will help her achieve her goals through particular electives and concentrations she hopes to take, or faculty members she is excited to learn from, the relevant clubs and networks she has identified, and any other practical elements of the curriculum and overall MBA experience that she hopes to take advantage of. She will also need to show she has something unique and special to bring to the class; we advise she highlights her solid international experiences and the various leadership opportunities she has had managing some highly complex projects with international teams.

Darsana should take the time to speak with her chosen recommenders, helping them decide how best to highlight her strengths and being sure to include areas that compliment both her future career and her b-school applications, such as team and leadership abilities, relationship building skills, an analytical and innovative mind, and a strong level of resilience and determination to succeed. It will be very beneficial for Darsana to mention her support from UBS’s Management as it will demonstrate their belief that she can succeed as an investment banker.

With finance often synonymous (rightly or wrongly) with individuals with a highly competitive nature, you might think these schools would be seeking highly competitive candidates, but in reality all three schools are looking for well-balanced individuals who have a collaborative, team-minded spirit, in addition to a competitive spark. It will be essential, therefore, for Darsana to demonstrate her team ethic throughout each application, and not to come across as overly confident or competitive.

As with most b-schools, LBS, CBS and NYU are also looking for people who have done a thorough amount of research into their fit with the school and who will be fully engaged in the community. In fact, all three schools include an essay question on something relating to how you will add value to the community, or why you think you are a strong fit. Columbia in particular makes a point of the advantage of studying in New York, so she will want to think carefully about why Manhattan is her ideal destination for business school.

While Darsana has been doing some research via her existing networks, this is a high investment decision, so we recommend she visits each of the schools to really get to know them and be able to fully demonstrate her level of commitment and understanding. Like many others, these schools will check their database to see the level of interaction an applicant has initiated – info sessions, webinars – and though a campus visit is not mandatory for international applicants, this is a great way for Darsana to speak with real authority about her impressions of each school. It would also be advisable to start making connections with some of the student clubs she is interested in joining, notably around finance.

Finally, Darsana should make sure her personality shines throughout the application. Her interests and passions outside of work, including competitive piano playing, mentoring underprivileged children, and her growing interest in trading on the stock market, will help her achieve this, but it would be good to identify other activities that further demonstrate her team skills.

Can you get in to a top b-school? To be considered for analysis of your MBA application profile, post your profile and b-school ambitions below and the Fortuna Admissions team will provide their assessment and recommendations.

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