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Advice For Diverse Women To Maximize Your MBA

When Danielle Hunt – a Bahamas native – graduated with a BBA from Western University in Ontario, she headed back south for the warm weather. After spending a year working at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and studying Spanish in Costa Rica, she moved to Atlanta to work for Scottdale Early Learning, an early care and education organization for preschool children. She began as a special projects assistant and, within six years, had become the Director of Finance and Operations.

Danielle attributes her drive and passion to her parents, Jamaican immigrants who taught her and her siblings about “the importance of an education, a rock-solid work ethic, and even more, to be curious and want the most out of life.” A current MBA at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, Danielle shared some thoughts about why she chose to go to business school; what organizations helped her on her journey; and her advice to other minority women who are considering an MBA and business career path.

Why did you decide to attend business school?

As a business undergraduate, I knew the endless opportunities that an MBA would open. The right time to pursue it came when I realized my passion for strategy and entrepreneurship. I researched career opportunities using these skills and, through this process, I discovered brand management. I would not be able to transition into this career without an MBA. Unlike many advanced degrees, an MBA is one of the only degrees that allows one to switch his or her career drastically and work in international markets, both of which interest me.

Who had the biggest influence on your decision to pursue an MBA?

My mother was most instrumental. As an undergraduate student, I wanted to pursue a degree in chemistry, but she convinced me that I should take a business class because as a young adult I had summer businesses and enjoyed it. This one decision snowballed, and I ended up applying to attend the business school at my university. A few years after graduating, my mother reminded me of my potential and encouraged me that it was never too early to start studying for my GMAT. She deserves a part of my diploma when I receive it next May.

Once you decided on business school, how did you establish your approach?

Once I decided on business school, I knew I had to do online research as I was not sure how the process exactly worked, other than having to take the GMAT. I divided my approach into two buckets – getting an acceptable GMAT score and understanding different programs to know which ones met my needs – and then tackled it by creating small tasks to accomplish each. Throughout the process, I also conferred with school representatives and friends of friends who had received their MBAs.

How has the Forté Foundation helped you in your journey to b-school?

Prior to starting the MBA process, I was a member of Forté Foundation and would participate in their webinars on professional development and different career paths and enjoyed learning how experiences can be different even for those who were in similar functions.

Around the time that I decided I wanted to pursue my MBA, I received an email about the Forté MBALaunch program and knew it would help me get into business school. Throughout the process, the women who work for Forté gave me advice during times that I wanted to give up. Moreover, this program gave me a mentor who recently graduated and helped me decide next steps when I got accepted. The most valuable for me was the community I formed with other women in my city who were also in the program. It was extremely comforting to have a support system of like-minded women who understood what I was going through and who I could call on not only during the process, but also once I was accepted and started school.

I also attended Forté Foundation MBA fairs during my MBA application process and connected with many schools to prepare myself to be the best candidate possible. Forté is an amazing organization (and they didn’t pay me to say that!).

What, if any, other organizations did you work with or tap into to help you along your journey?

The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM) also helped me along with my journey. I expanded my support network with other MBA minority candidates and continued to speak with more Admission Directors. I also used the common application that allowed me to apply to more than one school in less time, but in a more cost-efficient way.

Were there challenges you faced as an African American or Hispanic candidate?

I do not think that I faced more challenges throughout the application process because I was an African American candidate. Many of my family members have pursued a higher education and, therefore, I was able to use my network to find someone who could confidentially help me navigate the MBA application process. However, many African American and Hispanic candidates do not have the network to assist them with the process and do not know where to start and/or have the resources to help pay for the MBA experience.

What has been the most rewarding part of your b-school journey (in-school or post grad)?

Working with like-minded students invested in paying it forward for other minorities to have similar opportunities. This year, I was part of a focus group that pushed for hiring an Associate Director of Diversity and Inclusion. Also – two other students and I were able to get approval by the MBA Office to extend this Fall’s Diversity Preview day to a two-day event so that we can provide underrepresented minorities with the tools and information they need to apply and get accepted into top programs like Kelley.

What have you learned that you wished you’d known earlier? 

It is important to ask the right questions about companies that are hiring on-campus so that you know what to fully expect. Just because a company is listed as hiring on-campus does not mean that it hires at your school for the function that you are interested in. There are many companies that may come to a school for one function and not hire for another – for instance, hiring for a marketing intern, but not for a supply chain intern even though they do have internships available for both functions.

What advice would you give other minorities who are interested in an MBA?

It is easy to not apply if you do not know how to pay for it, but you could get a fellowship or Graduate Assistantship. So apply! One of the best decisions that you can make is to pursue your MBA. There are many programs – for example, Management Leadership for Tomorrow, The Riordan Programs, Toigo Foundation, Forté Foundation, and the CGSM – that can help you through the MBA application process and beyond.

Throughout the process, reach out to current students and alumnae of schools you are interested in so that you can find out how it is to be a minority in those programs. It is important to feel comfortable and enjoy the school that you attend as you are spending two years to grow as an individual and expand your network. Your school will help you get your first job, but it is your network that will provide you with the majority of your career opportunities. If you can, attend Diversity/Minority weekends hosted by schools – most of them you have to apply, but once accepted, the only cost you usually have to pay is transportation to the school.

Once you get into school, know that there will be a small minority of people who will think that you only got to where you are today because the school needed to increase its minority numbers. However, do not let anyone make you feel that you are not as qualified as them; schools only accept people who they know will succeed. The worst thing to do is to hermit yourself. Speak up and contribute in class so that people will respect you for what you bring to the table. It also is easy to hang with people who are most like you, however, we live in a global society and it is important to become friends with classmates who are different than you. Business school is a perfect, safe place to learn about other cultures and teach others about yours – use it to your advantage.

And most importantly, be proud of your accomplishments and pay it forward!

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