Participating in the first ever Forté MBALaunch for Women program was kind of like watching my favorite show, Scandal: you start out not knowing what to expect, and before you know it you’re eagerly anticipating each week’s episode, glued to your TV. After the kick-off event where I met 20 other aspiring women in the Chicagoland area with goals similar to mine, I was attached to these women and the program every week — always eager for the next webinar or peer group meeting. As the 2013 program comes to a close, I’d like to share a few highlights and insights I’ve acquired from the program as a participant and ambassador of the inaugural class. Be Yourself and You’ll Always be in Fashion. During our very first webinar, Angela Guido shared that when it comes to business school applications and life in general, being authentic is what really makes you stand out. I admit, I was once a member of the “satisfy the Admission Committee first, be my true self second” club. Two words: epic fail. It’s just like the girl who pretends to be someone she isn’t in order to snag a guy. Sooner than later her true personality will surface, and the relationship may crumble. Morale of the story? Be you, from the very start. The same goes for business school. Angela gave us an assignment to think a little deeper when answering essay questions. She asked “What do you most value?” Initially our responses were very similar variations of: “family, friends, growth,” etc. But then she told us to explain why. At that point our answers became authentic and unique to each individual. The funny thing is, being your true self requires minimal effort, but brings substantial results. I learned that the hard way. Fortunately, thanks to Angela and MBALaunch, I have learned a life lesson that will be useful forever. Fours Eyes are Better than Two. My initial meeting with my MBALaunch advisor ended in GMAT studying techniques and advice. I have experienced my fair share of unrequited love with the GMAT. Surprisingly, he hasn’t been playing hard to get with only me! I’ve met numerous people in the program who have had GMAT struggles. That being said, my advisor gave me a great study technique for tackling the GMAT. Whether you’re just beginning or very familiar with the GMAT, the power of others can go a long way. Try taking a practice exam with another person or a small group. Go through each question side by side, untimed. This is an awesome technique because it will teach you the tactics and thought process of others, in turn enhancing your own logic and reasoning. Your skills are also being strengthened each time you explain your own tactics and techniques. I tried this with a friend of mine. My score on the next practice exam I took alone increased by 70 points. We all have our own studying techniques, but this is one that I highly recommend that everyone try. All parties involved benefit because everyone brings something different to the table: their perspective. Save Now... and Later. For those of you intending to enroll in business school in 2015 and onward - you are ahead of the game. Use the additional time to start saving now. Better yet start living like a student again. I’m not saying you should go back to the days of Ramen noodles, but the benefit of saving and investing sooner than later also applies to business school, not just your 401k. During one of our webinars, it was mentioned to start a school savings account now. Also, if you don’t have a budget already, make one. Balance your budget first and then trim it to create room for monthly savings--and stick to it! I know it’s easier said than done, but think of something you’ve put effort and dedication towards. Whether that’s training for a marathon, working long hours on a project for work or burning the midnight oil studying for the GMAT, serious dedication is required. Your finances deserve the same attention so that you can be in a good place financially while in business school. Start talking to alumni and current students now to estimate business school expenses. Most schools provide the breakdown for living costs on their website, but actually speaking with those balancing costs on a day to day basis can be invaluable to estimating your budget. Utilize the resources around you. Most students are eager and willing to help any way they can. Overall, the Forté MBALaunch for Women program has been nothing but beneficial, not only to myself, but also to other participants. I’ve learned so many things that will be helpful in the application process and life in general, and my network has expanded tenfold with some amazing women. The program may be coming to an end, but the relationships I’ve built with my fellow Forte members and the incredible experiences I’ve had are forever.