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Painting the Path to Business School

Rachel-EberhardThe idea of going back to school for my MBA was rolling around in my head for quite some time, and my journey officially started after I attended a Forté Forum in August 2012. I took a shotgun approach to gathering my information and grabbed every brochure and fact sheet available from every school in attendance. I honestly had no idea where to begin in evaluating the various programs!

After spending a weekend sifting through the mountain of glossy pamphlets, I felt little reassurance that I knew exactly what I wanted to get out of business school. It wasn’t until I received an email from Forté in November 2012 announcing a new pilot program they were launching for women interesting in getting their MBA called MBALaunch that I decided to take a leap of faith that the pieces would start to fall into place and I would be able to set clear intentions about applying to business school.

Starting the Path to Business School

The MBALaunch Program application process was fairly simple, although it required me to reflect on the whys, which were still quite fuzzy and difficult for me to convey clearly in writing. Despite my uneasiness, I joined the ranks of 150 other young female professionals across Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New York City who were aiming to submit at least one business school application in Fall 2013.

The kickoff for the D.C. group was held at the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), a nonprofit which develops the GMAT. It was so energizing to hear from their representatives as well as other women alumnae who found their MBA experience invaluable. We were also able to meet the members of our peer group, which consisted of four to five other program participants who lived in nearby neighborhoods.

Throughout the kickoff program, it became apparent that we were all in the same boat: similar professional backgrounds (all consultants), a variety of extracurricular activities on the side (community service & personal hobbies), and the desire to piece together our b-school admissions puzzle. Participants also received the contact information for an advisor, who is a recent graduate from a Forté partner school (my advisor is a graduate from UVA Darden). They would help provide a more personal sense of feedback and guidance throughout the ten month duration of the program.

The MBALaunch Program Structure

Following the kickoff event, we were free to dive into the official curriculum. From February until October, we were responsible for attending a webinar, completing homework, and meeting with our peer group and advisor. The homework was never formally collected, but it provided a great benchmark that ensured you were making progress on your applications.

The webinars were also extremely helpful and informative. Several MBA experts were brought in to discuss a range of topics, from reworking your resume to laying the groundwork for your essays and personal statements. Each week, you were able to focus on one component of the curriculum, which made it easy to balance with work and personal commitments.

Women Encouraging Women

I never felt overwhelmed or behind on my progress when I met with my peer group and advisor, although I hit a rough patch in late spring and early summer that delayed a lot of my GMAT prep. The good news is that MBALaunch ensures that you’re working on your admissions materials well in advance than other individuals outside of the program (ten whole months, woo!), and this helps accommodate any lengthy vacations or bumps in the road.

Every time I felt derailed or distracted from the process, our peer group would meet for brunch or dinner and provide the encouragement that I needed to get back on track. I found that I relied more on my peer group than my family and friends to provide the necessary pep talk and advice when I felt stuck!

The Journey is Just Beginning

Now that I’m closing out the final months of MBALaunch, I’m absolutely amazed at how much ground I’ve covered in less than a year’s time. I’m not necessarily referring to the essays and data sufficiency problems, but more to the self-awareness and clarity of personal goals that slowly took shape throughout the program.

I view the introspection process more like a painting: I came into the MBALaunch program able to draw the broad brushstrokes of what I wanted my b-school experience to look like, and as I moved through the program, I was able to provide more color or other details that distinguished my painting from those of my peer group. The personal growth component of business school is something that a lot of the alumnae mentioned at the kickoff event, and I definitely experienced a taste of it while progressing through MBALaunch.

After experiencing periods of time where I felt indecisive and wavered back and forth about applying to b-school, I would strongly encourage those women who are on the fence to take the time to consider the MBALaunch program. Surrounding yourself with others who are going through the same process will help encourage you to make the leap, and the introspective curriculum will help your path become clearer (regardless if it leads you towards an MBA or not).

Throughout the past ten months, it’s been incredibly helpful to meet other bright women who help guide you through the application process and provide support. I have no doubt that the connections I’ve made with my D.C. cohort as well as other MBA alumnae will last through b-school and beyond!

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