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2008 Forté Forum

The MBA: Is it Right for You?

2008 Forté Forum“An MBA can transform your skill set, give you flexibility, and help determine what success means to you,” explained Elissa Ellis Sangster, Executive Director of the Forté Foundation, which recently hosted a forum for women called The MBA Value Proposition.

The sold-out event at Deutsche Bank in New York City had a record 700 sign-ups and 35 exhibitors, providing a vibrant environment for women to explore the advantages and challenges of the business school experience.

The forum, one of 10 such events Forté is hosting around the U.S. and in London, consisted of two panel discussions and an open exhibit hall. Esther Choy of the University of Chicago told women visiting her booth that deciding to apply to business school should be highly “introspective” process. “It’s not a small investment,” she said. “You need to know who you are and have an idea of what you want to do with an MBA.”

Introspection emerged as a key theme of the event’s first panel discussion, featuring four business school alumnae. Moderator Cathy Frierson, Managing Director of Human Resources at GE Financial Services, began by asking the women how important the MBA has been to their lives and careers. The answer was unanimous: Business school is transformational.

“It fast-forwarded my career and taught me management skills I use on a daily basis,” said Heather Espinosa, a 1997 graduate of the Tuck School at Dartmouth. Darys Estrella, a 2002 graduate of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, agreed: “An MBA gives you the tools and confidence you need to do anything—from speaking to negotiating to performing any job in any industry.”

The alumnae also openly addressed the issue of work/life balance, acknowledging that it is an ongoing challenge. The good news is that an MBA can help. According to Dan Bauer of The MBA Exchange, an admissions consulting firm exhibiting at the event, “An MBA creates more options for women. By attending business school you will be well-armed with a strong skill set and an extensive network of women and men in a wide variety of industries and functions who can help and support you.”

Another key theme involved the diversity of backgrounds that can lead to an MBA. With résumés ranging from a BA in comparative literature (“I was panicked and overwhelmed at the beginning of business school!” admitted Binder-Le Pape) to a Wall Street banking career and two children (“My husband stayed home with the kids during my MBA program,” shared Estrella), the women showed how an MBA can fit into a variety of interests, career plans, and life stages.

This encouraging panel of women led naturally to the MBA Forum’s second panel topic: Once you decide you want to go, how do you get in?

To help, Forté assembled a group of business school admissions experts, and they emphasized one point above all: Admissions officers view every application “holistically,” equally considering GMAT scores, undergraduate grades, essays, recommendations, and interviews. Karen Maccaro, Associate Dean of the Babson Graduate School of Business, characterized applying to business school as “the creation of your story,” which should include each of those elements.

Carleen Kerttula of University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management reminded potential applicants that their stories also must include an understanding of the strengths of the particular school they want to attend and demonstrate why they are a good fit. Jennifer Kaplan of NYU added that applicants “must show the ability to handle some level of quantitative work.” For those lacking in such skills, she recommended taking an accounting or calculus class at a community college before applying.

Finally, the MBA admissions officers brought the discussion back to the theme of introspection. “The key is self-awareness,” summarized Eric Chambers of the Graduate Management Admission Council. “Describe what you’ve done and want to do, and more importantly, why. Why an MBA? Why now? Why our school? Why that career?”

It appears that women are having increasing success answering these questions. According to Elissa Ellis Sangster, for the first time in 15 years the number of women in business schools has risen significantly—up a full two percent from 2005 to 2006. Thanks to the Forté Foundation and its supporters, this upward trend is sure to continue.

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