My MBA journey begins with school visits and Forte

Yasss! A few weeks ago, I received notification from the Forte Foundation welcoming me to the MBA Launch class starting from January to October 2017.

As a woman unafraid to admit when I need help, I am thrilled to have the support of other people in DC during the arduous process of applying to the class starting in Fall 2018, and the guidance from MBA alumni and admissions experts. No one in my immediate family has an MBA, and neither do my friends. In fact, a friend I looked up to (who ironically has a JD from Harvard) tried to talk me out of my desire to get an MBA based on some assertions that really did not apply to me. Having read several blogs by both MBA applicants and admissions counsellors since January of this year, I realize that I need a team of people cheering me on and helping me through my journey. Forte provides that for a $500 fee and an application.

My very intense year couldn’t have ended better. I already conducted my own research into top programs (way ahead of the curve here!), reviewing 28 schools before even applying to Forte. I paid visits to four of them and sat in on a range of classes that confirmed this was actually what I wanted to do.

In April I visited the number 1 school on my list – Stanford Graduate School of Business. Of course I was impressed! Of course I fell in love with the quiet red-brick campus that reminded me of my Nigerian boarding school. And all that talk about “touchy-feely” and “vulnerability” warmed this hippie heart. Plus the school has MONEY. After each class a custodial crew waits outside with a large bin and cleaning supplies. They whisk into the room and frantically tidy up as the perfectly coiffed students mill in and out. That my dears is money.

After Stanford, visiting Berkeley was almost a let-down. Parking was a headache. As someone who doesn’t even own a car, and cannot parallel park to save my life, I felt really helpless in Berkeley. Plus, too many undergrads!!! That said, the class I attended on sustainable enterprise  was really interesting, and the students seemed nice. I’m hoping the admissions staff had an off day, because she was a bit snobbish. Still, I left California determined to apply to both programs.

Last month I flew to Boston to check out Harvard Business School and MIT. Initially the plan was to visit the Kennedy School as well, but I juuust could not get out of bed that unexpectedly cold and rainy morning (besides my reluctance to add an MPA to my existing masters in international relations).  I came away from HBS awed by the intellectual horsepower of the students in the class, concerned about some standoffish behavior I observed from another admissions person (sensing a pattern here), and worried about the intensity of the program. Question: Do I really want to spend more of my life trying to prove that I am good enough? How would the fear of being inadequate affect my career choices if I do get into HBS? Will it shuttle me into prestigious yet miserable work? I also noticed that the business school is located in a very remote environment and when it was time to leave around 5:30pm (already dark in Boston) I felt unsafe (and hella cold) walking back to the subway stop.

However earlier that day, I took it as a good sign that a white woman around my age observed my confused meandering around Harvard Square and proactively offered to direct me to where I needed to go. When I mentioned it was the business school, she said cheerily “I go there!” Plus, after the Financial Reporting & Control class, a male Nigerian student walked up to me and just started talking like we knew each other. It was pretty hilarious and super sweet. I felt like I landed an instant mentor without asking. In all, I am very glad I visited.

The next day was my trip to MIT. It’s important to note that I had no plans to apply to MIT. I’m not an engineer. All I’ve done is advocacy, philanthropy and fundraising. I’m no wunderkind – I’m a 34-year-old woman who dreams big yet does things based on entirely practical calculations. I’m smart, but no genius. I was one of those kids in high school who for the three years leading to graduation was kept in the home class for “challenging” students (i.e. dum dums). In my class, asking the teacher too many questions earned me taunts and insults from my fellow (male) students. So MIT isn’t for folks like me. I just thought it would be sensible to check them out since I was already in Boston instead of jumping to conclusions.

To my great surprise, I liked my visit to Sloan. First, the school was a short walk from the subway stop (looking at you HBS). Second, these guys provided lunch! And when I tried to sneak into the cafeteria and buy my own lunch (I’m super picky about food) the woman from the admissions office gave me a $12 voucher without me asking. Sloan provided my most positive experience with admissions staff. I enjoyed the Q&A with current students, and felt this was a top school were people were laid back. This shot MIT to the top of my list, before Harvard. And, based on my careful weighing of admissions data and the review of recommendation questions, I decided that an application to Stanford could be a waste of my time and emotional energy. That 6% acceptance rate is disturbing. Unless I get contradicting advice from MBA insiders in the coming six months, it’s bye bye Palo Alto.

So it’s December 21, almost 9 months from when my first MBA application is due, and I have narrowed down to six slots going to: MIT, Berkeley, Yale, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, and Cornell /Duke/ Wharton (one of the three). The Canadian schools are non-negotiable because 1) Trump and 2) Work Permits post-graduation. I if I’m going to get an MBA in the US it better be a top 12 program. Otherwise I’m going to Canada where the cost is cheaper, and there is stronger possibility of achieving permanent residency within a few years of graduation. In future posts I’ll talk more about why I choose these specific programs.

You’ll notice that there are no Chicago schools and no Michigan schools. That is on purpose. Ha ha ha. I hate winter!!! I am applying to some cold schools out of necessity but really I wish all my top choices were located in California.


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