Saturday, August 23, 2008

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe...

Deciding to pursue your MBA is just the first step. With so many options and varieties of MBA programs out there, it is imperative that you use all the resources available to you and invest the time, energy, and, sometimes, money to investigate your options. One of the first decisions you will have to make is whether to pursue your MBA in a full-time or part-time program. The route you decide will depend upon your career goals, available financial resources, and ability and desire to relocate. provides an outline of what both programs look like as well as information about distance learning and executive education. A great resource for learning more about the part-time option is the book Kaplan MBA Part-Time: An Insider’s Guide by Robyn Frank-Pedersen.

Once you have decided on a route (full-time or part-time) start thinking about what you want to gain from an MBA program. No two programs are alike and therefore it is important for you to make a list of your must-haves and negotiables. This list could include location, alumni connections, available concentrations, and international programs. Also take your learning style into account. Some schools, like Darden, teach exclusively using the case method. Other schools are a blend of case and lecture. If class size is important to you, then add this to your list. Take this list with you to MBA fairs and use it when calling schools to gather more information. Ask lots of questions! Make sure to speak with a variety of people – current students, alumni, professors. It is a good idea to create a separate checklist for each school and de-brief after each visit or contact with the school. This will help you maintain an objective opinion as well as a reference for follow-up questions.

When you begin to narrow down your schools, be honest with yourself. One of the biggest traps is judging a school based solely on its rankings. Keep in mind that each ranking has a different methodology and weighs each aspect of the program differently. Remember that list of must-haves and negotiables you created? Take it out and evaluate each school accordingly. You might be surprised to find that a school you were initially impressed with does not meet all your needs. This happened to me. When I reviewed my must-haves I realized that my original top choice did not match my learning style. Furthermore, once I started visiting my top five schools, I found myself placing more value on class size and the rapport I developed with the current students and professors. Listen to your instinct and continually ask yourself how you are feeling when you physically visit a school. You might be surprised at where you feel comfortable.
Whether you decide to pursue your MBA full-time or part-time, you have to feel comfortable in the environment or else you will not thrive. Good luck on your search!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Go, Go, Go!

The process of selecting the “perfect fit” for business school can seem quite daunting. There are so many things to consider. One thing that made my decision easier was being able to reflect on my personal experiences at each of the schools I was considering and really think about where I wanted to be. There are many things you’ll find that can’t be described during a chat with admissions officers nor seen in a school brochure. A visit is a great way to educate yourself about the school’s culture and atmosphere. It’s also a great way to make sure the admissions officers have a face and a story to put with the name and application.

While the school brochures and MBA fairs are a great way to learn the basics, they are only two-dimensional experiences. They’re a great place to begin the weeding out process, but you’ll want to add more depth before making your final decision. Many schools require in person interviews. They are great excuses to spend the day attending class, meeting students and seeing the campus while you’re there. These experiences will leave a lasting impression that will help you prioritize your top choices. Business school is a large investment with the potential for tremendous returns but to realize those returns you’ve got to put yourself in an environment that will allow you to thrive.

While you can visit the campus pretty much anytime you want, many schools have amazing events like “Women’s Weekend” and/or “Diversity Weekend”. These weekend visits are invaluable experiences. Not only will you get to meet current students, see the campus/facilities and meet some of the faculty but you will also have the opportunity to see presentations from the Career Management Centers, meet potential classmates and experience the culture on a deeper level. And not only can you make a much more informed decision (how many applicants get to hear a presentation about a school’s Career Management initiatives) but you’ll also have a great time. Both the current students and admissions directors want you to walk away with a great impression of their school and they work to achieve this by giving you lots of information and making sure you have lots of fun. Casino nights, group outings, t-shirts and great food are some examples of things used to generate excitement. I was able to attend several Diversity Weekend events and found them all to be very informative and fun (even if I knew after the visit the school was not a great fit… and yes, there were a couple of those!). When it came to my final decision, my experience at each event weighed heavily. In the end I think I picked the best fit for myself but I’m confident after my visits that any of my final three choices would have been a great experience.

I urge you to go and see firsthand what each school you’re seriously considering is all about!

Monday, August 11, 2008

How I found my dream school

Goodbyes make me nostalgic. I just finished my MBA summer internship in Seattle, packed up all my belongings, said my goodbyes to new friends and coworkers, and made the bittersweet transition back to Pittsburgh, the home of Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

Fall is the beginning of a new cycle in MBA programs. Second-year students make their way back to campus after their summer internships. The brand new first-year students are settling into school and eagerly absorbing as much information as they can about Orientation and core courses. The Admissions staff is refreshed and ready to recruit the next batch of business talent – and that could be you!

Choosing a business school is a very personal process. I remember being confused when trying to decipher all the information about MBAs that was available in books, magazines, brochures, and online. I say that you should have actual conversations with alumni and other representatives of various schools. Events like MBA tours and panel discussions let you find many of these people in one place, and let you meet other pre-MBAs who are in the same confusing phase of the research as you are.

I actually discovered my dream school during my first Forté Forum (the MBA fair sponsored by Forte Foundation). I spoke to representatives from about 20 top MBA schools, a few incredibly passionate women in business, and sort of stumbled onto a member of the Tepper Admissions team (when I was waiting in a line to talk to another business school). Even though there was an instant connection (and by the way, I LOVE my school), I kept doing my research for several more months by attending MBA Tours, visiting schools, talking to alumni, and reading about schools.

Just think – if I hadn’t attended that fair, I may have never attended Tepper!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Is an MBA Right for You?

Are you thinking about an MBA? Approaching a career transition and not sure whether the MBA is the right next step? This blog will focus on the MBA journey—from that first conversation that sparks your interest in a career in business to the realization that an MBA might be the next step in order to advance in your dream career. I’ll call on our experts to advise you on the MBA maze and answer those pressing questions that keep you up at night. If an MBA is right for you, I want this blog to confirm that. But if another path makes more sense, then I hope that will be revealed as well.

Start with a little introspection. What do you want to be when you grow up? Read the Wall Street Journal—which section draws your attention when you only have time for one? Pick up Fast Company and see what people are doing in business that’s new or different. Talk to friends, colleagues, and family—some who have an MBA and some who don’t. Ask them about their experience. What do they think about getting an MBA?

Be honest with yourself about the job you want and the work environment where you’ll be happy. Maybe achieving a better work-life balance is a priority. Or are you searching for a career that intersects with your passions and interests. You want to travel, but you don’t want to work 80 hours a week. The list could go on, but taking time now to answer these questions will provide a strong foundation for making decisions in the coming months.

Then, join Forté at our MBA Value Proposition Forums this September and hear the personal stories of MBA women alumnae who are successfully pursuing business careers. The top B-schools will also be on hand enlighten you about the MBA application process. One past attendee said the Forums are unique because of the “support” and “encouragement” she experienced and the “abundance of valuable information provided.” Take advantage of this great opportunity to learn more about the MBA.

Do you have questions about the MBA? Concerns? Any roadblocks to pursuing an MBA? Let us help. Share your story here.