Build an Effective MBA Application as a Female Candidate

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on

It’s tempting to dismiss the idea that female MBA applicants can benefit from targeted tips when applying to business school as out of touch or old fashioned. But the reality is that women are still considered a minority on campus and sometimes gender stereotypes can impact their applications.

Female enrollment continues to trail behind men, and despite gains in recent years, the latest Graduate Management Admission Council application trends survey reveals that the proportion of woman applicants dipped slightly in 2014 for full-time, two-year MBA programs. The number dropped to 37 percent in 2014 from 39 percent in 2013.

In business school, as in the working world, a woman might find herself in a position where she is the only woman at the table or in the minority. So, you need to do all you can to feel comfortable and confident in those situations. Obviously, this information won’t apply for every female applicant, but having an awareness of some of the differences that exist can be very helpful.

A frequent issue I’ve had in my consulting work with female clients relates to the admissions committee doubting whether the applicant has enough moxie to contribute to the classroom discussions that form a crucial part of the MBA learning experience.

Several clients have reported that their recommenders received phone calls from admissions officers with questions such as, “Is she confident?” or “Will she speak up in class discussions?” I can’t recall a time when a male client experienced a similar problem.

In the application process, female candidates have to make sure that they exude confidence. Essays, interviews and letters of recommendation need to indicate a comfort level with speaking out, defending points of view and collaborating with all types of people.

In an interview scenario, female candidates often begin their answers with a disclaimer that reveals their insecurities and detracts from any positive information that follows or are too modest about their accomplishments for fear of appearing arrogant. Ideally, you started cultivating your personal brand early on in your application process, so tap into those bullet points and broadcast your accomplishments and skills with pride.

Business schools have made significant efforts to increase female enrollment over the last decade, and the numbers are much higher than when I attended Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Some male-dominated post-MBA career paths, such as finance, are hungrier for women as well, so a woman targeting those fields may have an advantage over one pursuing a role in brand management. This is true in the MBA admissions process as well as in the job search.

Another upside is that by tapping into storytelling skills and the emotions behind an event or experience, we’ve found that female clients generally have an easier time coming up with compelling essays. The admissions committee doesn’t favor women over men outright, but the subjective nature of this part of the application process often gives females an edge.

If you are a woman planning on applying to business school in the future, I encourage you to connect with Forte Foundation and Catalyst, two widely respected organizations dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business. Forte’s mission is to educate women on the value of an MBA degree, and holds events throughout the year to help prepare female applicants to become the best candidate possible.

Also, look for MBA blogs written by female students and applicants, such as Defying Gravity–The MBA Journey, My Life of Bliss, and Pulling that MBA Trigger, for advice from those who have walked the path before you.

The array of opportunities for women on campus is another important aspect of business school that you can consider as an applicant. Be sure to research what options your target programs offer, and think about how you could help contribute to them.

The Huffington Post featured a great article last year written by a student at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business who believes being a woman MBA candidate is a beautiful thing, the best part being that you have the ability to affect change. Showing schools that you are aware of their networking opportunities for women and have ideas for how to build upon them is a great way to convince the admissions team that you are a perfect fit.

Earning an MBA degree opens doors all over the business world, so make sure to evaluate all of your options and take advantage of the numerous resources available to help you reach your career goals.


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