We’re on a mission to help all of the MBA applicants we work with shine their brightest when applying to business school. Bonus points if you’re able to enjoy the application process along the way! A group of LGBTQ+ consultants from the SBC team recently got together to share stories from our own experiences applying to b-school. We also swapped the lessons we’ve learned from working with clients over the years. Here are nine tips for LGBTQ+ MBA applicants to consider when thinking about business school.
Advice for LGBTQ+ MBA Applicants When Applying:
1. Connect with the LGBTQ+ student organizations at the schools you’re considering.
Speaking to LGBTQ+ MBA students at various schools is one of the best ways to learn about not just the program, but also the experience of LGBTQ+ students studying there. Most MBA programs include information about the school’s LGBTQ+ student organizations on the school’s website. But if you can’t find this information, contact the admissions office.
Our suggestion is to reach out to one of the student co-presidents or outreach chair; we can’t ever remember an applicant not getting a reply. This allows you to gain current students’ perspectives. Plus, you’ll be flagged as an interested LGBTQ+ applicant with the admissions office. If there are events or information sessions specifically for LGBTQ+ applicants, you’ll want invited to attend these as well.
(Wharton School has the largest LGBTQ MBA club in the U.S. In 2020, the school launched Prism, a full-ride LGBTQ MBA Fellowship.)
2. Don’t be afraid to reach out to alums or individuals working in fields that interest you.
The LGBTQ+ world may be small, but it is also mighty. So, don’t be afraid to reach out to others in the LGBTQ+ community via LinkedIn and other professional platforms. Working through a friend of a friend is always great—but also try to “cold outreach” to other members of the community who graduated from schools you are interested in or who work in industries about which you are passionate.
Of course, this cold outreach doesn’t always work. Yet we’ve found LGBTQ+ applicants reaching out to others in the community seem to get an answer more often than not. A reminder: always put your best foot forward.
Whenever you reach out to anyone in connection to your business school journey, ALWAYS be thoughtful in your approach, proofread your writing, and be sure to thank anyone who offers you feedback or guidance.
3. When writing your essays, share your story thoughtfully.
For many, coming out is a deeply personal experience that requires a tremendous amount of self-examination and introspection. An essay that touches on this sort of deeply-revealing vulnerability and/or self-awareness can be remarkable.
Many of the most compelling essays we’ve read, for example, don’t actually “center” on a coming-out story. Instead, they used this experience as a jumping-off point to explore topics that are deeply meaningful to the applicant.
Remember that admissions officers want to understand many different aspects of you as an applicant; we suggest that you present this aspect of your identity as an important facet—but not the totality—of who you are.
4. Don’t be afraid to be different. In fact, standing out can be a very good thing.
We see many LGBTQ+ MBA applicants who have been in the closet in college and/or professionally to conform to what society has told them a business person is “supposed” to be.
With all of our clients (not only members of the LGBTQ+ community), we encourage people to be themselves authentically. Embrace your individuality, your quirkiness, and your queerness, along with all the other things that make you unique.
5. Check out the Reaching Out MBA Conference.
The Reaching Out MBA Conference (ROMBA) is the world’s largest gathering of LGBT+ business students and alumni. This event educates, inspires, and connects our community through C-suite panels, workshops, competitions, a host of receptions, and a career fair with 100 corporate partners across industries recruiting LGBTQ+ MBA talent. This year the conference (October 2-3 and October 8-10) will be completely online and free for pre-MBAs, so attending is a no-brainer.
After you’ve been accepted:
6. Check out the Point Foundation (and other scholarship groups).
The Point Foundation (Point) is the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students of merit. Point promotes change through scholarship funding, mentorship, leadership development, and community service training. To apply, applicants must be planning to attend a degree-granting undergraduate or graduate/ doctoral program. More information is available here.
7. Consider your multiple identities when choosing the program that is right for you.
Several members of our team brought up the complexities of navigating the application process when one has multiple identities: for example, being trans or non-binary, being femme, being from a low-income background, and/or being non-white.
Each of these identity layers can add another degree of nuance when choosing the MBA program that feels right for you. This, of course, means different things for different people. For you, this might mean selecting an MBA program that has:
- specific Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) policies in place (not just lip-service)
- faculty class rolls that include preferred names/pronouns
- taken steps to make sure non-white and international students don’t feel isolated, and that staff reach out proactively to check in, instead of waiting for students to come to them
- a no-tolerance policy for derogatory language/behaviors so that individuals feel safe and know they can come forward
- a robust “ally culture” that supports LGBTQ+ and other underrepresented students
- resources for pregnant/nursing mothers
On the other hand, we also realize that a) the list above is by no means comprehensive and that b) no single program is getting this 100% right. We encourage applicants to evaluate these and other factors in light of their own decision criteria to find the best fit. And then, once you select the program that is right for you and enroll, work hard to make it even better for those who will follow you.
8. When you do get to business school, speak up and pay it forward.
For every out person on a business school campus, there are often several other LGBTQ+ MBA students—especially those with multiple identities—who might not feel comfortable being out on campus yet.
Many of us remember times in our own business school experiences when speaking up or speaking out prompted others who weren’t out yet to approach us privately to thank us for making our voices heard. There is also a multiplier effect: once one person raises a hand to make a statement or to acknowledge their identity, others gradually feel more comfortable doing the same.
9. Finally, enjoy yourself and make friends.
Invite that stranger to coffee. Have the tough conversation. Encourage the LGBTQ+ student organization to co-host a happy hour with a conservative group on campus. Business school can—and should—be a LOT of fun. It is also a powerful opportunity for you to influence the hearts and minds of classmates who will one day run corporations, organizations, and governments around the world.