It’s become a cliché in MBA application advice, but when it comes to presenting yourself to an admissions team, the important thing may not be where you’re coming from, but the journey that it took to get you there.
Take Rosanna Arias, an MBA in Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business Class of 2019.
Rosanna attributes the upward trajectory of her career thus far to the guidance of strong mentors, a strategic professional network, and first-hand experience of large-scale change within dynamic organizations, and she leveraged this information in her MBA application.
We decided to speak to Rosanna to find out how she did this—and why she chose to launch her graduate management education at Duke.
Highlight your unique experience
The first step to a successful application is clearly articulating your career journey so far, and why an MBA at your dream school would help you take it further.
When she stops to reflect on what helped shape her leadership style, Rosanna cites her time in organizations that underwent rapid transformation, allowing her to observe how those changes impacted the business.
While pursuing a BS in Business Administration and Marketing at Fordham University in New York City, Rosanna interned with McGraw Hill's Talent Development Department, where she witnessed the company's division into McGraw Hill Education and McGraw Hill Financial.
“I loved the work that HR was doing, so I decided to stay within the realm of HR following graduation,” she recalls.
This led to a position with the Ford Foundation, which was also in the midst of significant change as it was reworking its grant-making strategy.
The dynamic nature of her working environment at Ford meant that Rosanna worked with strong leaders and supportive managers, and it allowed her to experience new things. For instance, it was at Ford that she worked with talent acquisitions for the first time, and that she got her first experience of organizational design.
She also got to take initiative: she played a significant role in implementing Workday, a human capital management system, and gained experience in recruitment and other high-impact areas.
It was around this time that Rosanna began to consider doing an MBA, as she started noticing how many top HR leaders in global organizations held MBAs.
She observed that many of the leaders she worked with were using their MBAs to affect positive change in business and beyond, and she wanted to do this for herself.
Soon enough, her decision was made: she was going to leave New York, and pursue a full-time MBA at Duke Fuqua.
Tap into your networks
Key to Rosanna’s MBA journey was the Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) prep program in which she enrolled to help her on her journey—in fact, she calls it one of the most defining moments of her career.
In addition to connecting her to a network of other business leaders from elite MBA programs, MLT's support network helped guide Rosanna throughout the application process.
Even now, she keeps up regularly with the network: “It’s an invaluable part of my career so far,” she confirms.
Take the GMAT seriously—and strategically
Rosanna’s other big piece of advice for applicants is to have a strategy when it comes to the GMAT.
Rosanna took a test prep course, but when she wasn’t performing as well she wanted, she changed the way she studied.
Where before she had spent many hours each night trying to cover the test broadly, she then shifted her attention to the specific areas in which she had consistently underperformed.
Once she’d applied this new approach, the GMAT tides start to turn in her favour—and clearly, the tactic paid off!
Take your time
Most importantly, the time it takes to hone an application, Rosanna says, cannot be scrimped on.
Like many applicants, Rosanna felt pressure to apply during round one, but instead opted to wait until round two, when she felt she had a stronger application that was more representative of who she was as a candidate.
Taking her time on her application also meant that Rosanna could be sure that Duke was the right school for her—a key factor when it comes to presenting yourself in your admissions essays.
Rosanna asked friends to review her submission without sharing the prompt for her essays, instead asking them to guess based on the content she’d written. She knew that if the reviewer couldn’t identify the initial question, the essay needed to be re-visited, and it helped her hone her message.
“The MBA application is a personal process,” Rosanna emphasizes. “Students should understand what drives them, what they want to contribute, and what they're trying to do short and long-term.
“Once you get to school, things move fast—if you understand what you want out of an MBA, this will really help you focus on just a few areas, rather than the many which are available.”