Leaning In While Pursuing Your MBA: The MBA Mama Story

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Nicole Ponton and Divinity Matovu

This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with MBA applicant bloggers, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at the MBA application process. And now for a chat with Nicole Ponton and Divinity Matovu…

Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What is your favorite non-school book?

Nicole Ponton: Born and raised in Pasadena, CA. I studied International Relations and Religion at the University of Southern California, Class of 2010. If I had to pick one book, it would be 100 Years of Solitude.

Divinity Matovu: I’m from a small town in Wisconsin, and I’m a first-generation college graduate. I studied Political Science at the University of Southern California, Class of 2008. I am a fiery entrepreneur and independent thinker who will begin my MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in Fall 2015 with a focus on finance and entrepreneurship. I’ve launched four start-ups: a fashion company in Los Angeles, a youth development non-profit in Uganda, a consulting firm with clients in Africa and the US, and now my latest venture, MBA Mama. I am a mother to two wonderful children, Nyah and Shafiq. I’ve lived and worked in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania and pride myself on being a global citizen and an advocate for women. I am passionate about start-ups, technology, women’s empowerment and African affairs. Interestingly enough, I did not know Nicole during undergrad. We are both 2015 Social Innovation Fellows with StartingBloc. We had instant chemistry when we met in February at SB’s Los Angeles Institute. My favorite non-school book is “The Alchemist.” I’ve read it at least once a year since 2009.

Accepted: Can you tell us a bit about your MBA application process? How did your experience inspire you to develop your new venture, MBAMama.com? And where do you see MBAMama going in the future?

NP: I actually went through the application process twice, back to back, with only the support of friends. It has been a character building experience, to say the least, and when I heard about Divinity’s concept, I knew that I had to help other women going through that process. I know that this platform has amazing potential and it has received an excellent response and support from people of all walks of life. I envision MBA Mama growing into a powerful network, becoming the go-to website for women balancing family planning and career advancement, and becoming the host of an exceptional annual conference.

DM: My MBA application process began Fall 2013 when I applied, and was admitted, to Forte Foundation’s MBA Launch Program and Management Leadership for Tomorrow’s (MLT) MBA Prep Program. Completing both programs in 2014 kept me focused, helped me be strategic, and held me accountable for advancing towards my goal of matriculating to a top-tier MBA program in 2015. I struggled for months with the GMAT, taking the exam 3 times before I received a score I felt confident with. After the recommendation of my amazingly supportive MLT coach, Kendra Crook, I took supplemental courses in Statistics and Calculus to boost my quantitative profile.

While researching MBA programs, I often had to dig deep within school websites to find common-sense information applicable to me as a pre-MBA mama. In my experience, the images many schools project of “students with families” are predominantly male students whose wives are stay-at-home mothers. I know taking care of children is a full-time job, so I certainly respect stay-at-home mothers; however, it was frustrating to not see images of women MBAs who had children. At some moments, I doubted whether my goals were attainable. I reached out to some programs specifically requesting to be put in contact with an MBA mom who could talk to me about childcare options in the area, and I’d be connected with a woman whose retired parents lived in the same city and cared for the child full-time– thereby eliminating childcare concerns. While we certainly both had children, our situations and needs were completely different.

I had my “aha moment” for MBA Mama after receiving a text message from Derek, one of my MLT MBA Prep colleagues. Derek texted me saying he admired my perseverance, and my ability to balance Forte, MLT, GMAT prep, running my own business and being a single mother. I was extremely touched by Derek’s text. As an entrepreneur, I immediately started to think about how I could impact more people like I’d impacted Derek. The concept for MBA Mama was born within 1 week of Derek’s text.

MBA Mama is a dynamic blog featuring exclusive, inspirational content that provides Millennial Mamas with tools and resources to pursue a graduate business degree. As Nicole mentioned, the goal for MBA Mama is to evolve as the premier website for young women balancing family planning and career advancement. While pitching this idea over the past few months, I’ve received overwhelming support from Millennial women – like Nicole – who do not have children yet. Nonetheless, the message that an MBA, career advancement and children are not mutually exclusive resonates with them.

Accepted:  How have you been able to integrate your commitment to social justice into your career?

NP: In addition to running Communications for MBA Mama, I currently work full time for a social justice nonprofit called Life In Abundance, International. We are an African-founded and African-led organization that carries out sustainable community development in urban and rural impoverished areas, empowering the most vulnerable families to become self-sustaining and help others to do the same. It has been an incredible experience to work for this organization and witness the transformation that takes place throughout the 10 countries we work with, and I am fortunate that social justice is a part of my day-to-day life. I also continue to give back to programs in my hometown that promote education initiatives and gang prevention which I volunteered with during my time in California.

DM: As a social entrepreneur, I am always thinking about social impact within the context of my career. Ultimately, I plan to monetize MBA Mama and build equity in this brand. It is a win-win scenario if I can build a revenue model that works, and simultaneously inspire women by sharing stories of MBA mamas, and giving them actionable steps they can take to pursue their MBAs and career goals relentlessly while balancing family commitments. I want to see women’s enrollment in business school on par with men’s enrollment within the next 5-10 years. Admissions officers are missing out big time if they are not targeting, recruiting, and supporting talented women with children to their MBA programs.

Accepted: Can you talk about your experience so far with the Forte Foundation? Would you recommend that other women interested in business check them out?

DM: I recommend Forte Foundation’s MBA Launch Program to any woman who is interested in the MBA. Last Fall, I published a full blog post about my experience on Forte’s Business360 blog titled: ROI on MBA Launch Program Has Had Exponential Benefits.

NP: Though I am not a Forte Fellow (yet) like Divinity, the Forte Foundation has provided me with access to excellent resources and advice during my application process and transition preparation. I highly recommend that other women interested in business check out the site and everything they have to offer.

Accepted: Is there anything else you think we should know about you and your work?

DM: MBA Mama’s blog officially launches April 15, 2015. We’d love Accepted’s network to visit the site, www.mbamama.com – engage with us on social media @MBAMamaDotCom and sign up for our newsletter. We’d also love for your readers to support our ThunderClap campaign which runs through April 15:  Anyone interested in learning more about MBA Mama can contact me at divinity@mbamama.com.

Thank you Divinity and Nicole for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of success!

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This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with MBA applicant bloggers, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at the MBA application process. And now…introducing our anonymous blogger, “John Thunder”…

Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What is your current job?

John: I’m from the midwest and went to an Ivy League to study economics and mathematics. I was a former investment banker and currently work in investment management.

Accepted: Congrats on your recent acceptance! Can you tell us where you applied and where you got accepted/rejected/waitlisted?

John: I got accepted at Sloan. Waitlisted at Wharton and Booth. Rejected at Kellogg/HBS/Stanford GSB.

Accepted: And if you get more acceptances from the waitlists, how will you decide where to go?

John: I’m fortunate to receive an acceptance to one of my preferred schools. If I get off the waitlist at other schools, maybe I will reconsider.

Accepted: Can you share some admissions tips as an “overrepresented minority”? How would you advise others who are trying to stand out from the crowd?

John: This is the tough question. If I had to re-do my 2-3 year plan for MBA, I would do 1 year of international development in the “motherland” and/or get involved with organizations in those countries. I did not do anything different to standout, except I demonstrated that sure I have similar stats and background to others but coworkers ranked me as the top analyst each year out of the whole class. Instead of thinking about other “Asians,” I saw my application holistically with the applicant group.

Accepted: Do you have any other admissions advice for our applicant readers? 

John: This is a stressful process. I took my GMAT in Fall 2013 to apply for Class of 2017. Get started early and have set goals. If you are targeting HBS/Stanford only, I recommend applying to only one of those round 1 and the other round 2 and go all-out to visit and hustle. I’ve seen success from those who did that.

Accepted: What is your post-MBA plan? 

John: Finance has lost its luster. Please hire me Google.

Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog? When and why did you start blogging? What have you gained from the experience? 

John: Kudos to the community created at GMATClub. I used it religiously to study for my GMATs. I just wanted to give back to that community. I was stressed out throughout the whole application process and it was helpful to see other applicants’ experiences. It’s important to pay-it-forward, and that’s what it’s about in business school.

For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages.

You can read more about John Thunder’s b-school journey by checking out his blog, John Thunder MBA. Thank you for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!

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Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
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An Indian MBA Applicant Story: Accepted to Top 3 Choices with $$$

Click here for more interviews with MBA applicants!This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with MBA applicant bloggers, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at the MBA application process. And now…introducing Vandana…

Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What’s your favorite non-school book?

Vandana: I am originally from Hyderabad, India and that was where I completed my undergraduate degree in Computer Science Engineering. I moved to Bangalore around 2 years ago to work on my startup dream and fell in love with the city. I have lived here since then.

I’m a voracious reader and spend a lot of my spare time with my nose buried in a book. I especially love reading fantasy fiction. My favorite book/series is the A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones series) by George RR Martin.

Accepted: What stage of the application process are you up to so far? Where have you applied to b-school?

Vandana: I applied to 3 schools: Kellogg School of Management, UCLA Anderson and Tepper School of Business. Just last week, I received acceptances from all 3 schools. UCLA and Tepper have offered me generous scholarships as well. It’s very exciting to be accepted to all these wonderful schools, and I have a difficult decision ahead of me in the coming weeks!

Accepted: Congratulations on a triple acceptance! What was the most challenging aspect of the admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?

Vandana: I think the most challenging part of the admissions process for me has been managing time. I work at a fast-paced startup and I work 6 days a week. Handling work, writing essays, managing my blog, attending info-sessions by various business schools, reminding my recommenders to work on my recommendations, helping people with their GMAT strategies…while at the same time making sure I had enough time for my family and friends was very challenging. I wanted to ensure that I didn’t alienate any one part of my life to keep up with everything else. I was able to overcome this by planning each day well ahead of time.

I used a day planner to keep track of meetings and important dates, scheduled about 30 minutes a day to check up on my blog and respond to comments, set reminders to call and catch up with friends (especially during the commute to work) and I spent many a sleepless night making sure I was on schedule with my essay drafts and applications. I think this experience has been a great preview of what life at business school will be like, and has helped me prepare myself for the extremely busy (yet fun!) few years ahead.

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Accepted: A 760 on your first try – amazing! Can you share your top three GMAT tips with our readers?

Vandana: Thanks! I was expecting to hit 730+, but 760 was a surprise for me! These are some GMAT tips for future GMAT takers:

• Study from anywhere, but practice only Official GMAC questions.

 I simply cannot overstate the importance of this! I see people stressing about not scoring enough in MGMAT tests, or not getting questions from Princeton correct. I’d like to stress the fact that ultimately, GMATPrep exams (official tests found on the GMAC website) are the only tests that are true predictors of your progress and what your final score could be. I’d recommend that people study from whatever material they are comfortable with, but ultimately practice practice, practice from the official GMAT guides and any official questions they can get their hands on. I would recommend doing each of these books 2-3 times to get a handle on the different types of questions that could be asked in the actual exam. Especially in the last 3-4 weeks before your exam date, stick to past GMAT questions and official material.

• Practice in timed conditions.

 The GMAT is tough. Not just because of the questions in it, but because a lot of us GMAT-takers haven’t sat for a test in a long time. It is difficult to maintain focus for the 4-4.5 hours it takes to complete the GMAT exam, and to prepare yourself for it, in addition to taking mock tests occasionally, I would recommend people to study and practice for the exam in timed sessions. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that every time you sit down to study, it should be 4 hours. When you practice focus on doing 38-40 Quant questions for 75 minutes (set a timer), then take a quick 5 minute break and immediately sit down and do a practice set of 40-45 Verbal questions in 75 minutes. It’s very helpful to do this as we automatically learn to pace ourselves accordingly and through practice, it is easy to keep your concentration and stay focused during the actual exam.

 • Maintain an Error Log.

 During the first month of preparation, I did not maintain an error log, and I really regret it the most! I found the error log on GMATClub most helpful for keeping track of my progress of OG 12, OG 13 and the GMAT Quantitative Review and GMAT Verbal Review guides. By keeping track of my progress and my mistakes, in just a few weeks, I was able to zero in on problem areas and then come up with a plan of action to tackle them!

Accepted: What is your current job? Do you plan on staying in your current industry post-MBA, or changing to a new field/career? Will you return to India?

Vandana: I currently work as a Product Manager for a global online entertainment portal. I love being a product manager, and I plan to stay in my current role post-MBA, but transition to a larger company in the technology space. I haven’t decided yet if I will return to India post-MBA. I think there are exciting opportunities available all around the world and I intend to travel a lot post-MBA to zero in on the place I’d love to settle down in. If that place is India, so be it :) – but that decision has not been made yet.

Accepted: Why did you decide to blog about your experience? What have you gained from the experience? What do you hope others will learn?

Vandana: When I was studying for the GMAT and thinking about applying to business school, I learnt from people’s experiences on GMATClub and read many, many blogs online from past applicants to get an idea of the applications process. After scoring a 760 on the GMAT, I wanted to help people nail their GMAT and I started answering a lot of preparation-related questions online on GMATClub and Quora. After a certain point, I couldn’t keep up with the volume of people getting in touch with me – so I decided to start a blog that documented my GMAT journey as well as applications progress in real-time. I hoped my blog would help prospective applicants navigate the admissions process better.

Also, the blogger community is simply amazing! Soon after I started my blog, a lot of them added me to their blog roll, started following me online and encouraged me at every step of the applications process. Getting into business school is a marathon – GMAT, applications, etc. take up a lot of time; but time simply flew by since I had so many great people to share the journey with! I know I’ve made many friends in the blogger community and I’m hoping to meet them in person before joining business school.

For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages.

You can read more about Vandana’s b-school journey by checking out her blog, My Journey to Business School. Thank you Vandana for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!

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MBA Applicant Interview with ProGMAT

Click here to read more MBA applicant interviews!This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with MBA applicant bloggers, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at the MBA application process. And now…introducing our anonymous blogger, ProGMAT…

Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What’s your favourite non-school book?

ProGMAT: I am 26 years old, and was born in a small town in North India. Being a son of a Sr. Bank Manager, I moved to different cities with my family and completed my schooling. I’ve completed my under-graduation (B.Tech) in Computer Science Engineering from a city away from my home in Northern India.

As I grew watching my father, how he managed a great number of staff under him, I always wanted to be like him and always tried to get the things done with better management. My interests are more of design, creativity, innovation, management and music. At my work, I always try to get the maximum amount of management work I can get other than my duties (coding, testing, etc.).

I have not read many books but the recent one was The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I really liked it. It is great classic fiction with nice vocabulary to learn.

Accepted: What stage of the application process are you up to so far? 

ProGMAT: Currently I am studying for the GMAT and writing my story side by side. I am not rushing through the application process as I have less time to study for GMAT, and my target score is 720+.

Accepted: Where and when are you planning on applying to b-school? Are you applying to any safety schools?

ProGMAT: The sooner I complete my GMAT, the better my chances are to apply this year in Round 2 process. That is why for now my complete focus is on GMAT, but I am comfortable in applying next year. After my research on schools and course types, I have a list of schools to which I would be applying including Tuck and ISB. I will also apply to 3-4 additional schools within my range for safe side.

Tuck is the best school I have known so far according to my priorities and eligibility. I dream about being a Tuckie. So in my application process, my major focus would be on the Tuck application. And for ISB, it gives me various advantages above all in terms of investment and environment (a plus point for my career and future).

Accepted: What is your current job? Do you plan on staying in the same industry post-MBA or moving to something new? Where do you hope to be in 5-10 years from now? 

ProGMAT: Currently I’m working in a Fortune 500 Company as a software developer in India. I have a total of 3+ years of experience in coding as well as management. Post MBA I would change my industry. Basically I am looking for a Consultant badge under my profile. So my short term goal is to be at a Consultant position in Big 4 firms. And my long term goal is to open my own firm. It will be related to technology for sure, but depends on the position of the market.

Accepted: In your blog you talk about your GMAT game plan — can you share a few tips with our readers about how to prep for the GMAT?

ProGMAT: GMAT is not an exam to pass and score higher. It’s all about your time management and stress management. The best thing to do while attempting a question is to get into the situation and find the best solution as fast as possible. As it is a game of time and stress,  huge dedication is needed to get through it. The best thing you can do while preparing is practice, practice and practice.

A few tips:

1.  Study the basics by going deep and learning the concepts.

2.  Study the type of questions which come frequently on GMAT.

3.  Always time your practice questions. And always try to use the official material for practice.

4.  For SC, there is limited number of rules. Learn them and apply.

5.  For CR and RC, try to read the quality material and increase your reading speed with understanding.

6.  The more you focus on the current question, the less time you take to solve it. This makes better chances of your high score.

Accepted: Why did you decide to blog about your experience? What have you gained from the experience? What do you hope others will learn?

ProGMAT: When I started my GMAT circus, I thought it was just like another exam, but a few days later I realized that it’s not an exam but a game like marathon. I studied different blogs and found that most of the people were suffering with similar problems. So I decided to keep track of this important event of my life that would help me to be in line and would help others who are facing similar problems as I do.

What I gained is the timeline of my preparation as well as more focus on the mistakes that I made earlier. Additionally, I am a non-native English speaker, so writing a blog will help me gain knowledge on the writing side as well. And meeting the fellow blog writers who are going through the same situation always gives you confidence to move forward.

For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages.

You can read more about ProGMAT’s b-school journey by checking out his blog, Pro GMAT. Thank you for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!

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Interview with MBA On My Mind: An Applicant Aiming for Kellogg

Click here for more MBA applicant interviews!This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with MBA applicant bloggers, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at the MBA application process. And now…introducing our anonymous blogger, “MBA On My Mind”…

Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Do you hold any other degrees? What is your current job?

MBA On My Mind: I am a 24 year old female from India. I was born in a quaint little town in Kerala and moved around a lot for most of my childhood (Delhi, Goa, Bangalore, some nondescript town in Karnataka, etc.). I’ve had an unconventional childhood but an immensely fun one. I went to a reputed, 100 year old school in Chennai and graduated with a B.A in Economics. I also have a Post Graduate diploma in Marketing Management, that I pursued part time to feed my burgeoning passion for marketing.

After school, I had a two year stint as Marketing Manager at a start-up that marketed teas (it was at this point that my fascination with tea blossomed and I enrolled to become a professional tea taster). Tea tasting to this day remains an elixir guaranteed to bust stress! In 2013, I co-founded a social enterprise business, in the Skill Development arena and have been absorbed in it ever since!

Accepted: What stage of the application process are you? 

MBA On My Mind: I am wedged somewhere in between insanity and a frenzied need to get stuff done… It’s been a harried 6 months, but I am loving every moment. At this point, I am prepping for my GMAT exam, while working on second drafts of essays for round 2. My days are full!

Accepted: Where are you applying to b-school? Do you have a top choice? Safety school?

MBA On My Mind: I plan to apply to 6-7 schools in round 2. (Yes, I am crazy.) My school list looks something like this 1. Kellogg  2. Ross  3. Stanford  4. Yale  5. Haas.

(I will be adding 2 or 3 schools to this mix provided they fit into my tally board.) Kellogg is my top school! I really really want to go there. The school just sings to me. I don’t have any safe schools so to speak, I understand that ‘safety schools’ are categorized based on higher acceptance levels (ergo, these schools are more open to candidates whose GMAT scores that aren’t particularly in the 99th percentile, <4.0 GPAs and folks who aren’t ridiculous overachievers), so although it makes sense to cover all your bases, for me the paramount deciding factor is fit and whether the school can offer what I want. There is not a single school on my tally board that I would not love to go to. I love all of them equally….okay, I lie. I love Kellogg a smidgen more than the rest. :)

Accepted: Can you tell us about your Business School Tally Board? 

MBA On My Mind: I am someone who likes to do things in a systematic and cogent fashion. So, when the application season rolled around and the time came for me to stop being vague about the schools I wanted to go to. I sat down and listed out my short term and long term goals.

A word of advice for anyone who is on the brink of plunging into the MBA applicant pool, you will be doing yourself a HUGE favor if you introspect and freeze in on your long term and short term goals. Your school selection will be so much easier, you just have to figure out which school will provide the best and most enriching route to achieving your goals.

The Business School Tally Board is more of a qualitative take on the entire school selection process, and it is inspired by this blog post I read and fell in love with, on the Kellogg MBA Students Blog. It still isn’t complete, though. I am still researching schools, there are 2 more schools I want to add to the tally!

Accepted: What has been the most challenging aspect of the admissions process so far? What steps have you taken to overcome that challenge? How would you advise others in a similar situation?

MBA On My Mind: Start early! Stay positive! Get the GMAT out of the way!

THE biggest challenge is time, initially I wanted to get two apps in by round 1, but I was unable to because I was not satisfied with my GMAT score. So I will be working overtime to get 6-7 applications ready for round 2. Luckily for me, I produce my best work under pressure.

Accepted: Do you plan on staying in your current industry post-MBA, or changing to a new field/career?

MBA On My Mind: My immediate post MBA goal is to work with a for-profit social enterprise, particularly in marketing, while my mid-long term goal is to come back to India and expand my social enterprise’s operations.

Expansion requires aggressive/out of the box marketing, market research, liaising with government officials and seamless dissemination of our vision to the end customer. I hope to pick up these skills up at my immediate post-MBA job. So, to answer your question, yes I intend to stay in my current industry.

Accepted: Why did you decide to blog about your experience? What have you gained from the experience? What do you hope others will learn?

MBA On My Mind: I remember stumbling upon a few MBA applicant bloggers in 2013, and reading their posts, more importantly the comment sections, there seemed to be a genuine camaraderie between fellow MBA applicant bloggers and the support that went around was amazing.

I knew I had to start a blog of my own to be a part of that world, besides I do love to write. Today, I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve forged close friendships with some wonderful people, through my blogging. (You know who you are!)

I can only hope that my readers find my posts helpful.

For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages.

You can read more about MBA On My Mind’s b-school journey by checking out her blog, MBA On My Mind. Thank you for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!

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