This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with MBA applicants, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at the MBA application process. And now…introducing Marisa who will be starting at UC Berkeley Haas in the fall.
Accepted: Let’s start with some basics: Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What is your favorite non-school book?
Marisa: I’m from Santa Barbara, CA, but went to college at Northwestern University, where I majored in Middle East History and International Relations. My favorite non-school book is “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini — he’s such a powerful storyteller.
Accepted: Congrats on your acceptance to Haas! How would you say that you’re a good fit with the program?
Marisa: Thank you! I was really attracted to Haas’ four Defining Principles, but particularly “confidence without attitude.” When I visited the school and spoke with both current and former students, I found this cultural attribute to be absolutely true — these people are rockstars, but they are humble about their accomplishments and eager to collaborate with others. I think this phrase describes me pretty well. I’m confident and ambitious but don’t like to be a jerk about it, and I certainly don’t believe that my success should come at the expense of someone else’s. Plus, I truly believe that humility is essential to good leadership, and I like how Haas emphasizes that as a key aspect of their culture.
Accepted: Which other b-schools had you considered?
Marisa: I applied to Stanford’s GSB in Round 1, and Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business in Round 2 (but withdrew my application after being accepted to Haas). I also strongly considered Northwestern’s Kellogg SOM but ultimately decided I did not want to return to Evanston. I don’t like to repeat experiences, even though I’m sure Kellogg itself would have differed from undergrad. Also, it’s freezing. But we’ll pretend that wasn’t a serious factor…
Accepted: What are you most looking forward to in starting b-school in the fall?
Marisa: I’m most looking forward to meeting my classmates and hearing about their experiences and goals for the future. I’m also looking forward to some of the experiential education opportunities at Haas, like the International Business Development course and Social Sector Solutions consultancy. As a history major, I rarely had the opportunity to directly tie my classroom learning to practical applications, so I look forward to learning new material in class and then applying it on projects right away.
Accepted: You have a really interesting work history — currently at Deloitte and previously at the FBI. First, can you tell us about what you did at the FBI (if you’re allowed…), and then, how did that lead you to Deloitte, and where do see yourself working post-MBA?
Marisa: My work history sounds more interesting than it is! I was a strategic intelligence analyst in the FBI’s counterterrorism division, where I basically conducted research and wrote papers (sounds like a history major, right?). The intelligence products I wrote, and briefings that I gave to decisionmakers, theoretically helped guide investigations of terrorist activity. I did have some cool experiences (briefed the Director a couple times and traveled internationally to brief some partner agencies), but ultimately I found the pace a little slow and the bureaucracy more than a little maddening. I was also far from the action on the ground, so I didn’t feel like I was able to have a true impact in my role. Ultimately, it just wasn’t the right fit.
I saw consulting as an opportunity to help organizations like my previous employer address the issues that get in the way of executing their missions effectively. So last January I joined Deloitte as a consultant in their Federal Practice here in DC, where I have been working with IC clients on things like strategic planning and business process improvement. I have also been heavily involved with the Federal Women’s Initiative (WIN), founding and leading the WIN Gen Y team focused on engaging and empowering junior women professionals in the Federal Practice. Deloitte is a great company and I’ve learned a ton, but I feel ready to take the next step in my career with an MBA. Post-Haas, I see myself working in international development consulting, helping organizations create positive social and economic impacts in emerging markets (specifically, in the Middle East).
Accepted: Can you tell us about your experience as a 2013 MBA Launcher? And what about your experience with Forte? Are these programs that you’d recommend to other b-school applicants?
Marisa: I really enjoyed participating in the pilot Forte MBALaunch program. For those who are unfamiliar, Forte Foundation established this program to help MBA-interested women navigate the application process, from identifying target schools to acing the GMAT to executing on essays and interviews. In 2013, the program was launched in New York, DC, and Chicago and included an in-person kick-off event, monthly webinars, a personal advisor, placement in a peer group of other MBALaunch women, and attendance at a local Forte-sponsored MBA fair.
I found the monthly webinars, particularly the ones that forced me to really think about my “story” and how to present myself to the admissions committee, to be extremely helpful. I don’t think I would have had quite the edge I needed without that guidance. Plus, since the program started in January, it forced me to start thinking about the process very early, and then kept me on track for Round 1 submissions.
When I applied to the program, I was most excited about being paired with an advisor — a woman who had received her MBA and would help me through the application process. However, I ended up finding the peer mentorship of my fellow MBALaunch women to be even more impactful. My advisor provided some necessary tough love and advice — like insisting I consider retaking the GMAT when that was the last thing I wanted to do, which led me to improve my score by 30 points. But my peer group provided me nearly constant support. We shared resources, read each others’ essays, and advised one another when we ran into challenges. In fact, even though the program has officially ended, we’re still getting together soon to help one of our members make her enrollment decision.
Overall, I had a really positive experience with MBALaunch and the awesome Forte women who run the program. I hope to continue my involvement with Forte in the future.
Accepted: As someone who applied successfully to b-school, you must have some good tips to share. Can you offer 2-3 tips for our readers?
Marisa: Every applicant is different, but I can offer some general tips that worked for me:
1. Get beyond the rankings lists. Really think about what you want, and what characteristics are important to you — class size, location, specific focus areas or experiences, recruitment relationships, etc. It’s not as obvious as you’d think, so talk to those people in your life who know you best and can help you figure out what aspects of a program to prioritize. And keep an open mind — your dream school might just surprise you.
2. Talk to current students at the schools you’re considering before you start your applications, especially if you’re unable to visit campus before applying. Not only will this help you get a feel for a school’s culture and determine whether it’s a good prospect for you, but it will also help you target your essays and guide your recommenders in a way that demonstrates your fit with the school. Speaking of guiding your recommenders…
3. Have candid conversations with your recommenders about why you’re applying to MBA programs, why you’re a fit with the schools you’ve chosen, and what questions they need to address in your recommendations. I put together packets of logistical and background information for my recommenders, including deadlines, instructions, the specific questions (if available), and context on what I was hoping to get out of an MBA at each school. Some recommenders will want you to write your own recommendations — resist the urge, and push back! You can offer to provide as much or as little support they need in terms of brainstorming content and keeping them on track with deadlines, but ultimately the best recommendations are genuine. If someone doesn’t want to write your rec themselves, they’re probably not the best person for the job.
4. Visit campuses in the spring before you apply! I totally didn’t do this and wished I had, because many schools don’t open for tours prior to the R1 deadlines.
5. Be sure to take breaks to be with friends and talk about something — anything! — besides b-school. When you’re head-down in applications with deadlines approaching, it’s tempting to shut everyone and everything out. The whole process can become an obsession very quickly, so this is way easier said than done, but totally worth keeping in mind.