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Fridays from the Frontline: An MBALauncher Shares Her Round 2 Application Process

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Today’s Friday from the Frontline features an interview with Lisa Atufunwa, a 29-year-old Denver native who submitted applications to five schools as part of Round 2. Business school has always been a part of her plan, and she’s hoping the MBA will help her pivot her career.

Currently working in communications for a range of tech companies, startups and public holding companies, Atufunwa is targeting schools with strong programs in marketing. Her post-MBA goal is to become an assistant brand manager in the personal beauty sector, working for a company like L’Oréal, Sephora or Estée Lauder. “That’s always been a personal passion of mine,” she says.

Taking part in the Forté Foundation’s MBALaunch Program helped Atufunwa navigate the MBA admissions process. Read on to learn some of what she discovered in the process and the advice she has for future applicants.Fridays from the Frontline

Clear Admit: What business schools did you apply to? Why did you choose them?

Lisa Atufunwa: I applied to Emory’s Goizueta School, Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Business, the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business, Duke’s Fuqua School and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. I chose them primarily because of the size of the programs. I was not looking for a program that had a large class—small/medium was my focus. I was also looking for a school that was not necessarily top ten, but that had a strong marketing program. Location was a factor as well—I would like to try to live in all parts of the United States, and most of the schools I applied to are in the South, which is a region I have yet to visit or live in. Finally, speaking to alumni about their experiences also played into where I decided to apply.

CA: How did you hear about Forté’s MBALaunch Program? What did you find most valuable about it?

LA: I heard about it during my initial research into MBA programs. I attended an MBA fair here in Denver, and a lot of the schools there brought it up to me. I had never heard about MBALaunch or Forté before, so I did a little bit more research and contacted Krystal Brooks, who heads the Launch program, to learn more.

I became a Launcher in 2015. What I found most helpful was that it meant I wasn’t alone going through the process. I was part of a group of like-minded women trying to obtain the goal of becoming an MBA candidate. I didn’t feel like I was going through this by myself.

The resources were also really valuable. We had access to a range of test prep and MBA admissions consultants, first-hand meetings with admissions officers at many schools and we got to meet with current students who had also gone through the Forté program or are Forté Fellows. These were all very helpful.

CA: What did you most enjoy about the application process?

LA: Writing my essays. I know a lot of people find that the most challenging part of the application process, but I enjoyed digging through my past and pinpointing the stories that I wanted to highlight.

One of my favorite webinars as part of the MBALaunch program was delivered by Angela Guido. She led a session breaking down how to brainstorm and pick topics for your essay. It was very intriguing to see how to take a broad topic and narrow it down to who you are as a person. For example, she took the topic of family and asked everyone if family was a passion. She then broke down this very broad topic into discreet aspects. Are you close with your family? Why it is important to you? How do you prioritize family. She showed exactly how to take a general topic most applicants would write about and tailor it to who you are as an individual.

For one of my essays I chose to focus on the fact that I am bi-cultural. I am Nigerian-American. In my essay I talked about the difficulties of growing up in two different cultures. For example, I don’t speak my parents’ native language, which means I am not able to communicate directly with my grandmother. I need to have a parent or relative with me whenever I talk to her. Right now I am trying to achieve my goal of learning Igbo so that I can talk to her myself.

I shared in my essay how that’s one of the things I am most proud of. But I also focused on the challenging aspect of learning a new language, highlighting how it has helped prepare me to go back to school for my MBA. When you’re learning a language, you are in a new territory trying to find your way, which I think offers parallels to what business school will be like.

CA: How was your GMAT experience?

LA: To be perfectly honest, I did not have a very good GMAT experience. I had to take it multiple times. I felt it was the most challenging part of the application process. But the good thing about this time around was that thanks to the Forté program I had a study partner. When I first took it was just me studying by myself, but I met a friend as part of my Launch group and we ended up studying together.

CA: Did schools’ female enrollment percentages factor into your decision of where to apply?

LA: Yes, I would say it was a factor into my decision of where to submit my applications. Because of Forté I did find myself asking a lot more questions about different aspects of how the schools focus on the growth of women applicants and what initiatives they have to help get more women into business.

I plan to have continued involvement with Forté. I am in constant conversation with Krystal, and I am hoping to see if there are any volunteer opportunities I might participate in. I’ve also made a point to participate in interviews like these, and I’ve been sharing my experience informally with other current applicants as well—telling them about Forté and why they should sign up for the Launch program.

CA: Is there anything you would change about the Launch program?

LA: Actually, Forté started an inaugural consulting core, inviting participants to propose ways the program could be made better. It was designed as an opportunity for Launchers to get some hands-on consulting experience while also giving back first hand. One of the recommendations we came up with was to make the GMAT module longer. The MBALaunch Program is broken into two different modules, but we felt the GMAT section should be extended because the test is a major pain point for many applicants. Based on our feedback, this is something Forté has already changed.

CA: What made you choose to apply as part of Round 2?

LA: I initially wanted to apply in Round 1 but I didn’t have the GMAT score that I thought I needed, so I made the decision to push my applications to Round 2 and take the test again. My advice for future applicants is that that’s okay. Even if you have a set plan for your application process, it’s okay to deviate from that plan if it will help you prepare the strongest possible application.