Have An MBA Admissions Question? Ask Erika, Our Resident Expert


Poets&Quants’ Resident Expert, Erika Olson of Stacy Blackman Consulting

Erika has been a consultant with the Stacy Blackman Consulting team since 2009.  She received her MBA from Harvard Business School, where she also served as an HBS Admissions Ambassador. Erika earned her BBA (with high distinction) at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and spent the first two years of her undergraduate studies in University of Michigan’s Honors College, where she was named an Angell Scholar. In the spring of 2011 she was invited back to the Ross campus to help judge the undergraduate investment competition.

In addition to her admissions consulting work with SBC, Erika is a freelance writer who has written everything from corporate web site copy for design firms, to white papers and PowerPoint presentations for mutual fund corporations, to social media content and movie reviews for national DVD retailer Redbox. She is a board member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and attends movie screenings each week alongside the likes of Richard Roeper. What’s more, her first book, Zero-Sum Game: The Rise of the World’s Largest Derivatives Exchange, was published by Wiley in late 2010. It’s about the stranger-than-fiction multibillion-dollar bidding war that erupted for the Chicago Board of Trade while Erika was a Managing Director there. Erika’s thoughts on the exchange industry and mentions of her book have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and several other publications.

As the Managing Director of Marketing at the Chicago Board of Trade, Erika was not only taking down notes for her eventual manuscript, but also responsible for the exchange’s heavily trafficked web site, a multimillion-dollar advertising budget, and all product marketing materials. Further, she was selected by the CEO to be part of a small team dedicated to integrating the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s operations after the two companies agreed to merge.

Before joining the Board of Trade, Erika was the Vice President of Communications, Programs and User Experience at JPMorgan Chase. In this role she was responsible for the Commercial Banking division’s web site, as well as all marketing communications for Internet-based products and the company’s first-ever ethnographic customer research effort.

Prior to graduate school, Erika was an Internet strategy consultant and worked with clients in the financial services and pharmaceutical industries. She oversaw a five-continent, ten-country customer research project and opened the Chicago office for her Seattle-based firm.

Stacy Blackman Consulting and Erika have agreed to help MBA candidates with questions at Poets&Quants. Worried about your undergraduate record? Concerned about your GMAT score? Unsure of how to answer a specific essay question? Wondering who you should ask to write your letters of recommendation?

Erika will do her best to answer your queries. However, please keep in mind that individual profile reviews, assessments of your chances/odds at a certain school and advice on exactly where to apply are all pretty tough to give without an in-depth conversation. Here’s an opportunity to take advantage of Erika’s years of experience in admissions consulting to learn how to make your materials stronger.

Fire away!


  • Julia

    Hi Erika! Thank you so much for your advice! i think I’ll wait a couple more years, I recently started volunteering at a foundation I deeply care about.

    Also I have a couple of other questions.

    1) Do schools care about whether you send the GMAT or the GRE? I’ve already taken the GRE, and I’m wondering if I should take the GMAT or even retake the GRE (I really really really wanna be competitive for Stanford GSB, HBS, Haas and Sloan)

    2) How do B-schools see applicants with a Masters in Finance?

    Once again thank you so so much!

  • Erika Olson

    If you were my client and I only knew what you wrote above, I would tell you to get more work experience. Business schools are different than other programs because students really teach each other from their life and work experiences, and it’s just usually really hard to make a compelling case for yourself when you have only been in the “real world” for a few years. I would concentrate on continuing to get more leadership experience and some solid accomplishments to speak of and also get involved in a cause you care about (and take a leadership position in it). You’ll be competing against the best of the best and want to give yourself the best shot — and you can do that by giving yourself more time in your career to differentiate yourself. Hope that helps!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there – Sorry, but as I state in my column I don’t give odds or personal recommendations for programs or degrees — just more general advice here. I only work with MBA applicants so am not familiar with the alternates in your second question. And in general the top MBA programs care about what you’ve done and whether or not it will help others in your class learn. There is A LOT more that goes into someone’s chances than just years of experience, so I would concentrate on having some solid achievements to speak of, some deep extracurricular experience and getting the best score you can on the GMAT. You will also have to think about your career goals and have them narrowed down for your essays. Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    This is a tough one. In general, once you get past 5 years of work experience you start falling into the “older candidate” pool — which is fine, but you just have to have a good reason you waited that long to apply. The experience you described does not seem very MBA-relevant, and I’m not sure exactly what you did in education before. The top schools are looking for students who will help teach their classmates based on their experiences, so if you feel like your experience in total is something that others can learn from, you may be OK to apply this year. If not, getting more business-relevant experience might behoove you. I think you will also need to convince them that you need an MBA for whatever your future career goals are.

    Good luck!

  • Erika Olson

    Hi there – If your school doesn’t actually award GPAs, then I wouldn’t calculate one to put on your resume — odds are that the adcom is familiar with your university enough to know they don’t have GPAs and therefore it won’t be looked at as that you’re trying to hide something. I think it’s OK to leave it off.

    I do think your business undergrad GPA will be more relevant to them, but I think they’ll just view the GPAs separately… I would highly doubt they would combine GPAs in any way.

    All you can really do is present the info and grades truthfully and the rest is out of your hands, really. Good luck!

  • Bobsfred

    Hi Erika,

    I saw your response below to navy finance and had a follow up query.

    I went to a university overseas where GPAs aren’t awarded. I am unsure about whether including estimated GPAs in my resume is therefore expected or whether I should leave it off?

    In addition I have two undergraduate degrees, one in business and one in law and if I had to estimate GPAs I’d guess they would be around ~3.8 for business (a 4.0 for my major) and ~3.2 for law. Will business schools treat my GPA as a 3.8 because I’m applying for a business masters or will they still do a cumulative GPA of both degrees?

    Hope you can help and thanks in advance for taking the time to read this.

  • Amy

    Dear Erika,
    I am thinking about applying for business school to pursue an MBA in the next one to two years. My current and previous work experience has been in the field of education. The past two years, I have worked as a teaching assistant working with students who have learning disabilities in an inner-city public school in a city in Upstate New York.
    I am now working as a oral English teacher in a small city in China. After my 10-month teaching contract ends in July 2017, I will be working as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at a prominent Canadian private school in Shanghai for another year. My question to you is should I spend a third year in China continuing to work as an ESL teacher or get into China’s booming education consulting industry to be considered to be a competitive applicant at Wharton? I graduated from one of the universities listed on the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. I could easily get a Consortium Fellowship at any one of the member business schools. I am currently learning oral Mandarin. So, my top choice would be Wharton with a concentration in Business Economics/Finance or a school off the Consortium. Do you think I will be a stronger candidate for Wharton if I stay a third year in China or should I just settle for a Consortium school by just working two years in China?
    My Background/Stats:
    3.2 GPA
    Graduated from a top 30 U.S. university based on US and News Report (National Universities) in 2013
    Racial background: black
    Studied abroad for a semester at the University of Cape Town as a Gilman Scholar (awarded by the U.S. Department of State)
    BA in International Relations
    Plan to retake the GRE
    Any comments or advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time and consideration!

  • Gaja

    Hi Erika,

    Happy morning!

    I’m a 2016-2018 Teach for India fellow. I completed my undergrad in Electrical Engineering in June 2015 and worked as an analyst with KPMG for 6 months before I joined the fellowship in 2016.

    I am considering applying to B schools for fall 2018. Post MBA I would like to work in either of the 3 sectors – data analytics, technology in education or the social sector. With some context of my background and future interest, I’d really appreciate it if you give your views on these 3 queries:

    1.) Choice of university

    From your experience and research which are the universities that I stand a strong chance at? (considering that I have 2.5yrs of professional experience) . Although most universities say there aren’t any specific requirements that determine the candidature, on looking through the class profiles I generally find a GMAT score of 700-750 , work experience of 4-7 yrs.

    2.) Alternatives
    I’m considering other masters options available like MMS , MSE etc in the management sector. Can you please recommend other alternatives?

    Thanks in advance,

  • Julia

    I know you don’t usually make statements about a candidate’s odds but I am just wondering how much work experience is enough! Thank you so so much 🙂

  • Julia

    Also worth adding that my post-MBA dream career would be in fintech, or tech companies, working with Product management and my absolutely dream job in life is one day make it to COO! Obviously, this is my dream and not necessarily a reality, and I am interested in top-10 schools, which is why I am a little unsure about the work experience! Thank you so so much!