Meet The Oxford Saïd MBA Class of 2016

Deborah Owhin

Deborah Owhin

Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

Hometown: London, UK and Effurun, Nigeria

Undergraduate School and Major: Spelman College, Psychology

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:

Gender Equality Consultant

Gender Director

Violence Against Women and Girls Coordinator. UK Government.

African Women in the Diaspora Convener – Comic Relief and Royal Society of Arts (UK)

Associate- Nigerian Leadership Initiative (Nigeria)

Chaplin Assistant- Her Majesty Prisons (UK)

United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Civil society delegate (New York)

High Risk Domestic Violence ‎Coordinator  (UK)

Recalling your own experience, what advice do you have for applicants who are preparing for either the GMAT or the GRE? Everyone’s journey will be different, so early on figure out what works best for you, whether it is tutors, study groups, 6 weeks of cramming, or 3-6 months long term plans. I tried everything- and make the most of the resources out there, starting with official guides and free GMAC prep.

My advice is to take it seriously and give yourself sufficient time to prepare, if you’re not from an American educational background, it probably won’t be like any exam you have sat before. I did well in quant classes at University, Statistics I, Statistics II, Experimental and even passed Pre-Calculus. However I never quite cracked the GMAT as a British-Nigerian student.

The exams (GMAT/ GRE) are not supposed to be easy, so don’t beat yourself up if you are not progressing as quickly as you expect to. Take the time to use all of the resources available to understand the exams, the style of questions, and the competences that the test takers are attempting to test you on. Practice tests under real testing conditions are really important to help give you an indication of your strengths and weaknesses, which you can then focus on. It is okay to take the exam more than once; most people take it a few times. Just ensure you plan it out well. Rushing works for some people, not me. Ultimately the GMAT/GRE score only makes up part of your application, so if your score is lower than you were aiming for, you should still apply. Just make sure that you really emphasise your other strengths in the application and interview.

Based on your own selection process, what advice do you have for applicants who are trying to draw up a list of target schools to which to apply? Choose a B-School that will assist you in achieving your long-term goals. For me, I knew that I did not want to return to the US for my postgraduate degree having completed my undergraduate there. Also, I knew that I did not want to commit to a two-year course, so this helped me to hone in on my options quickly. My focus was looking for a school where I would not be labelled the ‘non traditional’ student, but one where I would find other social innovators in my class. I was drawn to the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and being physically close to the African continent. The wider network that I can access through the Executive MBA class was also an important factor. Do not pursue a school for its name alone as it is a massive investment of time and money. You want to be somewhere that will aide you in your long term plans for your career. Also consider where you expect your networks to be in 20 years, rather than the first 5 years post-graduation.

What advice do you have for applicants in actually applying to a school, writing essays, doing admission interviews, and getting recommenders to write letters on your behalf? Applying is time-consuming so I suggest honing in on 3 schools to ensure you are not spread too thinly. And only apply to additional schools if you know you have the time to truly dedicate to each school and understanding each of their application processes and expectations. Then set some time aside to do your research on the process. Check out the blogs and websites that provide advice online on your short listed B-Schools and tap into those resources.

Oxford Saïd has a very approachable recruitment team, who I was able to reach out to during my application process. Finding a person who can be your contact, whether staff, faculty or alumni, will tremendously add to your journey. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. There are lots of ‘free’ MBA consultants out there who can advise you. They have years’ worth of experience and truly understand the recruitment and admissions processes at many of the top programs.

Essays: A friend gave me some advice when I was drafting my essays. He told me to make them honest and personal so that they know who I am. Try to share things that no other applicant could because it is part of your journey, your story; this helps the admissions team to picture you and get to know who you are. Get a few people to read the essay drafts – people from your field (to ensure you are not underselling yourself); people in completely opposite fields (to de-jargonise) and someone who has been through the B-School application process successfully (wisdom). Even if you have the best writing abilities, fresh eyes will always help polish your essays.

Interviews: Interview preparation with friends is useful, but also prepare with someone at a senior level who will be able to push you more. I did that with one of my mentors, it was a real mock interview in an office with tough questions.

Recommendations: If you want your recommendation to stand out, provide your recommender with ‘MBA buzzwords’ and not just your resume. Put together a biography on yourself to assist them to put together a strong letter and not just a few words. I wanted each of my recommenders to focus on different aspects of who I am and share things I did not have the space to in my essays and application. That was a strategic move for me and it panned out well.

What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? I personally felt that Oxford Saïd was a great fit for me and my long terms goals of being a resource for women in Sub-Sahara Africa and the Diaspora. I could see clearly that Oxford Saïd is investing massively in increasing and diversifying their class. This year our class will have students from over 50 countries. They are committed to recruiting the best women and African students which interested me massively because in the future, I want to be involved in helping both of these groups progress further. I have seen real commitments to students from Africa during my application process through dedicated events and relationship building across the African continent; the recruitment of faculty who specialise in Business in Africa who are developing case studies from across the continent; and from the feedback from current students and alumni. I applied and was awarded the Skoll Scholarship for my entrepreneurial and innovative approaches to tackling gender equality and preventing violence against women and girs, through a truly competitive selection process. This means that I will be part of a global network of social entrepreneurs supported by the Skoll Centre for life.

What would you ultimately like to achieve before you graduate? Academically, I hope to really understand business strategy, global strategy and finance for entrepreneurs and will pursue courses and extracurricular activities which will assist me to achieve this goal.

Personally, I want to be part of the reason that MBA programs at top schools are attainable for more candidates from ‘non traditional’ backgrounds, such as the NGO and charity sector. It is a daunting prospect entering B-School as it is seen to be part of the ‘private sector’ world; However, there are many principals taught in MBA programs which are transferable to international development and NGO work. I want to help promote more avenues to measure academic aptitude of candidates who are not used to standardised test such as the GMAT or GRE. I hope to be part of many seminars and conferences on campus during my time, which will open the doors of Oxford Saïd and the University of Oxford to more women and students from non-traditional backgrounds.

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