When Janelle Marshall graduated from Duke University in 2008, like so many other graduates, she was thrust into an unkind economy. Armed with a degree in sociology and a certificate in markets and management, she bounced around from internship to internship before settling on a customer service role with Citigroup.
“I thought I was going to forever be the intern,” recalls the now 29-year-old. Marshall took the role as a bank teller for Citigroup, fully intending to find her “big break” within a couple months. Except two months turned into more than two years. “Every day for two-and-a-half years I was thinking, I did not go to college to be so underemployed.”
So the New York City-native left Citigroup for a gig as a paralegal at a small law firm called Ebert & Associates. Again, Marshall was paying the bills but lacking purpose or passion in her role. Her true passion, she believed, was in sports and entertainment marketing. Marshall says reading an article about Dallas Cowboys Chief Brand Officer Charlotte Jones Anderson illuminated a path. “It was about her role as the Chief Brand Officer and listed all of the skills and tasks of a job I wanted,” Marshall says.
‘I REMEMBER FEELING BEYOND OVERWHELMED’
Like so many career-transition seekers, Marshall looked toward the MBA to make the shift. After Googling a few MBA programs, she found a Forté Foundation event for women considering business school. “I remember feeling beyond overwhelmed,” Marshall admits. “I hadn’t taken the GMAT. I didn’t know who was going to be my professional recommenders.”
And then Marshall received an email from Forté with information about the MBALaunch for Women program. First piloted in 2013, MBALaunch is essentially a $500, 10-month boot camp and pre-MBA networking program for would-be business school applicants. Currently, the program is offered in eight cities around the world.
According to Krystal Brooks, an associate director at Forté, the program has grown from about 100 women participating in the pilot to an intake of some 500 women for this year’s program. The response has been so great, Forte decided to extend the application deadlines three weeks to Nov. 29 for Boston, Houston, London and Toronto.
AN EMPHASIS ON GMAT PREP AND FINANCING THE MBA
The program is perfect for MBA applicants such as Marshall who could benefit from a strength-in-numbers approach to the MBA application. “What we know about this group of women is they are very intelligent and incredibly busy at high-level jobs,” says Brooks, who was the former director of masters admissions at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “Having a program that can provide the structure and accountability to keep them on track is very important.”
Once accepted into the program, women are placed in groups of five or six and matched with MBA alums and current MBA students. “The teams work through the process together and work through the same goals,” Brooks says. “Someone holding you accountable and giving encouragement as you go through the process and fill out the application and write your essays is very helpful.”
Brooks says two of the main pain points women in the program report experiencing are GMAT prep and financing the MBA. So after the pilot year, the program introduced an intense GMAT prep program and multiple financing webinars and coaching sessions.
“Many, many of these women are concerned about the GMAT,” Brooks says, noting a survey at the end of the 2013-2014 program revealed that more than two-thirds of the MBALaunch participants listed the exam as their main point of anxiety. “So they can work together in study groups and talk about their anxiety together and come up with strategies to be successful.”
‘CHILL OUT ON THE HAPPY HOURS’
An emphasis for the program, Brooks explains, is MBA readiness. “It’s a 10-month, pretty intense program and the peer support is a very integral part,” she explains. “So the women rely on each other. We want candidates who already know they want to pursue an MBA and who are ready to make that commitment to strengthen their applications.”
Marshall, who completed the program earlier this year and has applied to multiple schools in Round One, agrees it takes both expected and unexpected commitments. The expected? A lot of hours practicing for the GMAT. The unexpected? Advising her fellow MBA applicant friends to “chill out on the happy hours.” After all, MBAs don’t come cheap.
Brooks believes sharing those similar goals is what brings many of the women closer before they even walk on a business school campus. “Having the same goal as well as very similar concerns from the process does bring them together and allows them to support each other and encourage each other on this long and daunting process,” she says.
For Marshall, it even means finding potential roommates when offers from schools are dealt. “A few of us have talked about being roommates if we end up at the same schools,” she says.
INSPIRATION TO ‘MAKE REAL CHANGE IN THE WORLD AND IN BUSINESS’
Ultimately, the program not only gives applicants the skills to present the best version of themselves to elite MBA programs, but to inspire them through others who’ve already been accepted to or completed top MBA programs.
“Sometimes applicants will think because they don’t have their GMAT or if their GPA is a bit below average, they’ll worry about their chances of getting in,” Brooks says, also noting any interested applicants should reach out to her directly.
“But I would never opt myself out,” she continues. “I would always opt in to programs like this when applying. Taking advantage of opportunities like this can really propel them into MBA programs and their careers.”
And that’s exactly what came of the program for Marshall.
“The MBALaunch prepares you with the skills to apply but also it gives the sense you can make real change in the world and in business,” Marshall says.