For many, imposter syndrome and self-doubt are part of the B-school application process.
For women, though, these feelings seem to be especially strong – perhaps because, despite societal progress in creating a more gender-equitable culture, there are considerably fewer female business role models.
“If you don’t have examples of people with similar experiences and backgrounds to you, it’s harder to imagine yourself succeeding,” says Samina Hydery, Class of 2023 MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “I am eager to see this shift in the next generation and think we’re making progress with every graduating class.”
For Hydery, Abhi Arora, and Sarah Sullivan, navigating the admissions process was a journey in itself. In celebration of International Women’s Month, Poets&Quants sat down with these women to hear their reflections on navigating the MBA admissions process and academic journey – and the advice they have for others in similar positions.
ABHI ARORA: ‘I WANT EVERY WOMAN TO THINK THAT HER BELIEFS CAN BE LIMITLESS’
For Arora, applying to Stanford GSB required building confidence in herself.
Arora grew up in India and, after a few years working for global companies, she became interested in starting her own business. In 2020, she and her friend launched an Indian women’s health tech company called Proactive For Her, a Nexus Venture Partners-backed company that’s still running today. Seeking more tools in her entrepreneurial toolkit, an MBA felt like the next step — and Stanford GSB was her top choice.
Despite her vast experience, she struggled with self-doubt throughout the admissions process; she hadn’t met anyone with her same experience, and finding role models was difficult. “During the application journey, there were a lot of people in my life telling me that going to the GSB was a pipe dream – and that I was wasting my money by applying there,” she says. “I had to tell myself that I was going to apply, no matter what.”
She garnered the persistence to pursue her dream by working on her mindset. “I told myself that no matter what the outcome of my application, I would learn something along the way.”
She was accepted into the GSB as one of six Indian passport holders in a class of over 400 students. Hoping to find common ground with her peers, she joined the Women in Management Club – a community whose aim is to build a supportive network and foster a more equitable business world – and eventually became its co-president. “We had really interesting conversations that helped me find my footing within the GSB,” she says. “I loved seeing all of the amazing and inspiring women around me. Once getting to know them, it gave me confidence learning that they also deal with similar things, like imposter syndrome and resistance.”
For Arora, she believes that the way to encourage women to pursue their dreams – to attend B-school or otherwise – requires a shift in mindset. “We’re taught that there are limits on our dreams,” she says. “There’s a lot of people that tell you what you cannot do, and at some point you have to block out the noise. I want every woman to think that her beliefs can be limitless.”
SARAH SULLIVAN: ‘BEING A WOMAN AT STANFORD IS WAY EASIER THAN BEING A WOMAN IN THE WORKFORCE’
When Sullivan was asked what matters to her in her GSB application, something clicked. She realized how much she cares about supporting women in business – and how she wanted to be surrounded by inspiring and ambitious females throughout her career.
Post-undergrad at Columbia, Sullivan worked for Bank of America in California. There, she discovered that she wanted to move into venture capital. She joined Adams Street Partners as an associate on their venture capital growth equity team. Interested in going into VC long term, her mentors – who were GSB alumni – advised her to get an MBA.
Like Arora, Sullivan’s application journey was one of building confidence. For her, though, she had plenty of role models who went to Stanford in the Bay Area. But she was intimidated by the GSB grads she knew, and doubted her ability to get accepted. Thankfully, the people she worked with helped her to build her belief in herself. Now, as a GSB student and Women in Management Club board member, she’s committed to building a community of women who will “support each other throughout their careers.”
“Being a woman at Stanford is way easier than being a woman in the workforce,” shares Sullivan. “Many of us came from male-dominated industries. I love being at Stanford where close to half of the class is made up of women.”
For Sullivan, she believes that the way to encourage women to go after their goals is through mentorship. “I think that will play into my career in the future; I want to make space to mentor women who are on either similar or different paths than me.”
MEET SAMINA HYDERY: ‘ALL OF A SUDDEN I WAS SURROUNDED BY 200 WOMEN WHO WERE ALL SUPER AMBITIOUS’
Prior to the GSB, Hydery spent several years as an investor across venture capital growth, equity, and buyout. When she landed an associate role at American Securities, one of her mentors was a GSB grad. “Hearing her talk about business school and how it deepened some of the soft skills that have mattered more in her life as an investor inspired me,” she says. “Business school seemed like the perfect two-year window to try something different outside of investing.”
Hydery was juggling 80-100 hour workweeks as she studied for the GMAT. “I felt this pressure in private equity as one of the only few younger women in the industry, and the GMAT was this added stress,” she shares.
She applied to the GSB twice and was unsuccessful the first time around. “The rejection from the GSB stung because it was my first choice school, so much so that I ultimately decided to not attend the other schools I was accepted into,” explains Hydery.
When she applied again the following year, she battled some self doubt. She says she wondered if she was interesting enough to be part of the class, and if she’d made a big enough impact. “Hearing other people share their reapplication stories gave me the confidence to know that I wasn’t alone,” she shares. “I was especially surprised to later hear stats around how many reapplicants the GSB accepts every year. I hope I can inspire more people to share these stories.”
Like Sullivan, Hydery was pleasantly surprised by how many women were in the MBA class. On her investment team, she was usually either the only woman or one of two women. “At the GSB, all of a sudden I was surrounded by 200 women who were all super ambitious, came from professional backgrounds, and wanted to make an impact,” she says.
Alongside Arora, she became co-president of the Women in Management Club. In order to continue amplifying female voices, Hydery believes that it’s important to continue having clubs like it in the post-business school world – and have men be part of the conversations, too. Plus, like Arora and Sullivan, she thinks that mentorship is key. “One of the most fulfilling things I do now is serve as a role model by proactively helping women in their application processes,” says Hydery.
For women who are in the process of applying – or even thinking about applying – to business school, Hydery has some advice. “Frame the MBA admissions process as a journey of self-reflection and try to write the application for yourself rather than for the admissions team,” she says. “Depersonalize the admissions results as much as possible; the decisions you receive are not at all an indication of your worth.”
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