Behind most good business school applications is a student who researched the admissions process early – long before letters of recommendation or personal statements were even a thought.
For minority applicants, who often have lower odds of getting in, early awareness about the admissions process is critical. Events like the National Diversity MBA Summit may help prospective students get familiar with applying at just the right time.
"We wanted to get in touch with candidates just before they started thinking that an MBA might be a right fit," says Brent Opall, director of diversity and inclusion at University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, where the summit will take place. "The sooner you reach students in the pipeline, the better prepared they are for when they put together their application."
A number of organizations, such as Management Leadership for Tomorrow and the Forte Foundation, aid underrepresented minorities as they apply for and enter business school. But those programs target very specific groups – often women or applicants of color. The summit is open to all underrepresented minorities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer candidates.
"We wanted to offer something that was more broad and more open to a larger pool of candidates, and that's what inspired us to develop this program," says Opall.
On July 26 and 27, prospective MBA candidates can speak with admissions officers, attend speed networking sessions and learn about life at business school through panel discussions. Up to 250 prospective students can attend. Registration is $50. (Shawn P. O'Connor, who writes a law school admissions blog for U.S. News, is one of the event's founders, CEO of cosponsor Stratus Prep and president of cosponsor Stratus Foundation.)
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Admissions experts agree that the National Diversity MBA Summit and similar diversity events can help minority applicants strengthen their business school applications. Students can have candid conversations with school representatives to learn more about the schools' programs and details about the admissions process.
"Admissions officers are brutally honest," says Nicole Lindsay, founder of DiversityMBAPrep.com, which offers virtual MBA admissions coaching. Attendees can learn exactly what type of student an MBA program is looking for, she says.
Students can connect with admissions officers by asking them tough questions, says Shari Hubert, the associate dean of MBA admissions at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.
Hubert encourages candidates to ask: What is a school's commitment to diversity and how does the school actually demonstrate it in practice? What resources or support can I expect to receive? What's the community like? How tolerant and inclusive is your community?
Building a healthy rapport with school representatives can be critical in the admissions process.
"A close relationship with someone where you really know their story can make the difference of giving that person a shot," says Lindsay, a former admissions official at the Yale School of Management.
"It's much harder to deny an applicant than it is an application. So if I don't know you, I don't feel as bad even if you have a compelling story versus if I actually have met you."
Students should keep in mind, however, that while these events are helpful, they may not necessarily give them a leg up in admissions or reflect the diversity picture on campus, Lindsay told U.S. News in 2012.
Prospective MBA candidates unable to attend the summit in July may be able to take advantage of similar programs in the fall. A number of schools host diversity events during this time for applicants interested in their programs.
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Georgetown will host two Focus on Diversity events this fall, which attract about 100 prospective MBA candidates. Students can attend a mock class, participate in panel discussions with professors, interact with alumni and engage in other activities. One event will be for women and the other will target underrepresented minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students; and military students.