Today we’re continuing our Q&A series with Bell Curves alumni who are currently pursuing or just recently finished their MBAs. Recent posts have included Q&As with Goreleigh Willis, Crystal Forde , and Kibra Yemane about their first year MBA experiences. This time around Jessica Williams shares some of her insights and advice on her MBA experience. Jessica completed her MBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business
Why did you decide to apply to business school?
Business school had been on the radar since my days in undergrad, but I never knew what that looked like back then. As I was rounding out that 2.5 year mark at work, I knew that what I was doing professionally, although I was learning a lot, was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to take my career in another direction and get exposure to something that was more fulfilling. There were a few interests that I had swirling in my head, so in order to help make sense of those ideas and to help turn those into reality, I joined the organization MLT and thus began my journey to business school!
What was most surprising to you about the application process?
Just how grueling it can actually be! You really need to figure out what your motivation for going back to school is, which requires a lot of self reflection on your part. On top of studying for the GMAT, writing essays, visiting schools, etc, you still have a job, family, and life to maintain. It can be a lot sometimes. Having a strong support network around you really helps to make the process easier to bear. There are a lot of GREAT candidates out there all applying to the same schools, so you need to figure out what makes you unique. Never compare yourself to anyone else, but just figure out what will make the Admissions Board say, “I want them!” Above all, make sure your pitch is honest!
Is there anything about your experience with the GMAT/application process that was unique or surprising?
If someone were to tell me that I would have to take the GMAT again, it would be one of the saddest days of my life In total, I took the GMAT 3 times and I didn’t think that it would take that long. I got a score I was happy enough with, but the final scores usually fell within the same general range. Something that surprised me, however, was that I could take practice test after practice test, perform really well, and then all of a sudden, get a score that I was nowhere to being happy with. It was a little heartbreaking, but one thing Sharon Thompson from Fuqua told us during a visit to the school was, “You are more than your GMAT score.” It’s really true. People get so caught up in getting an extremely high score that they let the rest of their application suffer. Anyone I talk to, I advise them to aim for that 800 if possible, but 1. Never compare your GMAT performance to another person’s and 2. Make sure the same amount of focus is put on other parts of the application to showcase yourself as a well-rounded candidate.
What specific advice would you give those prepping for the GMAT now?
I wouldn’t take the GMAT more than 3 times (personal opinion), especially if your score is not improving much. Focus on another aspect of the application if you feel that you have reached your limit. Also, figure out what your best learning method is if you decide to get instruction (class vs. individual help). Studying for the GMAT and applying to school is a very short term time investment for a very long payoff – make the time!
What was the most useful resource to you during the application process?
Being able to have access to the Bell Curves team as much as possible and becoming an MLT fellow. I took a class with Akil Bello and even had private tutoring sessions with him, and his ability to break down seemingly complicated questions helped tremendously in understanding what the problem actually was. Being able to navigate your way through questions to find the actual problem is a skill that I was able to use in school and even more so since rejoining the workforce.
How many schools did you apply to and get accepted to?
Applied to 5, accepted to 2, waitlisted at 1
How has business school impacted your career?
Business school has impacted my career by making me a more confident professional. It’s so motivating to constantly be surrounded by people who are so smart, so driven, so nice, and so dedicated to helping you succeed, that you can’t help but be encouraged to become more confident. I started in an industry that was interesting to me, but one that didn’t motivate me to go to work everyday. Business school enabled me to make a transfer into retail and into marketing in a role that is much more fulfilling to me and one that I am actually excited to do each day.