Graduate Student Spotlight: Stephanie White ’09

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Stephanie White graduated with her undergraduate degree in 2009. She is currently a full-time MBA student at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. 

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Why did you decide to pursue this program?

After Eller, I moved to Northern California and worked in Deloitte’s Technology Consulting practice. After a couple years of work, I realized that I wanted to refocus my career and move toward product and project management. Pursuing an MBA gave me the chance to build a strong Bay Area network in technology of colleagues across various functions and with diverse backgrounds. While I could have continued for the next few years by learning in industry, an MBA would position me for a career shift and an eventual executive role.

What was the preparation/application process like?

The most critical step is research. Each of the top MBA programs has a very different culture. Beyond the specialties in finance or marketing, or top employers that hire from the class, the student base itself has a vibe that shapes your experience as a student. I read articles and rankings, interviewed current students, and visited campuses for recruiting events and mock classes. Try to get past the guidebook answer – most schools look the same on paper. Meet people and see it firsthand!

Once I narrowed my list, I studied for a few months and took the GMAT. My score was over the recommended threshold for the programs I sought, so I began drafting essays. Each school’s application looks for different things, so the essay writing takes a long time (and I do not recommend copying and pasting responses). I tried to find answers to the questions that highlighted different parts of my personality and skillset, and framed them within impactful stories that painted a picture for the reviewers. I passed these through a brigade of reviewers among friends and family and revised until they were sparkling.

Next, I secured recommenders. Each application requires at least one (more likely two) letter from a current or former boss, colleague, client, or academic advisor. While high status can be helpful, it is important that this person is passionate about your choice to go to school and can explain reasons why you would be a good candidate. Once I chose my recommenders, I outlined some points for them about my qualifications and the school’s expectations, and we sat down to decide which stories and points they could write about. After that, I spent a lot of time following up – these are busy people, and writing letters is tedious.

Finally, I completed interviews and made my decision. Different schools take different approaches, so I did some interviews on campus and off, with alumni and current students. As much as the interview is a time to sell your qualifications, it is also about making sure you are a cultural fit, so don’t forget to socialize with the interviewer and share your personality!

Do you have any advice for students looking to pursue an MBA?

  • Work first. Definitely spend a couple of years working before going back to school. Even if you know you want the education, waiting gives you necessary perspective on the working world and your own long-term plans.
  • Commit. There are great benefits to part-time programs, but if you (like me) are hoping to build a network, enter a full-time program to find great friends and develop deep relationships.
  • Go big. Every MBA program is expensive, so don’t stress over the difference of $5000 cost between schools. If the culture is right, attend the best school that admits you. You will make the money back soon enough.
  • Get personal. It is not silly to consider factors like location or relationships. The school experience is more than statistics. You are giving up years of your time for this – make sure you will be happy!

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