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Meet our MBAs: Stephanie Graham

Stephanie and man painting wall in UNC shirt

Hometown: Tyngsboro, Massachusetts

Undergrad school and major: Wellesley College, Women’s and Gender Studies/Psychology

Employers and job titles since graduation: Political affairs associate, Mortgage Bankers Association; Legislative assistant, American Psychological Association

I needed a supportive, diverse and open community. I found that at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Recalling your own experience, what advice do you have for applicants who are preparing for either the GMAT or the GRE?

Relax. No one likes standardized tests, but at this point, we’ve all taken them. It’s a part of the process and your biggest obstacle can be your own anxiety. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same resources to prepare. If you can, try to take a course or use a tutor. Check online for tutors that are outside of the Kaplan or Princeton Review networks. I found a tutor in my city that had attended the same undergrad college and she was willing to give me a “Wellesley discount.”

Regardless, definitely invest in a book that offers practice tests. Nowadays, most books have an online component that will let you take practice tests on the computer, which is the actual format on test day. Be creative in finding resources to help you study, but ultimately, you have to put in the time and bite the bullet to get through the test. Just remember, it’s a momentary discomfort that will get you where you really want to be – business school!

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Based on your own selection process, what advice do you have for applicants who are trying to draw up a list of target schools to which to apply?

The decision to attend b-school is essentially committing to a concrete 3-5 year plan. Before you even set foot in your first MBA class, a strong program already has you planning for the recruiting process and seriously researching your summer MBA internship opportunities.

Understand what each program offers in terms of career management and preparation for the recruiting process. Be mindful that a large part of recruitment can be your school’s alumni network. Additionally, the information taught at an MBA program won’t vary significantly between schools. Everyone has the required quantitative courses that beef us up into MBAs, so think about what environment is best for you to learn those concepts. Will you be fine in a massive classroom where your question may not be answered in that moment, or do you need a smaller class size to really grasp with the material and engage in class?

Lastly, if you make a campus visit or have your interview in person, pay attention to the students. Are these people you could see yourself working with and being good friends? Most of the MBA program is team-based and you want to feel comfortable with the people you work with. Again, the material is all there, but the environment and the people are what will really shape your MBA experience.

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What advice do you have for applicants in actually applying to a school, writing essays, doing admission interviews and getting recommenders to write letters on your behalf?

A schedule is essential. I’m a very visual person, so I had six months of a calendar posted to my bedroom wall during my application process with all my deadline dates clearly marked. That may be extreme for some, but at least use a “to-do list” or a planner to keep track of all the due dates.

Take it a step further than the dates set by the schools and make your own deadlines for when you’ll send recommendations requests, first (second and third!) drafts of essays finished and schedule your interview prep. Remember, even once you have all your information gathered, you still need to package it for your application – leave time to perfect the details!

What led you to choose UNC Kenan-Flagler for your full-time MBA?

My decision came down to two schools similar in size. Both have strong alumni networks and an abundance of resources. The community of people at UNC Kenan-Flagler truly set the full-time MBA program apart. From the admissions staff to the second years I spoke with, UNC Kenan-Flagler is accessible, engaged and invested in its students. In fact, the program I did not choose to attend is technically ranked higher – but ultimately, I know my success in b-school will come down to the commitment I put into the MBA program and in order to do my best work, I needed a supportive, diverse and open community. I found that at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

What would you ultimately like to achieve before you graduate?

Coming from a non-traditional MBA background (liberal arts and political affairs), the MBA process was a bit overwhelming. The application process can and should be an incredibly introspective time, and I want to build a strong personal brand around my unique experiences.

Business is all around us, and not always in the traditional sense. I want to incorporate my educational and professional experiences into a business model that encourages my classmates from the more traditional backgrounds of finance and consulting to collaborate on ideas that serve underrepresented demographics and engage with non-traditional target markets.

This post originally appeared on Poets & Quants. View the original article here.