Last week, young women blazered-up and headed to Bank of America’s New York headquarters to take on the business world. Somewhat literally: They were attending the final night of the Forté Forums‘ 10-city US tour: a panel discussion slash networking event for young women interested in applying to business school.
The event is spearheaded by the Forté Foundation, an Austin-based non-profit that mobilizes young women to enroll in MBA programs and pursue high-level business careers. Forté’s mission received a big boost last month, when 45 business school deans convened at the White House to draft “best practices” to make business school more inclusive and to attract more women applicants.
But don’t just take the White House’s word for it. Here are eight reasons why business school could be an excellent move for you.
1. Because you want to make a career change.
Jackie Laine, 28, moved to Los Angeles after her college graduation in 2008. Business school was in the back of her mind as an option, but “I was working as a reality TV producer and loving it, so I didn’t apply right away. Then a couple of years ago, I realized that I was ready for a new career challenge. I started reading article after article about data in entertainment, and I realized that I wanted to move into that part of the industry.”
Jackie decided to enroll this fall at the Kellogg School of Management at her alma mater, Northwestern University. “Producing TV gave me a great set of soft skills that I’ll be able to take with me for the rest of my career, and the MBA will give me experience with analytics, finance, and operations that will complement my creative experience.”
2. Because you want to make a career change, but you don’t know exactly what you want.
“An MBA gives you exposure to all different fields of interest,” said Diana Economy, the senior associate director of admissions at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “Who you are at your core is not going to change. But you’re going to supplement that with business fundamentals and leadership opportunities that are going to offer exposure to a variety of careers and fields that you might not have known existed before.”
[Related: How to Prep for the MBA Application Process]
3. Because you want to be a leader in your industry.
Laurie Stewart, director of school relations for the Forté Foundation, organized alumnae panel discussions at each of the Forté Forum events. “One recurring theme was that an MBA provides graduates with know-how and leadership skills that allows them to make a meaningful impact in a wide range of industries and job roles—which in turn leads to interesting career opportunities that they wouldn’t have had access to without an MBA,” said Stewart. Want to “lean in?” Head to b-school.
4. Because business school isn’t just for “business people.”
At the University of Michigan, 25 percent of first year b-school students had liberal arts majors as undergrads. “Women should have confidence knowing that what we’re looking for is a diversity of thought,” said Diana Economy. “The most common misconception is that business school is only for people who want to go into what they feel is ‘traditional business’: investment banking, consulting, and operations roles. The MBA offers incredible diversity in terms of post-MBA options. I have friends who are in leadership roles within school districts, they are consulting for non-profits, they are creating sustainable supply chains in emerging markets. I think an MBA program is a place where you can marry your passion with your profession.”
5. Because you can handle the math.
Take a deep breath and tell your math anxiety to take a hike. “I do think that’s part of why we don’t see as many women in MBA programs,” said Joanne Legler, senior associate director of admissions at Yale University School of Management. “Women considering an MBA see another math obstacle and they talk themselves out of it. I don’t think the math should be what stops someone from going to business school. The funny thing about the level of math needed to achieve success in an MBA program, is that the math is on a level that most successful young women already surpassed in high school or college.”
6. Because you want to substantially increase your earning power.
Said Laurie Stewart, “One additional benefit discussed at the Forté alumnae panel discussions was not surprising—the increase in earning power and the positive ROI in investing in an MBA degree.” According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the “expected median starting salary for class of 2014 MBA new hires was $95,000 in the US.”
7. Because there is an emerging focus on entrepreneurship and startups in b-school.
Many business schools have entrepreneurs-in-residence, business plan competitions, and programming about startups, in addition to entrepreneurship academic concentrations. Stanford University, Harvard University, MIT, UC-Berkeley, Babson College, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Chicago offer some of the most highly-regarded entrepreneurship programs. Three pairs of prominent female startup co-founders all graduated from Harvard’s MBA program: Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp (Birchbox), Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss (Rent the Runway), and Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson (Gilt Groupe).
8. Because you’ll broaden your horizons, sharpen your skills, and get better at what you’re best at.
“I’m surprised at how much I’m interested in venturing outside of my comfort zone to meet different types of people and learn different types of subjects than what I’m typically used to,” said Sonie Guseh, 27, a second year MBA candidate at Columbia Business School. “I’m learning so much about myself and the world around me through school, and that’s an incredible part of the experience.”
“For women, they come out of an MBA program with truly increased confidence and sense of self,” said Joanne Legler. “It’s transformative. For women in particular, the MBA experience gives an opportunity to really access their skills, to exercise their strengths, to hole up any weaknesses, and to feel that they can absolutely do whatever they want post-MBA.”
Photo: Knape/ Getty Images