10 New Year's Resolutions for Female MBA Applicants

Pursue an MBA with Confidence

An MBA is often perceived as a steppingstone to a C-suite job. But in 2015 women made up only an average 36.2 percent of students enrolled in MBA programs, according to the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for women in business schools.

Here are 10 New Year's resolutions experts recommend for female MBA applicants who hope to become leaders in the business world.

1. Target female-friendly MBA programs

Experts say it is important for female MBA applicants to determine whether business schools provide a learning environment where they can thrive as women.

Joyce Russell, dean of the Villanova School of Business, is one of many b-school deans eager to recruit women. She says business schools like hers are changing their MBA programs to make them more attractive to women by -- for instance -- emphasizing collaboration over competition.

2. Confront insecurities

One MBA graduate says she struggled with her confidence both when applying to and during business school.

Michelle Fishberg, a 2005 MBA graduate from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University who is now the CEO and co-founder of the pillow company Slumbr, says attending Stanford was intimidating for her at first because she had not attended an Ivy League college. She says one thing that helped her address those insecurities was remembering her personal talents.

3. Focus on personal strengths

Fishberg of Stanford says female MBA students often suffer from impostor syndrome, meaning they feel like they do not deserve to be where they are, but that it helps to remind yourself of your worth.

"You'll be intimidated for sure at times," Fishberg said in an email, "but you'll also find times when your unique talents and perspective will enhance the experience of your classmates, and you will shine."

4. Research job placement rates

Female MBA applicants should investigate whether potential business schools have a good track record of connecting female graduates with jobs by talking to female alumni, says Roy Cohen, a career counselor and executive coach based in New York City.

"You need to know if the school is a feeder for companies that have historically not supported female candidates, such as hedge funds and investment banks," Cohen says. "If that is the case, and your goal is to work on Wall Street, then you may not be satisfied with your outcome because you likely will end up unemployed at graduation."

5. Grow quantitative skills

Some women are intimidated by math courses in MBA programs, experts say, but they often have higher quantitative ability than they recognize. Elissa Sangster, executive director of the Forté Foundation, says avoiding quantitative courses in MBA programs has serious consequences: fewer job prospects after graduation.

"It really is important for women to take those rigorous math courses to build that muscle," Sangster says. "You just don't want to be an MBA graduate who does not have that financial savvy."

6. Harness people skills

Experts say people skills such as the abilities to communicate clearly and manage a team effectively often separate good business leaders from great ones, and that women MBA applicants should target business schools that show appreciation for soft skills.

Kathleen Allen, professor emeritus of entrepreneurship with the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, says women might undervalue their soft skills because they obsess over a weakness in hard skills that they could easily address through technical training.

7. Strengthen leadership

Studies show that women are often reluctant to advocate for themselves at work, making them less likely to negotiate starting salaries or ask for pay raises, and experts say that a good MBA program for women is one that teaches them to speak up, take command and negotiate.

Allen of USC says solid negotiation skills helped her advance in male-dominated industries, and that a negotiation course should be a part of every MBA program.

8. Pursue academic challenges

Experts say female MBA students sometimes exclusively take classes in subjects where they excel due to a fear of failure if they go outside their comfort zone. Instead, deliberately taking hard classes and confronting personal fears, experts say, is a better approach in the long run since it is more likely to prompt personal growth.

"Don't shy away from courses that may seem uncomfortable," says Sangster of the Forté Foundation.

9. Invest in self-development

Experts say women sometimes let personal obligations, such as parenthood, stand in the way of their goal to get an MBA, but women should remind themselves that it is OK to take "me" time.

Sangster of the Forté Foundation says guilt makes some women opt for a part-time program when a full-time one would be better for their career. "It's not a natural thing for some women to invest in themselves," she says.

10. Apply to reach schools

Experts say women applying to business school should remember that b-schools in general are eager to have female MBA students and that applicants should look beyond safety schools.

"It's critical for women not to underestimate their ability to be accepted into and to perform successfully in highly ranked schools," says Christine Clements, executive vice president of AACSB International, an organization that sets accreditation standards for business schools.

Learn More About MBA Programs

Check out more tips on how to apply to business school and explore your options by viewing our complete rankings of the 2017 Best Business Schools. For detailed data on MBA programs, access the U.S. News Business School Compass.

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Ilana Kowarski covers graduate schools for U.S. News. You can reach her via email at