Fear Not: Easing Diverse Candidates’ Anxiety Related to B-School Applications and Enrollment

Consuela KnoxIn spite of the increase in the number of diverse candidates expressing interest in graduate management education, schools still struggle to recruit and admit those candidates in traditional full-time programs. In this edition of Many Voices, One Vision, Consuela Knox provides insight on some of the insecurities of diverse candidates and ways school professionals can address them.

During my graduate business school admissions experience, I noticed something that is very important to diverse candidates considering b-school. Aside from leading concerns regarding financing the degree, school reputation, the career outlook, and a diverse student body, diverse candidates are often influenced by an unspoken need for security. By security, I mean a feeling of comfort, such as:

  • Submitting test scores that may be significantly below average for a given school;
  • Discussing what various careers really entail since there are often few role models in the profession sought;
  • Asking questions about life as a diverse student without appearing afraid of branching out.

Here are five tips to help make diverse prospective students feel secure:

  1. Host an open house or session geared towards diverse candidates (different sessions for different types of diversity – one size does not fit all!).
    • Before or during the event, provide a list of questions that diverse prospective students may want to ask members of the community.
    • Offer breakout sessions so that small groups of candidates can talk to current students or alumni about various career paths and associated keys to success.
  2. Alter your admission operations to allow candidates to choose their interviewers or other representatives with whom they can meet. If they feel comfortable with the person with whom they are meeting, they will likely open up about the things that concern them most.
  3. When meeting with diverse candidates, share with them information about the average test scores for applicants with a similar background. Also, explain that taking an exam more than once is very common and can actually demonstrate a candidate’s constant pursuit of excellence.
  4.  Walk diverse candidates through average loan amounts taken out by students, average post-B-school starting salaries, and average payback periods. They may not be willing to initiate a conversation on how nervous they (and their families) are about taking on debt. I once had to share with a diverse candidate’s mother the value in taking out loans for graduate education because she was pressuring her daughter to turn down offers to top b-schools. Three years later, the alum and her mother are very glad they made the investment in our program by taking out loans, as she is now working in her third role within the Fortune 100 company that she joined post-MBA.
  5. Proactively ask diverse candidates if they would like to hear information on what life is like as a diverse student in your program – popular clubs, things to do in the city, approachable mentors, etc.

My institution has won many candidates over because they feel secure. Candidates ask the necessary questions to obtain key information that leads to confidently submitting their applications. They know that as current students, they will be able to ask questions – free from judgment- and get candid responses that will lead to successful completion of the degree.

Consuela Knox is the Senior Associate Director and Diversity Recruiting Manager of Admissions at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University. Consuela earned a BS in Industrial Engineering from the University of Tennessee. Prior to pursuing an MBA, she spent six years as an employee of General Motors and later accepted an industrial engineering position with Delphi Corporation.

Consuela entered the Vanderbilt MBA program with two areas of focus—Operations and Human and Organizational Performance. Upon graduation in May 2004, she accepted a position with Owen as Associate Director of Admissions. In July 2008, Consuela was promoted to Senior Associate Director and Diversity Recruiting Manager of Admissions. Most recently her scope of responsibility widened to include multiple graduate programs with a special focus on admission operations. Consuela enjoys dancing, outdoor sports and involvement in Christian ministry.

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