Boosting Minority Acceptance into Business School: One Nonprofit Paves the Way

Minorities have had a hard time being accepted into graduate business schools. Competing in the GMATs (Graduate Management Admission Test) against majority students who have gone through extensive training often puts minority candidates at a disadvantage. That’s why John Rice launched Management Leadership for Tomorrow in 2001, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping minorities gain entry into M.B.A. programs.

Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) reports that Hispanics and African-Americans comprise about 30 percent of the American population and yet only 3 percent of most senior executive positions at major companies and nonprofits. Moreover, MLT notes that Hispanics and African-Americans constitute just 7 percent of students in the top 20 business schools.
Why are minorities shut out of most business schools? Rice said that the key ingredients to succeed in business school “aren’t taught in the classroom or in places where most minorities have access to.” Instead they’re passed down infor-mally via friends or family. Hence minorities need a roadmap to suc-cess, building informal networks and finding mentors.
MLT, which is based in New York but is nationwide, trains minorities in the skills required for success, including practicing GMATs, master-ing interviewing skills and honing their essays.
Founder John Rice graduated from Harvard Business School (HBS) and spent 20 years as a senior executive at Walt Disney, AT&T and the National Basketball Association, encountering few minorities along the way in the chief executive suite. Using his fundraising skills, he raised $2 million from Atlantic Philanthropies to launch MLT in 2001. MBA Prep is one of its programs.
In its first year, Rice brought in Boston Consulting Group via a former HBS classmate to conduct a strategic analysis of MLT. Boston Consulting analyzed how MLT was helping minority students and how it needed to solve students’ problems at every stage to help them surpass each hur-dle. “That rigorous analysis of how we solve the problems of leadership tomorrow drives our results today,” Rice said. Earning an M.B.A. often serves as the springboard to high-paying jobs and promotions into the executive suite.
Though a nonprofit organization, MLT describes itself as the “premier career development institution” tar-geting high-potential minorities. It has sparked numerous MLT gradu-ates into establishing careers at Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Company, Citigroup and other lead-ing firms. At some points, MLT’s graduates numbered 30 percent and more of the minorities in leading business schools, Rice suggests. “We’ve developed a critical mass at these schools,” he added.
MLT’s programs address talented minority students at a variety of lev-els: Career Prep strengthens under-graduates, MBA Prep trains and pre-pares students to enter business school, and Career Advance steers mid-career professionals into train-ing for the executive suite. In 2010, MLT added a six-month MBA Professional Development program that helps students define their ideal job, fit into an organization and move up the organization.
Helen Summers, director of MBA Prep, based in Chicago, Ill., describes MBA Prep as a 10-month program that entails one-on-one coaching, a business curriculum, assignments and seminars targeted to help students develop a strong M.B.A. application. In 2010, 226 students were accepted into MBA Prep of the 711 students who applied, so about 30 percent were accepted.
Summers describes the ideal MBA Prep student as a minority student with at least one year and often several years of business experience, strong academic credentials such as a high GPA, involvement in the com-munity and demonstrated leadership skills. Moreover, MLT expects stu-dents to be coachable and open to feedback and suggestions. The average age of an MBA Prep student is 26 years old.
MBA Prep is only open to students of underrepresented minorities, namely African-Americans and Hispanics, but no financial data are requested, so candidates don’t have to be poor or working-class and can be middle-class or affluent. Of its MBA Prep students, African-Americans constitute 79 percent and Hispanics constitute 21 percent, making four of five students African-American.

John Rice, Founder, Management Leadership for Tomorrow

John Rice, Founder, Management
Leadership for Tomorrow

“That rigorous analysis of how we solve the problems of leadership tomorrow drives our results today.”
— John Rice, Founder, Management Leadership for Tomorrow

Why haven’t more Hispanics been accepted? “We’re trying to address that and work on it and have been working with different organizations to do more recruiting,” Summers said. She added that the number of Hispanics has been increasing steadily and will rise to 25 percent for the 2011 class. Rice added that MLT has formed partnerships with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and other nonprofits that should help fuel the Hispanic pipeline.
The cost of participating in MLT is nominal. Students pay a $400 application fee of which half is returned at the program’s conclu-sion. Many middle-class students don’t ask for reimbursement, donat-ing the rest of the fee to MLT. MLT partners pay for hotels and food when students are on campus, but MLT fellows (that’s how they’re described) pay airfare to seminars.
MBA Prep consists of five semi-nars: 1) Starting with a kickoff that covers setting expectations, meeting alumni and the basics such as résumé writing, defining career goals and meeting with coaches; 2) A summer seminar concentrating on meeting admissions officers and get-ting a better sense of what business schools are looking for; 3) A pre-application seminar that reviews how to sharpen the application and includes presentations from admission officers and mock interviews; 4) After the student has been accepted into an M.B.A. program, the fourth seminar discusses core skills required to succeed in business school; 5) Boot camp, which demonstrates how to succeed post-business school and secure a job in firms such as Goldman Sachs, Google and AT&T.
The one-on-one coach plays a pivotal role in preparing the MLT student for business school. Most coaches advise 40 to 48 students and guide them through the business school application. Coaches, who are often former admissions personnel or from industry, ask students pointed questions to improve their essay, review résumés and clarify their career aspirations.
The major skills taught in MBA Prep include “being able to clearly define and determine what you want, learning resiliency, an ability to man-age time and handle performance,” said Summers. Besides the pragmatic skills, students also need to “feel confident about their aspirations and know these opportunities are achievable,” Rice noted.
MBA Prep’s results have been impressive. Of its MBA Prep students, 95 percent who apply to business schools are accepted. MLT raises GMAT scores an average of 100 points, with 80 percent of its MBA Prep students scoring above 600 (out of 800), which makes them competitive for top 20 business schools.
For example, Michael Pages, a 30-year-old native of Hackensack, N.J., whose parents are Ecuadorian, was director of Institutional Advancement at the Future Leaders Institute, a charter school in Newark, N.J., in 2007, but wanted to make a career change into the finance industry. A school board member suggested Management Leadership for Tomorrow. He researched it, thought it could help him make the transition into an M.B.A. program, applied and was accepted in 2009.
Pages described MLT’s applica-tion process as rigorous and com-petitive. MLT serves as a “first screen to business school, so they want to make sure you are employable” and are business school material, he said. To be accepted into MBA Prep, Pages wrote two essays describing his short-term and long-term goals, presented two recommendations, was interviewed by telephone and submitted his 3.5 GPA from Amherst University. He also took a practice GMAT and scored above 500.
In MBA Prep, Pages participated in weekend seminars at the University of Minnesota and Emory University in Atlanta and a boot camp in New York. The first MLT seminar concentrated on participants determining what their passion was, where they could see themselves in five years and identifying their career path. “That will help you secure employment and be happy and successful,” Pages said.

“We’re trying to address that and work on it and have been working with different organizations to do more recruiting.”
— Helen Summers, Director of MBA Prep, Management Leadership for Tomorrow
Helen Summers, Director of MBA Prep, Management Leadership for Tomorrow

Helen Summers, Director of MBA Prep,
Management Leadership for Tomorrow

At the second MLT conference, Pages interacted with admissions per-sonnel from the top 15 business schools to determine what exactly they were looking for in a candidate and establish a good fit between him and the school. Meeting one-on-one clarified the application process and what each school was looking for. Pages found the conferences “inspirational” because he was surrounded by professors and admissions staff from around the country. Moreover, socializing with the other MLT fellows renewed his sense of purpose.
At the boot camp, students are expected to be impeccably dressed, on time and to act professionally, Pages said. Those skills will enable MBA Prep graduates to eventually be hired.
Because he wanted to remain living in New York City, Pages applied to Columbia and New York University business schools and was accepted by both. “MLT made sure we got the details right, and our essays were spot-less. A single error could hold you back,” he said.
Pages is finishing his final year at Columbia Business School. Through Columbia, he applied for a job at Goldman Sachs and was accepted. He interned at the firm in the summer of 2010 and after graduating in spring 2011 will become an associate in Private Wealth Management. At his new job, he’ll provide financial expertise to foundations, nonprofits and wealthy individuals. His main goal is to help nonprofits stretch their dollars and derive a better return on their charitable dollars.
Why do Hispanics and minority students need a support program like MLT? Pages replied that most minority students lack role models and MLT supplies plenty of them. “We don’t have a Hispanic Ivy channel. MLT pro-vides the resources to make sure we’re successful,” he said. Summers added that much of succeeding and getting into business school derives from informal networks of family and friends, which most first-generation minority students’ lack. “We formalize mentors,” she noted.
Financing an M.B.A., which on average costs about $80,000 for a two-year program, can be daunting. MLT doesn’t offer scholarships but helps students track down financial grants. Minority students should not be deterred because “acquiring an M.B.A. positions students for future success,” Summers noted.
Pages said, “Without MLT, I wouldn’t be where I am. I had the drive, brains and intellectual curiosity, but without mentors and support, you don’t get where you want to go.” To give back to the nonprofit, he speaks about leadership and his experiences at MLT’s boot camp and seminars.
Despite the recession’s effect on Wall Street, which provides a prime source of funding, MLT has withstood the economic downturn. Rice says that its budget was flat in 2008 through 2010, but in 2011 it is rising to $7 million from $6 million the previous year due to its diversified funding.
“Why isn’t higher education providing the real-world learning of MLT?” Rice asks rhetorically. Higher education could do a better job of preparing students for business careers beyond concentrating in accounting, finance or their major.
MLT sees its programs as not just helping individuals but also strength-ening communities. It expects that as MBA Prep graduates move up the corporate ladder and into middle management positions they will volun-teer in the community, serve on boards, create jobs, act as a role model, and mentor other people, creating a cycle of success.