Recently, Businessweek ran a feature about MBA programs that had the most attractive female students. This caused quite a bit of controversy and the article was pulled. The non-academic focus of the article struck many readers as highly problematic, given that there has been historically such a gender gap in MBA programs.
There has been a good deal of progress in recent decades in closing the gender gap in business school programs. Back in 1970, just 3.5% of graduate degrees were conferred to women. In 2008, that had increased to 45%.
Even with all of the obvious progress, bridging the gender gap in MBA programs is one area that these schools always are promoting. They also welcome MBA students who are gay, bisexual or transgender. Schools are more willing than ever to pay for diversity by having targeted admissions events, which many attendees say are very helpful. Some experts, however, caution that students should avoid some parts of these programs that can be a bit misleading.
There is little doubt that diversity admissions events are valuable for networking opportunities and the chance to speak with admissions people. However, the same events can mislead some applicants into thinking that they are representative of what it is really like to go to that business school.
The problem is that the diversity events are pitched by the school as a ‘day in the life’ sort of experience, but when you arrive on campus, you are not going to see that many people from your background as you did at the event. You are still going to need to work hard at building relationships with people who are from very different backgrounds.
Also, some experts warn that just because you have entered the school via a diversity program, you should not assume that you have a stronger candidacy. Some of these pre-MBA students get the idea that because they have attended diversity events, that they have some sort of advantage. It can lull some students into a comfort zone that is simply not real.
Also, some of the language that is used at these diversity events can be a bit confusing and misleading.
For example, at Duke University, the Fuqua School of Business promoted its Weekend for Women event in November as aimed large at women. But it also said that it welcomed attendees no matter their background. Still, of the 74 people who attended, all were women.
At the University of Texas-Austin, women were strongly encouraged to apply, but on its website it stated that the diversity event was open to all students. Yet in many of the promotions for this event, the messages were written for females only.
Many of the students who attend diversity events at MBA schools have gotten incentives for attending. At the Duke event recently, some students had their room and board covered, and their application fees were waived. At Texas A and M, the school covered two nights of hotel accommodations and also as much as $300 in travel expenses for a diversity event in November.
Many of the students who have attended diversity events usually speak highly of them and they do recommend them to other students. If you want to gain every possible advantage when you are applying for a good business school, these diversity events are something that you should probably take advantage of. Of course, you should keep in mind that the actual student body of the MBA school probably will not resemble that of the students that are in attendance at the diversity event. Still, these events can definitely help to make your decision on attending a certain MBA school an easier one.