For the past couple of years, I’ve considered an MBA degree. Although it isn’t the typical path in my law career I find myself drawn to it for two reasons. First, I’m pretty fascinated with businesses and also quite entrepreneurial. I like figures and not one of those lawyers who detest math! Secondly, as it’s been about 7 years since my master’s degree (which was too short!), perhaps I miss the formal classroom and would enjoy the experience of it all again!

More women are increasingly considering MBA programs. But why? I reached out to hear some first-hand stories. In this feature, these 5 incredible women share their MBA journeys — the whys and hows.

They also answer a ton of questions you may be thinking about. Is an MBA for you? How about the dreadful GMAT? What schools should you consider? Is it a waste of money… and so much more! From the US to France, Canada to Nigeria — and featuring some of the world’s best business schools, their stories are so insightful!


1. Fope Nkwocha

– MBA, Brock University Canada

– Business Analyst and a self-acknowledged “Jill of many trades” – currently mastering writing & vlogging about life & love at fopsy.ca.

On deciding to pursue an MBA

I was in my early 20s and wanted to shift focus from my undergrad major. After a chat with a friend who had an MBA, I found the MBA to be more beneficial than the masters of HR I was considering at the time.

My undergrad degree was in Psychology from the University of Ottawa. I worked through university in a regional mentor/ analyst position helping the university to better understand international students’ needs and create services tailored to these needs. After uni, I worked briefly for a small NGO in a marketing role that also included operations management.

I decided to go to Brock University for my MBA, and along the line I learned about Business Analytics and specialized in that. I’ve been working as a Business Analyst for about a year and a half now. I got the opportunity to learn on the job in a Product Management role; I’m enjoying it so far and it’ll very likely be my next role.

Preparing to write the GMAT

I used GMAT prep books. It was a bit more difficult than I had imagined — the quantitative knowledge part of it at least. So after my initial prep time passed and I still didn’t feel ready, I partnered with a friend who was also preparing and we studied together. 

I think you should allow sufficient time to study for your GMAT. I believe your test scores are pretty indicative of what your actual score will be. So, if you’re not impressed with those scores, move your date and keep practicing. Also, use the “GMAT Hack” type prep books — they teach you things like ways to manage your time while doing the actual test.

On finding the right university

I chose a program based on the cost of the MBA, my qualifications, the weather (I was over Ottawa’s brutal winters), past student’s reviews, and opportunities to do co-op (gain experience while in school).

Challenges and triumphs of an MBA program

My experience was a 7 out of 10. It took a while to find friends. For some reason, I found moving to a new city as an adult more difficult than moving to a new country as a teenager; it was emotionally difficult. Finance kicked my butt pretty hard, but I sought additional help from my professor. I also put in even more work, cried to my family, prayed like crazy, and I miraculously didn’t fail it. 

Surprises and misconceptions about the MBA

People assume you’re super smart when you mention that you’re pursuing an MBA. Post-MBA though, I don’t think it matters as much.

On the future after an MBA

I think it was a nice thing to throw out there during the job hunt —  it helped me beat the resume scanning algorithms and gave me some confidence that I was pretty qualified. I expect to leverage it more as I move into management roles.

Advice for those pursuing an MBA

Wait till you have quite a bit of career experience before pursuing your MBA. I think it translates into better pay when your MBA is backed by years of experience. Waiting a bit might also give more clarity around what added value the MBA will bring.


2. Ijeuru Metu

– MBA, Lagos Business School, Nigeria

– An avid pursuer of happiness — usually involving music, movies and food. Enjoy storytelling and controlled human interactions.

MBA candidate at Lagos Business School

On deciding to pursue an MBA

I decided to pursue an MBA in General Management against a specialised one because I wanted to change my career path. Honestly, I wasn’t exactly certain on what exactly this path was, so I figured a general idea would expose me to options unexplored (and it did!). 

As I was 28 and had a BSc in Microbiology, I believed an MBA would give me a life makeover of sorts. You can’t coast through that degree even if you tried; something must test your limits. I reckoned this would better enable me to embrace whatever challenge life throws. Of course, there is also the pay advantage. The likelihood of your earning power growing is always a good idea.

Preparing to write the GMAT

I had a full time job, so I had to sacrifice my social life to prepare for this exam. Several people I considered smart didn’t “smash” the exams even with tutoring, so it scared me a little, considering I was studying by myself. But I couldn’t possibly find the time to take classes in addition to my work. 

For at least three months, my alarm went off at 3.30 am daily. Typically, I would study till about 6 am, then get ready for work/a run/church depending on the day of the week. I also had electronic materials I used during work hours to practice on days when I had less responsibilities. More specifically, I used the current KAPLAN GMAT book of the year — I got it off Amazon. 

My advice would be to practice unafraid. Do the practice tests often enough and simulate the exam conditions while you practice. It will help you be more relaxed on the actual exam.

On finding the right university

I chose my business school based on recommendation and locality. It was also convenient that Forex was higher and international tuition fees were cut-throat, so my decision to remain in Nigeria was justified further. I funded my education with my savings and support from my family.

Challenges and triumphs of an MBA program

My experience was a solid 8 out of 10. The MBA will test you. It may even break you sometimes. But somehow you will survive it. It changes you visibly; you will notice some of the ways in which you have become better. 

The best part of my experience was the people I shared my classroom with. The age distribution was wide and the ambition found within was infectious. It challenged you to not be mediocre while not being competitive. As a class, we tried to bond and invest in our social lives, find that mythical pro-life balance. It helped that our school supported these endeavours as well.

Surprises and misconceptions about the MBA

It was surprising to discover that collaborations are more effective than competition. Initially we had some classmates who were intent on besting the class. They didn’t become popular for it, instead the ones who took the time to make sure everyone was doing their best were better appreciated. I think this feature in my class made us really popular with the faculties. They probably say it to every graduating set (or not), but they always take the time to let us know they enjoyed having us. 

One popular misconception is on the number of jobs you have lined up at graduation. While this is dependent on certain factors, your employment goals change after an MBA. Things that wouldn’t matter to you before become important. So that supposed “lineup” may not even be appealing on any front.

On the future after an MBA

I intend to have the dynamic career I dreamed of; all things are possible to me. The one leverage is the networks or the potential for growth therein. I feel like I have crawled out of the box I grew up in. One regret would be — as we were warned — all the shots I didn’t take because I was embarrassed I’d fail. I guess everyone has one of those.

Advice for those pursuing an MBA

I have always known that one’s human resource is your most valuable asset. Even if I didn’t learn anything, I learned to deal with over 30 special and talented individuals and nothing can take that away from me. Anyone interested in an MBA should pursue it. It’s always a good idea. The case studies and projects are a good way to build your stamina.


3. Tomide Awe

– MBA, Wharton University, USA

– Nigerian living in San Francisco & working in the tech industry. Passionate about girls’ education. Founder of @beolori

On deciding to pursue an MBA

I decided to pursue an MBA for 2 major reasons. Firstly, I wanted to move to the US and be closer to my siblings and the easiest way to do that legally was to go back to school. I already had a master’s degree, so an MBA was the better academic option. Secondly, I had always had an entrepreneurial streak but never formally learnt about building a business. I decided an MBA would help me become a more well-rounded professional. Consulting was an introduction to the business world, but my MBA was a more formal and structured introduction into the world of business, and that’s what I wanted. 

Additionally, after working with a global company for three years, I knew I deserved better and needed to do better. It got to a point that one of my clients started making me uncomfortable at work by asking me every day what I was still doing there. Pressure from him & my mum and the stress of working at that company made me start studying for the GMAT in order to apply for the MBA.

I was 26 when I started my MBA. I have a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Leicester University and a Master’s degree in Finance & Economics from Warwick Business School in the UK. 

Preparing to write the GMAT

I used the Economist GMAT resource to prep. I learnt that “maths” and “English” get different level. It was tougher than I thought. In fact, I wrote it the first time and decided to try again for a higher score. But when I wrote it the second time, I had to cancel the result on the spot and just be content with my first result. 

My advice is to book your test dates as soon as possible. Give yourself 3 to 4 months of intense study and be sure to book your test date early as that’s what will motivate you to study. Your study has to be concentrated; don’t take it for granted because you think it’s just “maths and English.” It’s not. 

Also, be prepared for anything. We had a power outage in my centre in the middle of my GMAT and the generator was not working. So I had to wait over two hours for power to come back on before continuing the exam. 

On finding the right university

I looked at the top seven schools in the world and applied accordingly. My MBA school was strategically chosen. At the time, I was interested in investment banking and I believed Wharton to be the best business council for Finance. So I was convinced it would open the right doors for me — and it did. Fortunately, I was able to do my internship in Credit Suisse in London (and discovered that I hated it with all my heart). 

I also chose Wharton because it’s one of the best business schools in the world. Amongst other things, I believed in the network that it would provide me and the possible career (and more) doors just having the Wharton MBA would open; and I’ve not been wrong so far!

I had a full ride to another good school and zero to Wharton, but chose Wharton for the long term value. I particularly wanted to have the best credentials in case I ever decided to return home for any reason. (Sometimes Nigerians are vain with credentials.)

Since I did not get funding from Wharton, I was lucky that my parents were willing to help with my fees. That made the decision easier. So I took a student loan and my parents helped to pay back. Honestly, though, even if they weren’t paying, it’s possible to make all the money back after your MBA and if you’re aggressive with re-paying, you can pay it all back in 2 to 3 years. 

I’m glad my parents and mentor advised me to not take the money into consideration and make a decision without the money factor. Wharton was the better decision without the money factor. I also got into Kellog and was waitlisted at Chicago Booth, but didn’t pursue it since I already had Wharton.

Challenges of an MBA program

Ah, it’s like high school all over again. There were people trying to be too cool for school — even forming cliques. I had a number of challenges: 

  • Culture shock! I thought studying in the UK would have prepared me for this but I cried for the first few months. I didn’t like the American education system and the city. 
  • Race issues: America is very sensitive about racial issues, but I felt that this was even more amplified in my school. Coming from Nigeria (& the UK), I had NO idea what was going on and didn’t know how to handle it. 
  • Party/drinking culture: I don’t like to drink, but I had friends always pushing drinks into my hand regardless. You also had to always hold a glass of wine during recruiting events, otherwise recruiters would feel like you might not be great to work with (or so I was told). There was just way too much focus on drinking and partying and I had no interest in that.
  • Too much: There’s always A LOT going on, a lot competing for your time. I learnt the art of using my calendar and managing my time properly. 

But, it wasn’t all bad. I met some amazing friends, particularly Nigerians!

The Good Bits and My Triumphs!

The best part of the program for me was learning! I loved taking classes. Having studied in the UK, I was used to a straight and narrow way of teaching. For instance, if you went to school to study economics, that’s all they would teach you in UK universities. But the US is different. In fact, I didn’t choose my course until my final semester; I just took classes I was interested in and let the classes lead me to my major: Strategic Management and Entrepreneurial Management. 

I took all kinds of entrepreneurial classes, from marketing to leadership classes — it was great!  

My MBA also exposed me to different career paths and a structure for getting into certain industries especially investment banking and consulting.

Thanks to my program, I currently run a start-up called Olori offering luxury African handbags that empower women and fund education for girls. 

I started working on this start-up during my MBA and used it as a case study in a number of my entrepreneurship classes. I was able to refine the concept because of my MBA program and it prepared me to launch after I graduated. There were also a lot of resources for entrepreneurship and I even got some money from the school to create my prototypes and test.

Overall, though, I think the most important gift my MBA gave me was that it expanded my scope of thinking. Totally. It blew away all the boundaries I thought life came with and helped me see that anything is possible. 

Even though I had studied in the UK and consulted for larger multinational companies, the exposure the MBA gave, the network of people (students, professors, potential employers, etc.) I got to meet was phenomenal and it expanded my horizon. I’m bolder in my thinking and my aspirations in life are like a million times larger because of the exposure I got.

Surprises and misconceptions about the MBA

I was surprised by the amount of work it involves — at least in the first semester. And, of course, the amount of partying it involves was surprising! I am not a party person at all, and the sight of more than 5 people in a room, was a struggle.

Then let’s talk about the peer pressure … I sometimes had to ask whether we were truly adults, why all the perceived peer pressure? From drinking to “being an ally” for so many things!

I was also taken aback by the amount of money required. To enjoy your two years, you have to spend — outside of tuition fees. The most common misconception is that a job is sure and will be easy to get, particularly if you graduate from the top schools. Well, I don’t know about that. I searched for a job for 9 months afterwards.

On the future after an MBA

My degree definitely helped me get my current job at Twitter. In fact, Twitter selects the best people in teams every year to go for a one-week course at Wharton, but guess who already has a two-year degree from Wharton? 

Depending on your industry, having an MBA gives you at least an interview or a coffee chat and the rest is up to you. I also got a GREAT job back home in Nigeria, which I turned down after I got Twitter, and I was recruited for that job from Wharton. So, no regrets at all. Maybe I wish I could have taken even more classes, but I had to leave after 2 years, ha!

On a scale of 1-10, I’d rate my experience an 8. It wasn’t all rosy, but no regrets. I’m particularly thankful to God for making it happen.


4. Ngozi Ukwueni

– MBA, Illinois State University, USA

– Born and raised in a family of 7people in Abia State, eastern Nigeria. Loves to teach and can be very influential. 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 Scholar.

On deciding to pursue an MBA

I graduated in 2015 with a first-class degree in Accounting from Babcock University and became an Associate Chartered Accountant with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. I started my career as an Associate in the financial transaction division of one of the Big 4 accounting firms in the world where I gained invaluable experience working in deals ranging from merger & acquisition, financing, strategic partnership, restructuring and corporate finance. 

Considering a large amount of client data I was exposed to as well as the increasing need from the clients to provide key insight from the data, I decided to pursue an MBA. Currently, I am completing a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) with a focus on Business Analytics, poised to graduate in May 2020 from Illinois State University. The MBA will help me integrate my skill and knowledge of accounting, finance and a data analytic to improve the lives of people across the financial transaction value chain.

Preparing to write the GMAT

I did not write the GMAT exam but I wrote the GRE examination as an alternative. The exam was not as tough as I expected but the grading can be shocking. I was working full time so I would not say I had enough time to prepare adequately for it. However, what helped me prepare for the exam was knowing my strengths and areas of weakness based on the course structure. I was knowledgeable in quantitative reasoning, hence I needed to put in more time and effort in verbal reasoning and analytical writing.

For full discloure, I wasn’t very proud of my GRE score. I had a 298 (out of 340) which is significantly low for an MBA programme. However, my experience and professional statement made up for it and I got a tuition waiver.

While I don’t advise you to set low expectations, please note that the GMAT or GRE may not be all in all.

On finding the right university

First, I decided on the course and then made a list of three reputable MBA schools. I made a list with a blend of schools with different rankings. In particular, I searched for schools that issue international students scholarships in the MBA program. 

On my list for UK schools, I had the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, the University of Birmingham and the University of Glasgow. For the USA I had Illinois State University, University of Tennessee, University of Texas, and the University of Nevada, Finally, for South Africa I had Stellenbosch University. 

Considering the peculiarity of MBA programs, I also considered the focus areas of each MBA program and decided to select a school that allowed me to focus on building data analytic skills. 

After my application, I received an admission and GA tuition waiver from Illinois State University to cover my funding needs and a stipend for my expenses. In addition, they had a focus area in analytics that collaborated with my interest. Still, I used my education fund and support from friends and family to cover all other expenses required to prepare and stay in business school.

Challenges and triumphs of an MBA program

My MBA program is ongoing with anticipated graduation to be May 2020. Indeed, it has been challenging with roller coaster feelings; some days I feel excited about the experience and on other days, I want to give up. 

The first challenge was getting used to the differences between Nigeria and USA, environmentally, financially, academically, and culturally. It was tough dealing with the weather, immigration restrictions, a more advanced educational system, diversity, language barrier as well as finding the right food to eat. Majorly for the educational system, I had to learn, unlearn and relearn in a short time frame. Taking free online classes ahead of the class helped me prepare for the transition. 

My memorable triumphs have been getting to know more about myself through a structured framework and constructive feedback and being nominated as one of 2019 Forbes Under 30 Scholars. I’ve also maintained my desired academic excellence, growing my network by engaging top C suite executives. I have made amazing new friends, been exposed to opportunities and getting a lot of support from my friends and family. 

The best part of my program is the “learning”; I have observed the significant growth and confidence in my ability to learn anything especially in areas I feared the most. I am excited about combining my financial knowledge with technological skills to provide real life solutions to business problems. We have sessions where we identify organizational challenges, develop innovative solutions, an implementation roadmap and share these insights with the organisation. 

Surprises and misconceptions about doing an MBA

One thing that surprised me about my MBA was that people think of business school as a place to meet people and build a network. While this is true, it was not my first experience. It did not happen automatically, but required an investment of time and effort into building relationships, connections and not just random class interactions and team meetings. 

There are several misconceptions about MBAs such as “You need a business undergraduate degree in to enroll in an MBA program” or “Only people who manage other people need MBAs.”

I think an MBA helps you know more about yourself, your learning and leading style, your priorities and interest, the relationship between your business and the environment. The exposure and opportunities are not limited to just the business world as you learn how to deal with other areas of your life, shaping your unique perspective. 

On the future after an MBA

Bagging an MBA aligns with my goal of becoming a renowned financial advisor across the finance value chain. The skills I have gained during this MBA will be an advantage for my career. It will position me as a reliable subject matter expert and trusted adviser. 

Excited about what the future holds, I look forward to leading major financial transactions, developing financial concepts and policies that will transform economies and the lives of people. I’m also excited about mentoring the next generation of business leaders, seeing opportunities and enabling progress. 

I see this MBA as a leverage for my career. Undoubtedly I have gained a unique combination of quantitative and qualitative skills to make progress. 

Thinking back, I wish the educational system prepared me better and provided a platform at an early stage in life. Education is about inspiring one’s mind not filling their head — this is the mindset required to enable young people fulfill their potential and position them as globally competitive talents

Advice on pursuing an MBA

My MBA experience deserves a 10/10 rating because I am achieving my goals and surpassing my expectations despite the challenges. I am fortunate to find that track where excellence, hard work, resilience, and success align. 

My advice is to ensure that one has an intrinsic motivation to pursue an MBA. Benchmark against yourself not your peers, understand the practicability of what you are learning and establish a long-term goal. An MBA can be very generic. You need to identify a focus area you want to excel in and pursue it. Concentrate on the experience and not only the degree. Create unforgettable memories, grow your network and make every experience part of your learning curve.


5. Amaka Paul-Okafor

– MBA, INSEAD France & Singapore

  • African focused Private Equity professional with multi-industry experience. Passionate about investments in Africa with deep experience in business operations. Enjoys gardening and has a knack for interior designing.

On deciding to pursue an MBA

At 27, I thought it would be a good way to bring together the diverse experiences I had had so far (investment banking, e-commerce, entrepreneurship) and figure out what to do next. I had a Bachelors in Materials Science and Engineering from Imperial College and looked forward to networking with a diverse group of people and being exposed to new opportunities in multiple geographies.

Preparing to write the GMAT

I bought the books and practiced with online courses. It was tough because I was rusty at exam-taking! Pace yourself and dedicate a few hours a day to studying for a couple of months. Relax and don’t panic.

On finding the right university

There was only one place that spoke to me based on how international the experience was, the length of the course, and their reputation! I wanted a good MBA but also a good return on investment. Eventually, I got a small scholarship and funded the rest with a student loan. 

Surprises and misconceptions about doing an MBA

It went so fast! One misconception is that you just party. For me, it was very challenging balancing the academics with recruiting and also networking and socializing! 

On the future after an MBA

My MBA provided a good platform to pursue lots of interesting career opportunities. My only regret is perhaps not socializing enough, but I was focused on the job offers! 

Advice on pursuing an MBA

My experience was a 10 out of 10. DO IT!


Can I just say that curating this interview got me in my feelings! I love learning so much and so excited to see all these women highlight that wonderful experience of learning and breaking mental boundaries. It has definitely provided some clarity and inspiration for me. The slightest concern I now have is whether I’m slightly too old to take this on. But hey, there’s an Executive MBA to consider.

We would be hosting a FREE live webinar with one of these women to provide some advice and delve into this even deeper. Please look out for that shortly and sign up here to be informed.

Over to you. Do you have an MBA experience or are you considering? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Read more: My Experience of Living & Studying in Cambridge University and Negotiating Your Salary on a New Job Offer: 7 Questions to Ask


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5 Comments

  1. Fope N

    March 19, 2020 at 14:16

    Kachi, thanks for featuring me! Regarding your small concern, there’s no such thing as being too old to start something new. I think you’ll find that your experience will help you filter through the many opportunities that having an MBA provides. Also, your experience combined with an MBA will likely increase your earning potential. I loved reading about these women’s paths as well!

    Reply
    • Kachi Tila-Adesina

      March 19, 2020 at 14:21

      Thank you for being a part of it Fope! I was being a bit cheeky about the age thing. That def won’t stop me from giving it ago.

      Reply
  2. Jen

    March 19, 2020 at 14:27

    I have had to bite my tongue and agree that an MBA is never a waste! ( I used to call it a glorified bachelors degree cuz too many people want it lol- now my thought process has changed to- they want it bcos it’s actually valuable)My husband has an MBA and he got a job before even finishing the program. At least here in the US, Some programs especially mba programs organize hiring events so u get to meet with potential hires and if you are lucky, you get invited for interviews(of course you ought to have good grades too) and just network!

    Ooh and the pay is almost always good so yes get one if you can. It’s also at the back of my mind despite having an MSc. Lol I maybe trying to follow the money here😭🤣

    Reply
  3. Fifi

    March 19, 2020 at 15:17

    I totally enjoyed reading this! I am currently considering my MBA…and I am glad that I am on the right path…a lot of the thought processes resonate with me and that’s reassuring especially for the days when I’m like ‘who sent me’.
    GMAT can be brutal , I wrote mine three times😭😭😭.

    To anyone currently considering an MBA, please take enough time to study for your GMAT.

    Reply
  4. Abisola Odebunmi

    March 19, 2020 at 16:46

    This is so right on time. I am currently preparing for the GRE (now postponed) thanks to the Covid 19. And i love the fact that someone talked about taking the GRE instead of the GMAT. Many schools have started taking the GRE or the GMAT. Do your research. Maybe we can form a study group from here, haha. All the best. Cheers

    Reply