The Forté Fellowship is considered one of the most prestigious scholarships for female students aspiring to be a part of the business world and beyond.
Founded in 2001, the Forté Foundation grants this fellowship to increase the participation of women in the business sector regardless of their educational background and to achieve gender equality.
Over the last 15 years, this organisation has awarded over USD 334 million to more than 13,000 women who have earned or are pursuing MBAs at 54 partner universities in the US, UK and Canada.
Tasnim Farah Zaman is one of the Forté fellows currently pursuing an MBA at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business under this fellowship program. The Financial Express has reached out to her to share tips for aspiring MBA candidates and Forte scholars.
Work experience requirements
MBAs abroad require work experience to be eligible, preferably in the corporate sector. She described her work experience, "While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I started an E-Commerce store producing the country's first locally-made scented candles along with my friends. Newton's Archive became not only the first but also the largest scented candle business in Bangladesh."
"After graduation, I joined a multinational FMCG company as a Management Trainee in Human Resources, earned a promotion, and gained corporate experience of little more than two years. I left my job after that period to completely focus on my business and other personal priorities," she added.
Since her corporate experience was below an MBA's average years of experience, she had to rely on her entrepreneurial journey to show her leadership skills. Usually, an entrepreneurial experience is looked at favourably by an admissions committee.
"Coupled with my former job, I think I was able to build a well-rounded profile around my experience. But that doesn't necessarily mean that entrepreneurial experience is a must-have; it's just something that has worked in my favour. If you're someone with lower years of experience but fantastic academic achievements and other non-entrepreneurial leadership activities, you might even have higher chances of getting in," said Tasnim.
As long as you can build a cohesive profile with a strong sense of purpose or direction about their future goals, admission committees will likely have more confidence in you to succeed in their school."
A strong essay does the trick
In Tasnim's opinion, the most important are the essays when asked about the critical aspects of the admission process. "Essays are something that you'd want to work on a number of times, as they are a crucial medium through which the admission teams get to know you as a person and what makes you different from the others," she commented.
Essays give a glimpse of your story through your experience, education, and struggles. You can build a great essay through self-reflection, transparency and vulnerability.
Additionally, reach out to the alums of the desired school to learn what the school usually looks for in a student and match it with what you have to offer. Your relationship with admissions team members or school ambassadors can help with your advocacy for some schools.
"Now, essays, a crucial part of the process, require multiple drafts and feedback from others. Be mindful of what feedback you will incorporate. You have to ensure that the feedback does not completely change the essence of the essay," she added.
Choosing your school
When asked about Tasnim's process of selecting universities, Tasnim emphasised individual priorities.
"In my case, I knew I wanted to be in a top business school as MBAs in general are huge investments. Thus, I wanted to ensure an almost guaranteed return after graduation and wanted to be in a diverse class to learn from my peers extensively. Thus, an aspirant has to invest time in tonnes of research to find a school which fits their career, financial and social priorities."
"An informed decision before applications is important especially because MBA applications can be expensive. A good tip would be, research if the school provides application fee waivers. Many Bangladeshi candidates can receive application fee waivers in certain schools. Some schools also encourage attending events to receive waivers."
Beyond selection process
After getting selected in the application process, the next stage is the interview. Tasnim's suggestion for the applicants is to be prepared before getting invited for an interview.
"You must be prepared with the possible questions you may be asked, craft their respective answers, and take a few practice sessions in front of a mirror or a friend."
"During preparation, stay connected with ambassadors or alumni and learn about their experience and unique aspects of the school."
What happens when you complete all the stages of the application process?
"You could be waitlisted, admitted, or rejected," said Tasnim. "If you are waitlisted, my best advice is to connect with the admissions committee to learn what you can do to improve your profile. In most cases, you might not get a precise answer, but you can get an idea of what you can update the admissions team on to strengthen your profile."
Why go for the Forté fellowship?
After successfully passing the interview and receiving an admissions offer, the Forté Foundation grants fellowships to qualified candidates.
The fellowship covers the tuition fees for the MBA program. Applicants have to apply for this fellowship during the university application process. The foundation grants the fellowship after evaluating certain criteria like - leadership skills, commitment to helping women achieve their career potential, 2-3 years of relevant work experience, strong academic background and professional achievement, and so on.
Is the Forté fellowship only about granting funding to students? Certainly not. Tasnim says, "Apart from the financial aspect, Forté fellows get exposure to the Forté foundation network. The network holds conferences that provide multiple networking opportunities with leading companies worldwide."
"Also, the conferences let you connect with other Forté fellows and alumni, which is a fantastic opportunity to learn and build your network."
Tasnim's advice is not to follow the crowd. She said, "Sometimes taking a risk is a good thing when you want to accomplish an achievement others aren't brave enough to achieve. In the Forté application process, risk-taking and diversity of thought are greatly appreciated. These make an applicant unique from others."
The Forté fellowship is a great opportunity for female students and graduates who want a head start in the corporate world, regardless of their educational background.