A Savvy Madam from Wharton: Uzo

The President of the Wharton African Students Association shares with The Savvy Madam what you should be looking for in a business school and how to prepare for the GMAT.
Name: Uzo Idigo

Current City, Country: Philadelphia, USA

Nationality: Nigerian

Undergraduate: University of Delaware

Graduate School: MBA, Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania

For Uzo Idigo, business school was the perfect opportunity to move her career to the next level. After graduating from the University of Delaware, she started her career in sales and marketing in the consumer products and later healthcare industries. After a couple of years she wanted to focus on the strategic high-level work and putting together the plans to drive the company’s initiatives. In order to make that transition into more senior management roles she knew that an MBA was necessary to make that happen.

When it came to deciding which masters program to pursue, business school was a simple choice for Uzo. “I always had an inkling for business and I finished undergraduate with a major in marketing,” Uzo tells us. “My mom ran a few small businesses when I was growing up and I was always drawn to the work.” So when it came time to choosing a business school she looked carefully, at which school would provide her the most access, opportunities, and career choices down the line. She also knew that with strengths in soft skills such as communications and marketing, she wanted a school that would provide a very rigorous quantitative curriculum so she could balance out her areas of expertise.

She found all of that at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the most prestigious business schools in the world. When evaluating schools Uzo looked carefully at the brand, prestige, and reputation of the program especially in Africa. She wants to get more involved in business in Africa and Wharton has one of the largest African student populations at a US business school. Access to programs and extracurricular activities were also very important, as she wanted to gain real life experience while in school.

For other young African women interested in attending a school like Wharton, Uzo had some advice for us. “I am a firm believer in having a plan, mapping it out, and focusing on the main things that you need to do,” she says. The basic information for schools is on the website so use that as a tool to gather initial information. Uzo suggests you tackle the GMAT or any other entrance exam first. Everyone has a different studying style so it’s important that you figure out what works best for you. Uzo then recommended focusing on the essays and understanding that is an opportunity to sell yourself and make yourself unique. “Don’t write the story you think the admissions committee wants to hear, tell your authentic story,” she advises. She recommends that you have a few trusted people read your essays and provide honest feedback to your essays but don’t have too many people edit it or you will lose your voice. A point that many people seem to forget: manage the recommendations process and make sure that you are presenting a coherent story through your essays and the message that your recommenders send. Finally Uzo recommends that you be realistic and set reasonable expectations by looking closely at your exam scores, grades, work experience, and what you want to get out of graduate school to find the best schools to apply to.

Back at Wharton, Uzo is active on campus as president of the Wharton African Students Association. When asked what surprised her most about starting school she told us that the quantitative reputation for Wharton isn’t just reserved for the economics or finance classes, it is in almost every single course you take. While that initially surprised her it has taught her to look for facts, be very analytical when approaching problems, and improved her critical thinking skills. She was also excited to find the diversity of her classmates and the interesting and exciting students she was able to get to know. From a former Olympian to a performer in Cirque de Soleil, you can find people from every corner of the world.

For young women not yet ready for graduate school or focusing on your career, Uzo had some great advice for you too. She believes it is important to get mentorship right away. She tells us to “surround yourself with positive people who will be invested in you and your success.” Sometimes being smart isn’t enough. Uzo shares that “when you’re first starting out you just don’t have the lens to figure out exactly what you want to do so even if you’re really smart it will take you longer.” Her advice is to gain learning from mentors who can show you opportunities and will be your champion in the workplace.

So what will this young African leader be doing when she finishes her degree next year? During her first year at Wharton her career path evolved from brand management into consulting and she spent her summer working on an international development consulting assignment with Accenture in South Africa. She loved her experience and will be pursuing a career in strategy consulting immediately after school. In the long term she plans to eventually work in private equity and venture capital and some day even politics.

We can’t wait to see all of the great things Uzo will do! Thank you for sharing your wonderful story with us. We aim to provide our readers with behind the scenes news on the top graduate schools around the world. If you would like to be featured or would like to nominate someone, email info @ thesavvymadam.com.

A Savvy Madam From Carnegie Mellon: Edayatu

Name: Edayatu Lamptey
Current City: Pittsburgh, USA
Nationality: Ghanaian
Undergraduate: Allegheny College
Graduate School: Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon

What do you currently do? I recently graduated from the Heinz College with a Masters degree in Public Policy and Management. Currently I am working as a Research Assistant extern for Dr. Jendayi Frazer, Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

Why did you decide to pursue graduate school? I have a strong passion for African economic development and this stems mainly from my Ghanaian upbringing. It’s my desire to serve my country and continent and in order to have a positive and better impact in that part of the world, I knew I had to further my education to enable me gain the professional experience, analytical skill sets and leadership skills to prepare me well for work in that field. I chose the Heinz College because of its strong rigorous quantitative workload and also the leadership and professional opportunities that the school offers to graduate students.

What are some of the factors you used to evaluate different graduate programs?

  •  Course work and the concentration areas
  • Professor profiles: their CV’s, books, their past and present projects and how involved them have been on the policy front.
  • Alumni network, what past graduates are doing, mainly Africans and where they are now
  • Diversity on campus and its trends.

For other African women interested in attending a school like yours, what is the best way to prepare in advance? I think it is very important to first visit the school, get the chance to talk to current students, African women preferably or international students, or a representative from the admissions office to learn more about the programs, classes and professional development opportunities that the school has to offer. Learning more about the school will help you determine if that’s the sort of graduate school environment you will want to be in. Usually graduate schools have happy hours and other social events, try attending one or two just to socialize and talk to the students. Use this opportunity to learn more about the school and also network.

This is also very important since you get a chance to witness the academic and social life of graduate students that attend that school. Whilst you are there, you should probably sit in on one of the classes and have a one-on-one with a professor of interest to you to get a sense of how professors interact with students. Do not be afraid to ask lots of questions, remember you have nothing to lose.

Many of our readers are concerned about taking the admissions tests either the GMAT, GRE, or LSAT. How did you deal with those examinations and do you have any tips to share in getting ready for the big exam? The summer before my application due date, I spent the entire summer studying seriously for my exam and also getting my professors to write my recommendation letters. I highly recommend forming a study group, maybe with your friends who may also be preparing for the same exam, but make sure this does not turn into a chitchat session. If you are like me, this will keep you motivated and also give you the chance to learn new prep tips and strategies. Two months before the exam I made sure I took a timed practice exam once a week and when necessary. This is not a strict rule, you can customize this to your study style, but just make sure you familiarize yourself with the exam atmosphere before the big day.

What is one thing you were surprised about when you started school?        I was very surprised to find few African students on my campus, as a matter of fact very few African women.

How did your program help prepare you for your career? My program provided me with the opportunity to work with experts in the policy field. Also I got the chance to work with the UNDP on a self-designed project with a couple of my peers. This has always been my dream. Working on a policy project that was going to be used in regulating environmental policy was a blessing and great opportunity to both my colleagues and I. Through this project and other professional and leadership opportunities I gained confidence and expertise in the field of policy analysis and I look forward to continuing in this same capacity and facing the challenges that lie ahead of me now.

What are your plans in the future? Currently I am doing my best to learn from influential policy changers and experts in the field of international economic development. Each day my goals and plans become more specific and defined, but ultimately, I aim to start my own policy think tank that will focus mainly on economic and monetary issues in my home country and my continent.

For young women, just starting their careers what’s one piece of advice you’ve received that you would like to pass on? As a young African professional and a woman as such, I will advise that all young women should aim at forming strong professional networks. I will like to advice these young women to network well with other women, especially their African peers. I think most people, especially women underestimate the power of networking. It is very essential to get to know what your counterparts are doing, share ideas, encourage one another and build each other. I am sure most people have heard this before but very few actually practice this. Young women should not live in isolation, especially African women.

Thank you Edayatu for sharing your wonderful story with us. We aim to provide our readers with behind the scenes news on the top graduate schools around the world. If you would like to be featured or would like to nominate someone, email info@thesavvymadam.com.

Photo Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

What exactly is an MBA and what can it do for your career?

As a young professional woman you may have heard about the MBA but do you really know what it is? The MBA is a master’s degree in business administration. It is designed for people who want to enhance their skills in business leadership and understand the fundamentals of business. But the MBA is more than just coursework, it is also a program that brings together the smartest minds in business and encourages them to network and build relationships that serve as a strong foundation for future opportunities.

While most MBAs focus on business leadership, they all have different focuses and areas of expertise. Celebrating 50 years in 2012, the University of Ghana Business School is committed to developing the next generation of Ghanaian leaders so they have deep relationships with many of the top companies in Ghana. The Dean of Lagos Business School is Dr. Enase Okonedo and she has helped move LBS into the top tier of African business schools as the school has been recognized for six straight years in Financial Times.

Internationally, the Kellogg School of Management in the US is world renowned for their marketing program and counts among their alumni Affiong Osuchukwu, Country Marketing Manager for Google Nigeria and Njideka Harry, Founder and CEO of the Youth for Technology Foundation. INSEAD has long been known as the world’s business school and boasts a diverse student body with more than 80 nationalities and campuses in France and Singapore.

If you think you may be interested in business school the best thing you can do is start your research early. Applying to business school is an expensive and lengthy process and before you spend any money it’s important to know exactly what you are getting into. Spend time reviewing different schools’ websites to better understand their program and specialties. If you are looking to use the MBA to change careers, look closely at the career services section and see what type of companies the school has relationships with. Also reach out to people within your network or ask schools to connect you with current students and alumni in your area. Speaking with current students can be extremely useful in understanding the culture and community of the school. Meeting alumni can give you a good sense of how connected the school is with top employers and what your network will be when you graduate. And of course, check out Savvy Madam for interviews with women from business schools around the world and helpful tips for your business school applications.

Have questions about the MBA or application process? Leave us a comment and we’ll get right back to you.