What underrepresented minorities should know about applying to business school, from professional associations to scholarships to student clubs

Under-represented minorities (URMs) — a group traditionally comprising African Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders, and Latinxs — currently make up 30% of the U.S. population and are projected to account for more than 40% by 2050.

Business schools, eager to provide opportunity and build diverse student bodies and communities, are extremely deliberate in their pursuit of URM candidates, offering a variety of tools and support to attract a diverse pool of applicants. Moreover, there are many school-agnostic resources available through independent organizations.

Consuela Knox

“Business schools want minorities. Our goal is to provide the right type of assistance and to a greater extent than what was done by schools in the past,” says Consuela Knox, Director of Admissions Operations & Diversity Recruiting at Vanderbilt Business. “It’s our pleasure to provide an educational opportunity that might not have been seen as so attainable before.”

We spoke with Knox and Associate Director of Admissions Zeke Arteaga about the recruiting process for URM candidates and came away with five things prospective minority candidates should know.

The process, for everyone, should begin the same way.

Knox and Arteaga were quite clear that for all prospective students, the first step in the business school search is a look inward. “I would encourage people to do the self-reflection process: what am I doing, where am I going, where do I want to be. Once you figure out what your goals are, talk to people: friends, colleagues, people in your network that are doing what you’re interested in doing. If an MBA helped them reach that position, the search should go on,” says Knox.

There are a multitude of resources available in the early stages of your search.

Several organizations work with URM candidates at various points in their education and careers, offering mentorship, training, and resources to pursue fulfilling work and become future leaders.

Zeke Arteaga

Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) works with minorities ranging from undergraduate students to mid-career professionals. The “early career” programs — MBA Prep and MBA Professional Development — are most relevant to prospective b-school students. With these programs, MLT provides help with GMAT preparation, school interviews, career searches, and more. The programs, which start a year ahead of a prospective student’s recruiting period, provide unmatched levels of preparation for business school, the job search, and professional life thereafter.

MLT is just one of many organizations that offers resources for URMs pursuing a business education. The National Black MBA Association and Prospanica provide access to scholarships, employment opportunities, professional development, and a vast network of business professionals.

Arteaga stresses the importance of seeking out these organizations early in a prospective student’s process. “Making sure that you’re aware of partner organizations is key to finding other individuals like yourself, resources to help with self-reflection, GMAT prep, and other benefits,” he says. He also notes that local and state governments may offer scholarships as well.

Schools can help in the early stages as well.

Admissions teams at many institutions (including Vanderbilt) will assist students before they apply, while others won’t — but it never hurts to ask for help. In any event, most schools leverage student ambassadors to field questions and offer advice. “Our ambassadors page will help people find folks who look like them or share other traits, like geography, and it’s a great resource,” Arteaga notes.

Understand how you leverage your diversity.

For candidates in the application and interview process, an understanding of how their diversity factors into their candidacy is critical to standing out. “We want all of our students to tell us how they’ll leverage their diversity,” says Knox. “Some people with visible aspects of diversity will think ‘I’m diverse, they’ll want me,’ but we want to understand what you are bringing to the table that’s going to impact the learning of your peers.”

She adds that “building out the story of you as a diverse individual and your impact is good for all candidates, but uniquely so for minority candidates, in that sometimes they identify first with their ethnicity.”

Diversity and inclusion on campus can be more than just a number.

Candidates will ask about the percentage of different groups at school, and “that’s a good question to ask,” says Knox. “But, for any school, you need to ask yourself what the larger majority looks like.” Put another way: Understanding a school’s culture goes a long way to understanding what life as a minority would look like there.

So how does one understand a culture of a school they don’t attend? “Visit campus, talk to students, talk to alumni, talk to admissions,” says Arteaga. “Ask your admissions rep about the student culture: How engaged are students of all backgrounds?

“Most schools have clubs like the Owen Black Student Alliance or the Latin American Business Association — find out how active these clubs are. Even if the percentage of particular students is small, but those students are doing things throughout the year, it means they have the broader support of the community.”

“Ask how diverse people are treated in a program,” adds Knox. “Learn about success stories. (Ask) ‘What are people with my goals or background, or who look like me, achieving?’”

When planning campus visits, be mindful of the opportunities that schools present for groups of applicants. Diversity weekends attract diverse alumni and students, offering amazing opportunities for URM candidates to connect with people of similar backgrounds, but it can give a skewed impression of diversity among the entire school population.

Vanderbilt, along with some other schools, plans diversity-related programming in conjunction with larger events, to help candidates “get exposure to the school for what it really is,” says Knox.

Want to learn more about getting an MBA at Vanderbilt Business? Visit the program page or request more information.