Fatima Sensei

Class of 2016 | Wisconsin School of Business | Strategic Human Resource Management

Are you a non-native English speaker? Are you interested in applying for an MBA in the United States? Have you received most of your education outside of the United States? Is it your first time hearing about standardized tests?  Is this your first time writing admissions essays? That was me three years ago. I am from Senegal, a native French speaker and had a Masters Degree in Human Resources before moving to the U.S.  five years ago. I spent my career working in the private and nonprofit sectors in the United States and in Senegal. I am a big community activist for girls’ education in Africa #KEEPING OUR GIRLS IN SCHOOL#. I always believe the impossible is possible, and I want to influence girls around the world. I think that education access is critical for girls in developing countries. I am the first female with the highest degree in my family. My MBA will help me make a difference in my community. It was a very long process to get here. I really hope that you can learn from my experiences, lessons learned and best practices.  I love helping others with similar obstacles! 

MOVING UP THE CORPORATE LADDER | GMAT: 610 | GPA 3.8 | Experience: 7 yrs | Human Resources | International Student

OBSTACLES: Low GMAT | Non-native english speaker | Limited exposure to US educational system

MBA INTERESTS: Entrepreneurship | Social Entrepreneurship | Consulting | HR

HOMETOWN: Dakar, Senegal

LANGUAGE(S): French, English, And Spanish


How did you study for the GMAT?

I never heard of standardized tests until I moved to the United States.  The educational system in Senegal is a replicate of the French school system: testing is either written or is an oral test. Therefore, a standardized test such as the GMAT was completely new to me. I bought books on craigslist and read blogs, but those did not help me to understand the test. I signed up for an in-person class, but the class was too fast and did not fit my study style. I kept on searching for a GMAT prep course that would meet my needs and study style. I found a useful GMAT prep online course that is directed to non-native English speaker.

How many times did you take the GMAT?

I took the GMAT twice. My first GMAT score was in the low 300s, but it did not discourage me. Instead, I decided to postpone my MBA application for another year. I took one year to get myself accustomed to the GMAT, browsed forums and found a better course for me. I signed up for the e-gmat course. This online GMAT prep course is intended for not- native English speakers. I was able to increase my score from low 300 to 610 using the e-gmat online course. I would recommend that non-native English speakers checkout the e-GMAT (https://e-gmat.com) prep course.

How did you study for the GMAT while working a 45+work week?

I allocated 2 hours during the week and 7 hrs. a day on the weekend to study for the GMAT. The more I studied, the more frustrated I was because my GMAT score was very low. I rethought my strategy and decided to enroll in ESL classes to improve my English skills. I realized that it was critical that I first understand the language before I dive into the test. I took intensive ESL classes for a year and worked full-time. This strategy forced me to think and breathe in English, and it also helped me to understand the material I was reading (GMAT blogs, books, etc.). The lesson learned is: one should feel comfortable with English before taking the GMAT. I wished the GMAT was in French, but it is not. Furthermore, it’s ok to take time to improve your English skills; I think it helps not only with the GMAT preparation but also it will help you in the classroom.


Were you part of any special programs to promote diversity?

I searched for an organization that promotes diversity in business, and I came across the Consortium. The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management is committed to increasing the representation of African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans in American business schools and corporate management. They connect people, institutions and companies that have shown a commitment to their mission, and they position them for even greater success. Specifically, they foster a network of the country’s best students, leading MBA programs and corporate partners, including Fortune 500 companies. The Consortium has a common application, and it has a good relationship with the top 20 MBA programs. All the schools I was interested in are all Consortium schools.


How did you decide what schools to apply to?

I looked at MBA rankings and also researched the specialization I was interested in. I was not very concerned about a school’s location because I don’t have ties to any one location. I carefully looked at career placement for international students as I knew that as a non-native English speaker it might be more difficult for me to be placed. Class size and school culture were also extremely important to me.

After you were admitted, how did you decide which school to attend?

This is a very personal decision.  The advice I received from many people was to look at schools ranking and school career placement ranking. I decided to go to UW-Madison because they offered a Human Resources specialization and have a small program. Furthermore, I was accepted in the Consortium with a Full two year’s fellowship. Getting an MBA debt free and being part of the Consortium made this decision very easy for me.


Did you use MBA admission consultants?

The MBA application process was very new to me. In fact, in Senegal, we don’t write essays to apply to a higher education program nor do we take standardized tests. I was lost and frustrated most of the time because I was not sure if I needed to take the TOEFL. The grading system was different, so I was not certain how my grades translated into a US grading system. Therefore, I started to search for MBA consultant who could help me to navigate the process. I reached out to high profile consulting firms, but none of the consultants I spoke to could relate to my background. They had limited knowledge of my previous educational system and my experience. I needed to work with a consultant who could understand ME. I was able to find Poonam from my essay review. She has great success working with international students. Her primary focus is essay writing: helping you to tell your story effectively. She provided me guidance on essay writing, and that was very helpful. Also, she encouraged me when I was feeling down because of a poor GMAT score.

If you could have done one thing differently during the application process what would you do?

I would have visited schools and sit in a classroom. To better understand the culture, I would recommend visiting the school before you apply to the program.

Did you visit all of the programs you applied to? If you didn’t visit them, how did you get to understand the culture / fit?

I did not visit programs I applied to, but I attended most of the MBA tours and schools presentations hosted in my city. At those events, I made meaningful connections with students and admissions directors. Talking to those individuals help me to asses program fit. I believe that people are a representation of their organization/school culture.


As a non-native English Speaker what was your biggest challenge when starting the program?

Classroom size and team projects were my two biggest challenges.  I was used to smaller classroom sizes (25 people), and individual project work back in Senegal. The team dynamic may be challenging for international students at times.

 How did you overcome this challenge?

I worked with my school communication coach to get feedback and improve my public speaking; I spent hours practicing and refining those skills. Also, I was open and transparent with my team. I directly asked them for feedback and wanted to take ownership of my team contribution so that I could correct my mistakes and improve. My advice to non-native english speakers is to ask people to repeat themselves when you don't understand them. Also, don't let your accent prevent you from participating in class and expressing your ideas to your teammates.


How are you funding your MBA?

Wisconsin has consistently been ranked as an excellent return on investment and provides generous funding for many students. I received a two years fellowship, which covers tuition, health insurance and 50% paid project assistantship. My project assistantship paycheck helps cover living expenses.


Did you do on-campus or off-campus recruiting?

I did both but had more success in off-campus recruiting. I started recruiting at the Consortium conference two months before starting the MBA program. This conference is intended for Consortium students to have access to Fortune 500 companies before you even start your MBA program. I was able to build relationships with employers. I interviewed with 10 Fortune 500 companies and received eight internship offers. Also, I attended the National Black MBA conference, which is another great opportunity to  networking with employers.  I ended up being contacted by my dream companies and received internship offers for all three.

The internship decision?

With 11 strong interview offers, I was ecstatic. Making a final decision was hard. I ranked the companies and focused on my three favorite companies. I reached out to my career advisors, second year MBA colleagues and friends for advice. Everyone attempted to help me the best they could, but I was more confused after each discussion. At the end, I took a bet because I needed to make a decision and that was one of my biggest mistakes.

What would you have done differently?

To trust my gut and stick with the industry that I always wanted to work in: Healthcare. 


Where did you intern?

I interned at ExxonMobil as an HR summer associate in Houston, TX.

What was the internship like?

I had three individual projects and one team project. The internship lasted 12 weeks, and I had a great time learning about the ExxonMobil.

Applied: Wisconsin School of Business, Johnson School of Business (Cornell), UCLA Anderson, Yale School of Management, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (invited for interview; withdrew application)

Accepted: Wisconsin School of Business, Johnson School of Business (Cornell)