How One Woman's Life Changed At Harvard Business School

In 2001, twenty-five-year-old Monica Santana Rosen, a vibrant and passionate Latina from Manhattan, had heard all the staggering statistics: Business schools accept only 10% to 20% of the talented applicants and reject thousands of candidates, many with near perfect GMAT scores and G.P.A.; women at top business schools make up a dismal 30% of the class; and the most daunting, Hispanics make up less than 5% of the class at top business schools. But unlike many who had heard the figures and subsequently had thrown in the towel without giving themselves a chance, Monica was more determined to shoot for the top. And in June of this year, that determination-and a lot of hard work-will pay off as she graduates from Harvard Business School.

For many Latinos questioning whether business school is the right path for them, the answer is a resounding yes. Offering personal and professional transformation, business school is certainly an option worth serious consideration. The return on investment is extremely high, with MBAs earning double their salaries and above. It's in the intangible benefits, however that an MBA really pays off: Most graduates experience a huge confidence boost and gain immediate respect in the professional arena. With the MBA come new skills and tools to tackle business challenges, as well as opportunities to break into new and competitive industries. But for minorities in particular, having an MBA from a top business school carries bigger meaning: it brings with it credibility and endorsement to be taken seriously in the professional arena.

Regardless of industry interest or career focus, earning an MBA can be a valuable, life-changing experience. Monica, the daughter of Dominican Republic immigrants who placed a high premium on education and encouraged their youngest child to reach for the stars, is passionate about empowering young children and parents in the inner cities through access to the best education. For many years she did not connect her aspirations with the need for an MBA degree, but as the Executive Director of Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization that helps minority candidates apply to business school and plan successful careers, Monica realized the MBA would be the perfect tool to help her build on her leadership skills and solidify her quantitative and financial expertise.

After graduation, Monica plans to use her Harvard MBA to continue to make a difference in young people's lives through education and social programs designed to encourage education. She hopes to effect widespread change across the U.S. and empower young people to be successful regardless of their ethnicity or economic status While Monica understands the MBA isn't the be all and end all, she believes it will help her open doors, build credibility, and lead an organization that transforms lives.

At the end of the day, Monica says, she wants to look back and know she made a positive difference in the world. "My contribution to society will rely heavily on my ability to inspire others, lead effectively and make tough management decisions on a daily basis, and these are exactly the skills that I am acquiring every day at Harvard Business School," explains Monica. "If you had told me five years ago I would be here today, I would not have believed it, but here I am."

As Monica nears the end of her second year at Harvard Business School, she is taking on another challenge-perhaps the greatest of her life. Monica and her husband are expecting their first child, due in late May, just two weeks before her graduation. "I am so proud of how far I've come in my career and in my education," Monica says. "I hope only to be an example to others and an affirmation that Latina women can succeed in the workforce and can be brilliant leaders and mothers as well!"

For Monica and for the many other young Latino professionals increasingly choosing the MBA route, the challenge remains the same: Persuading more Latinos to apply to business schools and realize their dreams. A lofty goal, given the current dearth of Latinos in the nation's top graduate programs? Perhaps. But for a woman who has always reached for the stars, the sky's the limit. And thanks to her influence, perhaps it can be for many more Latinos as well.