How this first-generation student ended up at a top MBA program—and landed an internship with Microsoft

BY Sydney LakeFebruary 13, 2023, 9:27 PM
Betty Tran, an MBA candidate at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. (Courtesy of Betty Tran)

When it was time for college graduation in 2015, Betty Tran felt a little lost about what she wanted to do with her career. As a liberal arts student at a big school—the University of Southern California, which has more than 20,000 undergrad students—she felt as if her career search needed to be more self-directed. As a first-generation college student, job fairs and career planning weren’t something she had been exposed to before. 

“I remember seeing seas of people in these really long, intimidating lines,” Tran says, recalling job fairs at USC. “Everyone was in a suit, and I didn’t even own a blazer. Having parents who are Vietnam war refugees who came over to the U.S. and never worked a white-collar job, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to career opportunities growing up.”

For that reason, Tran says she didn’t take advantage of internships and other opportunities during college. She thought she would head down a traditional liberal arts path by attending law school or pursuing a career in social justice. After graduating from USC, she pursued a master’s degree in nongovernmental organization leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, and spent the first few years of her career in both the nonprofit and public sectors.

Tran realized after a few years, though, that she would likely be a better match for corporate positions. This ignited her interest in going to business school, and she decided to apply for the Forté Foundation’s MBALaunch program, an eight-month endeavor intended to help prepare women to apply for and attend business school. She also joined The Consortium, which is a group of about 20 schools that are committed to bringing diverse students to business school and helping them become business leaders in the future.

Tran had a couple of bumps in the road getting to business school—one of them being waitlisted for the Forté program the first time she applied.

“I think part of the reason was because I didn’t know what I was doing with my career,” Tran tells Fortune. “To go to business school, you have to have some sort of career maturity where you have thought through what skills you want in the MBA in order to reach the next step of your career.”

But Tran stayed determined to go to business school, eventually applying to and being accepted at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, which Fortune ranks as having the No. 11 best full-time MBA program in the U.S. Plus, for this summer, she’s landed a spot at tech giant Microsoft. Tran will graduate from Tuck in 2024.

Research from job search firms show that internship positions at Microsoft are “highly competitive,” with some anecdotal projections from former applicants showing that less than 5% of applicants end up getting an internship. Microsoft declined to comment to Fortune about the competitiveness of its internship programs.

Fortune sat down with Tran to learn more about her journey from a first-generation college student to an MBA student at a top program. 

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Getting accepted to a top MBA program

Fortune: Why did you do a pre-MBA program?

Tran: Like a lot of other MBA candidates, when you commit to applying to business school, there’s this sense of not wanting to give up on things. You really want to see it out until the end.

Forté showed me that sometimes you have to try again, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you need to have more personal or professional growth to reach that next step. Doing that alongside hundreds of women in the cohort was also exciting. I learned that everyone has really different challenges in their MBA application process.

I like that the programming is very specific to women because a lot of diversity programs are centered on race. There’s something about gender that’s really empowering—where they’re bringing so many different types of people from everywhere. That even supersedes socioeconomic class and race and geography.

Did you always know where you wanted to apply?

I got some inside perspective from alumni who told me more than what a school admissions office might be putting out on the internet and how they want to be seen. I remember seeing Tuck’s selling points being that it was a place where people who are friendly go and it’s a place that is collaborative. That’s what I was looking for. 

One of the panels that was part of the program included a recent alumna who had also gone to USC for undergrad. I remembered that spark that they accept people from my college and that I might have a chance. I decided to ultimately only apply to smaller schools. Having gone to a really large college, I was seeking more individual attention where no one’s anonymous.

What attracted you most to Tuck?

I first learned about the school through another Tuck student. I also came to the Diversity Conference at Tuck, which is a three-day admissions event where they bring in racially diverse folks from all over the country to explore the school, meet students, learn about student clubs, and take some mock classes. The Tuck student I knew was also a woman of color and she had also come from a nonprofit career looking to pivot into a corporate career, so I felt like there were already a lot of synergies. I didn’t feel intimidated in the same way I did by other schools.

At a conference I went to, there were two ladies from Tuck admissions, and I was first in line to talk with them. They just spent so much time with me, and it was the only time I was at one of these admissions events where they didn’t feel rushed to get to the next person, and it didn’t feel transactional.

That was super consistent with all of my touchpoints with Tuck. Tuck was the only school where I applied where everyone who I reached out to responded to my emails, which I know for some people might sound like a small detail, but for me that really matters. 

Especially if you are a first-generation college student, and you don’t already have corporate networks to tap into, you really do need people to respond because that’s how you’re going to build your career. I had a different experience with some other schools, which further encouraged me to come here.

What it’s like to go to a top MBA program

Tell me about your experience thus far at Tuck.

One of the highlights is being an associate for our Center of Digital Strategies, which is our center focused on technology and other digital strategies in business. The opportunities here make me feel very prepared for a long-term career in tech.

In December, me and a small group of students had lunch with the new global head of marketing for TikTok, for example, who’s a Tuck alumna. I love that Tuck fosters the sense of community. The alumni are very humble, no matter what their job titles are. There are so many executives who come that I’ve had meals with—even the former CEO of MuleSoft, which is a large tech company that got sold to Salesforce a couple of years ago. There are a lot of alumni who come to give us their candid advice on things.

I’ve also really loved both the Consortium community here, which includes a lot of the Black, Latinx, Native American, and other racially diverse people, and also the LIFT organization, which is the low income, first-generation group at Tuck. These two organizations have been really important for me and have been really instrumental to my growth here. 

Landing an internship with Microsoft

What was it like applying for—and landing—a highly competitive internship?

I had seen a lot of Consortium folks who have interest in diversity go into MBA internships and post-MBA roles at Microsoft in different roles. Microsoft’s mission is about connecting people via technology and giving them unlimited information about the world. They’re always wanting to innovate and do something better. I felt like there was a lot of that mission that I felt like I wanted to connect to. But the recruitment process for internships is very intimidating.

I was not sure what to expect. What I had learned from other Tuck students who had interned there was that ultimately you’re competing with yourself for an internship. You have to put your best foot forward and make sure you feel confident and prepared for an interview, for an internship, and to have your own career goals together. To focus on the process, you can’t really look outward. You have to look more inward. I had a lot of preparation actually from the Consortium students and recent alumni at Microsoft from Tuck

Those alumni introduced me to more senior colleagues they had at the company because interviews are with director-level and more senior leadership at the company. Then I asked, of course, to talk to some of these types of folks that would be the hiring managers, and they actually put me in touch.

What are your long-term career goals? Are you looking to stay at Microsoft?

I would love to go back to Microsoft or to a similar large tech company in a similar type of role. For the summer, my role is called account executive, where you talk with a lot of large company clients and other organizations and sell to them, helping Microsoft develop really large-scale partnerships with organizations to implement technology. 

I spent the first five years of my career in recruitment. I used a lot of technology—mostly LinkedIn recruiter, and I also used Salesforce. I realized the ability for the technology to really scale and accelerate and innovate even with greater accuracy, a lot of the recruitment practices that my team was doing manually. There are a lot of untapped opportunities. Instead of hiring one person at a time for a role, I wanted to work in technology where we would be able to support thousands of folks getting hired, getting interviewed, exposed to different opportunities. I also wanted to hold that focus on diversity in tech specifically.

That led me to my role right before business school at a company that’s focused on diversity hiring. Coming to business school, I wanted to further amplify the type of impact I can have via technology. I’m excited to get this training from Microsoft. 

Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.