It may sound funny, but this was the first question I asked an MBA admissions coach in July 2019 when I decided to apply to business school. I majored in Creative Writing in undergrad and worked in book publishing for four years; my entire resume seemed to scream: “I can’t do math!" MBA programs—especially at top schools like Harvard and Columbia—have a reputation for being full of former finance guys and being all about the “quant". That truism is evolving at a lot of business schools, as admissions offices—and employers, too—start paying attention to the “poet" side of “poets and quants".
What is a “non-traditional background", anyway?
It’s a broad term that means something different to every person, business school, and employer. A non-traditional background is commonly understood as an academic and/or professional background not in financial or professional services (consulting).
Everyone can get an MBA—it’s about finding the right school for you.
Maybe your background, like mine, is in media. Or perhaps you’ve been working at an education nonprofit, or you’ve been a professional actor since college. Regardless of what your professional experience has been up until you apply, there is a business school out there for you.
Before you create your target schools list, it’s important to think about what you want to get out of your business degree. That can help you narrow down the list of schools and target your application to schools that will be the best fit for your goals. Whether you’re looking for better career opportunities, academic rigor, or the ability to specialize in on one area there is a program for everyone, regardless of their professional history.
Getting in is all about how you frame your experience.
No one knows your life better than you do! Admissions offices won’t know how your background as a professional equestrian will translate into a business school classroom unless you tell them. It’s helpful to pull out to a 30,000-foot view of your working life and see what patterns or details or stories emerge. If you can craft a narrative around your academic and professional background that demonstrates passion, curiosity, and an understanding of how your unique experience will add to the school, you’re bound to stand out from the applicant pool even if you have never opened Excel.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Work your network! Talk to friends and family members who have their MBAs, or to trusted advisors in your workplace or from your undergrad institution. When you attend information sessions at schools, don't be afraid to ask about their recruitment priorities and the professional backgrounds of the student body. Search for professional and affinity clubs at schools you're applying to and reach out to students in those clubs with similar backgrounds to you and learn about their experience applying and adjusting to business school. The resources to help you get in are out there, all you have to do is ask!
Applying to--and attending--business school when coming from a "non-traditional" background may seem impossible, but remember that your unique experiences set you apart from the crowd in the best way.
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