By Andrea Coulis
Admissions committees generally understand that a key goal of an MBA program is professional and personal growth, which is difficult to attain without diversity of thought, background, and character in the mix of the cohort.
For this reason, emphasizing—rather than hiding or distorting—your unique background can strengthen your application. Here are four questions to ask yourself before applying to b-school if your pre-MBA experience comes from outside the business world.
1. Why do you want an MBA?
This is a simple yet crucial question you’ll be asked constantly.
A key aspect of a successful application is your ability to clearly explain why you want an MBA, and what you'll do with it post-graduation. For conventional applicants, the answer is often obvious—an MBA is needed for a promotion, a lateral move, or a pay rise.
Those without business experience will likely have to make a more concerted effort to justify leaving their current field for business school. Be concrete, specific, and make it clear that you've done your research.
Keep in mind that if your reason for applying to business school is to gain wide-ranging business knowledge—for example, if you’re a physician preparing to run your own practice, or a member of the military transitioning into strategy consulting—this may be an excellent move.
On the other hand, if your rationale is much more specific and places less value on broad business acumen, a more specialized graduate program may be a better strategy for advancing your career. Take a look at job descriptions for your ideal position and see what their requirements are—if an MBA is repeatedly missing, you may want to seek an alternate route.
Getting an MBA is often mistakenly considered a way to become proficient in all things business, but it’s not necessarily a ticket to achieving any business-related dream. Diving in before doing your research is an expensive way to figure that out.
2. What can you offer to your classmates that no one else can?
Admissions professionals usually examine each potential applicant individually for their ability to impact their fellow classmates during the program and post-graduation. The more specific you can get about how your unique background enables you to bring valuable insights to the class, the more intriguing you’ll be to admissions committees.
Be authentic, specific, and passionate. Your goal is for the person reading your application to want to be in the classroom with you, so they can learn ideas they might not have been exposed to. Capitalize on your capacity for setting yourself apart with this part of the application!
3. Are you ready for the GMAT?
The GMAT is one of the toughest parts of the admissions process for most people, not just those without a business background. Many aspects of this test are specifically designed to predict how well you can answer complex problems in a business setting.
Don’t get lost analyzing data for hidden messages, or theorizing about tangentially related topics. Generally, there is a right answer to these types of questions, and creativity here is not rewarded.
The GMAT itself is an obstacle that will likely require substantial practice to overcome, but if you do score well, it will be a testament to your ability to surmount steep learning curves quickly—a huge advantage in the business world.
4. What do your target schools have to say?
Spend time speaking with admissions representatives about what to expect from the admissions process, and from the program itself. Make sure you ask about requirements for those without an undergraduate degree in business, as many programs will have prerequisites. Also, ask about how current students without a business background have succeeded in the program.
Focused due diligence with admissions personnel prior to applying can help you find programs where you'll be considered an irreplaceable asset, rather than a disruption to a steady churn of cookie-cutter graduates.
I can tell you from personal experience that the most memorable and insightful knowledge I gained during my MBA often came from students with non-traditional backgrounds. They were able to think outside of the box that so many business professionals gradually climb into after years in the field.
Your distinct experience and knowledge—if articulated effectively—could not only be an important part of your classmates’ experiences, but also your ticket to getting in.
MyGuru is currently offering a unique, free GMAT skills webinar. Attendees can submit their specific GMAT or b-school admissions questions in advance and have them answered during the webinar on 7/2 from 6:30 to 7:15 CDT. Everyone who signs up will receive a link to a video of the webinar as well.
Andrea Coulis is a senior tutor for MyGuru, a provider of online GMAT tutoring. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and an MBA from the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School.