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Applying To An MBA From A Non-Business Background—How Should I Do It?

Shari Hubert, associate dean of admissions at Duke Fuqua School of Business, answers your Applicant Question of the Week

Thu Nov 15 2018

It's time for another BusinessBecause Applicant Question of the Week!

Every week, we give you the opportunity to ask one of our chosen admissions experts anything you want to know about getting into business school. One question each week is chosen for our expert to answer.

This week, our question comes from an anonymous reader who works in the creative industries.

Their question is answered by Shari Hubert, associate dean of admissions at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and former associate dean of admissions at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. She also has a wealth of corporate experience spanning The Boston Consulting Group, Citigroup, and General Electric (GE). 

Applicant Question of the Week:

Dear BusinessBecause, 

Do you have any application tips for someone applying from a creative (non-business) background? I'm worried about not having similar corporate experience as other applicants, but I would like to do an MBA to help start my own company. 

The Answer:

Dear Creative MBA,

The first thing you should be aware of is that there is no such thing as a ‘non-traditional’ background for an MBA.  We see applicants from all sectors (private, public and non-profit/creative), as well as entrepreneurs.

I would encourage you to think about the type of ‘professional experience’ you have instead of the type of ‘corporate experience’ you do not have. Consider the times in your professional life where you have had the opportunity:

1. To work as part of a team in accomplishing a goal—did you lead from the front or from behind? Remember, there’s value in both.

2. To find yourself in a situation where you needed to have a difficult conversation with a co-worker or peer over an issue. How did you handle it?

3. To fail at an achievement that you worked really hard at and needed to rebound and move on—this is something that you’ll need to get used to as an entrepreneur, so better to practice in a safe space like an MBA program.

4. To solve a challenging problem using your judgment or new skills learned on the job, especially if the problem involved some type of analysis.

Think about these situations and talk about those that are relevant to your experience in the context of your creative background and work experience. Find ways to include them in your resume, essays, and interview. Perhaps your recommender(s) can speak to these types of skills based on their level of interaction with you. These situations are not unique to only ‘corporate experiences’.

In addition, I would advise you to take a hard assessment of your quantitative comfort level as that is sometimes a concern for applicants from non-business backgrounds. You want to at least have some level of comfort with numbers, and be familiar with the terminology so that you have the confidence to take on the quantitative courses that you will encounter.

If you find that you did not get the GMAT or GRE score you were hoping for, take it again, but after a few tries move on to other areas where you can demonstrate your quantitative aptitude. That might be taking quantitative courses online or at a local university (I took statistics prior to starting my MBA and highly recommend it).

Admissions will review your undergraduate transcript for quant-related courses, but if you are like I was (a liberal arts major), you may not have any. In that case, we will want to see a strong GPA regardless of the major and some schools will look at the strength of your university to get a sense of the rigor of your institution.

However, there is no magic formula! Sometimes it goes a long way to be able to communicate, in a compelling way, your sheer grit, determination, and understanding of how the MBA can help you achieve your career aspirations of starting your own business, and that you are ready and willing to put the hard work in to being successful on the program.

Bottom line—your creative competencies will be seen as an asset, not a liability. I wish you the best of luck!

Ask an Admissions Expert a Question!


Next week, Luke Anthony Peña, executive director of admissions and financial aid at The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University, will be here to answer your applicant query.

Luke has an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and prior to starting at Tuck also worked as their director of MBA admissions—so with well over five years of admissions experience at some of the top business schools in the US, he's the right person to ask about your application worries.

Luke will only be answering one question. So, for the chance to feature, get your questions in now!

To submit one, head to our TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn pages, send us an email to info@businessbecause.com, or simply post a comment below!