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Will My PhD Impact My Business School Applications?

Kelly Wilson, executive director of Masters admissions at Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business, answers your Applicant Question of the Week

Thu Jan 24 2019

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's question comes from Indian MBA applicant Rahul Mehta (pictured), a 30-year-old sales manager working for a large Swiss company in Singapore.

Rahul has a bachelors degree in Technology from the Indian Insitute of Technology, as well as a PhD in Power and Energy Systems from the National University of Singapore, and is now wondering if an MBA could be the key to pursuing his dream career as a CEO of a global corporation.

His question is answered by Kelly Wilson, executive director of Masters admissions at Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business.

Applicant Question of the Week:

Dear BusinessBecause, 

I have always wanted to do an MBA to achieve my ultimate career goal of becoming a CEO, but I get asked a lot why I would do an MBA after a PhD. How do you assess MBA applications from candidates who have a PhD? Is it an obstacle to my MBA application?

The Answer:

What an exciting time for you, Rahul! Your PhD provided an opportunity to develop expertise in power and energy systems and it appears that your passion lies beyond research and academia.

As a sales manager, you have worked in cross-functional teams and have no doubt identified business areas where you would like to shore up your understanding and other areas where a solid foundation is what you need.

The MBA is a broad-based degree that provides academic coursework across various functional areas of business including strategy, operations, marketing/sales, finance and organizational behavior. The MBA experience differs from a PhD in that you will develop skills through experiential learning and practical training that will prepare you to effectively lead in a business environment.

Successful MBA applicants who hold a PhD degree will have developed an understanding of how an MBA complements their expertise and are able to convey this through their career goals and interview. They will have identified specific skills that they want to develop further through the applied approach of the MBA degree and will understand how the MBA will help them reach their goals.

Your Career Goals

Consider your career path—in addition to your sales manager experience, what are the types of roles that will prepare you to become a CEO? How does your PhD add value to your profession?

In your application, you will share the type of position that you will seek following graduation. Share how this first step fits into your overall plan. What might an alternative path be to get there?

Not only will you provide your goals as a part of the application, but you will have the opportunity to share them during your interview.

Preparing for Your Interview

As you prepare for the MBA interview, treat it as you would a job interview. Learn as much as you can about the interview process ahead of time. Will you have a behavioral interview? If so, identify situations where you have been successful, challenged, and even failed.

Be certain your answers demonstrate the action you took in a given situation and demonstrate the impact that you had relative to the results. 

Often, candidates are excited and even a bit nervous about the interview. Take care to follow the interview and do not try to take control of the conversation, despite your burning desire to make sure that you get to tell the interviewer everything that you came to say.

Most often, you will find time at the end of the interview to ask questions or discuss anything that was not brought up during the interview.

Most importantly, whether when writing your application or when you interview, be uniquely you. Admissions officers want to connect with you during the interview and learn about who you are. 

There isn’t one type of student that we look for and we value the differences you bring. Your PhD will add value to your profile as an MBA candidate. I wish you all the best!

Ask an Admissions Expert a Question!

Next week, our admissions expert is Emily Preiss, director of admissions at Asia School of Business (ASB).

Emily has been with ASB since 2015 and knows exactly what kind of student the Malaysian school is looking for. She also has experience founding her own companies in Malaysia, so knows what it's like to juggle a startup with MBA applications!

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