Admissions teams continue to ramp up efforts to attract non-traditional applicants to their MBA programs, says the Graduate Management Admission Council. These prospective students bring unique experiences and skills to business school and the business world.
Non-traditional applicants bring different perspectives to classroom discussions, which enhances the learning environment for all. Working in diverse teams in one of the most effective ways to learn essential soft management skills.
Today’s MBA students want to make an impact across industries, like healthcare, entertainment, technology, and nonprofits. One major way business school admissions committees work to lure in non-traditional applicants is by focusing on transferable skills, regardless of the person’s background. These include characteristics such as leadership, team building, and analytical thinking.
Take, for example, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who has an undergraduate degree in Medieval History and Philosophy. That’s about as far away from a business background as you can get. However, she points out that “I learned how to condense … a lot of information down to the essence. That thought process has served me my whole life.”
A Welcoming Environment for Non-Traditional Applicants
Deb Xavier told Poets & Quants she has been struck by the “sense of belonging” inherent to the Class of 2021 at the Ross School of Business. “As a non-traditional MBA candidate, and a single mother, the collaborative and inclusive community was more than I could ever expect. Right from the beginning of my interactions, I knew I would have friends for life.”
Applicants with unconventional or less traditional work or academic experience before business school often worry about how admissions committees will assess their records. However, it’s more than okay to be different. No MBA program wants to fill an entire class solely with candidates from investment banking or consulting. In fact, non-traditional applicants often stand out in the MBA admissions process.
Also, non-traditional applicants shouldn’t automatically assume that keeping up with MBA classmates will be a huge challenge, the adcomm at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business has noted. Non-traditional students often make up a large portion of the MBA class at Haas.
“When I talk to people from other non-traditional backgrounds, their main concern is, ‘I’m not going to be able to hack it in business school, I’m going to be so behind and all of these people are going to be so much smarter than me,’ and the long and short of it is that it is absolutely not true,” said Amelia Kusar, who majored in classical music performance as an undergrad.
The experience is similar at Wharton School. “To my great surprise, being ‘nontraditional’ at Wharton is completely normal, and you will survive. You got in because you belong here, and because Wharton knows you’ll thrive,” said MBA grad Pauline Koningsveld.
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