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MBA hopefuls worried that their undergraduate nonbusiness degree is detrimental to program admittance don’t need to fret. MBA admissions officers at business schools across the U.S. say there’s a strong desire to welcome nonbusiness majors into their programs.

Any Major Can Lead to Business School

“While certain majors like business might seem or are probably more aligned with an MBA, we really do welcome applicants with diverse academic backgrounds,” says Angel Burgos, executive director of graduate programs at Florida International University’s Chapman Graduate School of Business.

In fact, Burgos says more than half of FIU students come to business school without a business degree. 

Paul North, executive director of graduate programs in the Max. M. Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, says MBA candidates are coming from varied undergraduate programs, including social sciences and engineering

“If we have a student who is coming in with a nonbusiness background, that’s absolutely welcome, and the impressive thing is it prepares people who are coming from nonbusiness backgrounds to get into the chosen field they desire to go in,” North says. 

Although B-school admissions officers look for assets such as work experience to ensure that MBA applicants are prepared for the rigors of the program, their willingness to accept applicants from different fields is what makes MBA programs unique compared to other graduate programs, says Andrea McHale, director of full-time MBA and global MBA admissions at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor. 

“I always say that’s the beauty of the MBA,” McHale says. “It does not matter what your undergrad was in.”

Diversity Is Sought

The willingness to accept nonbusiness majors reflects the value placed on classroom diversity, some business school representatives say.

It all comes down to the classroom experience, says Laura Oknefski, director of graduate programs at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Research shows that diverse perspectives lead to better outcomes, she says. 

“When folks are bringing perspectives in a background in education, or a background in psychology or a background in the sciences, you name it, those perspectives are really enriching the classroom environment for all the students in our programs,” Oknefski says. “That’s something we really appreciate, and one of the key reasons we do look to enroll that diverse class each year.” 

MBA students with arts and sciences backgrounds add value to the classroom mix, Burgos says. “They are often really great communicators. They have more of a global perspective.”

A Liberal Arts Major Is Not a Disadvantage

Because of skills such as communication and leadership associated with liberal arts majors, someone with that type of background is often capable of rising to the challenges of an MBA program, admissions experts say. McHale says liberal arts majors’ strong verbal, interpersonal and creative problem-solving skills tend to serve them well in business school.

That’s especially true for classroom performance among liberal arts majors who come to the program with some quantitative background in math, statistics or analytics, Oknefski says.

“What we find often is as long as they are coming in with that quant foundation, students with a liberal arts background actually tend to do quite well in our program,” she says.

Even so, Burgos says, applicants with an arts and humanities undergraduate background must explain clearly why an MBA degree makes sense

“A business major, it’s sort of a clear path from an admissions perspective; it’s a trajectory of where you are going,” Burgos says. “It’s a little easier to align in terms of a business perspective, but often times, the arts and humanities major can make a great case: ‘This is something I didn’t do in undergrad, and it’s something I really need to be exposed to in graduate school.’”

Work Experience Matters More

Although what one majors in doesn’t matter as much in regard to acceptance into an MBA program, what does matter is work experience, several admissions experts say. 

“That’s one of the factors we look at – what type of experience do you have in the workforce,” Burgos says. “We look at management experience, of course, we look at relevant jobs in the business sector.” 

North says most MBA applicants come into a business graduate program with work experience. 

“That work experience is important for us to look at – what you have gotten from your work that will tell us you’re a good fit for the program, that you would be effective in a post-MBA job. Even if you might not have a business background academically, we would like to know if you managed people, have you had large budgets, have you been a major contributor?” 

McHale says the University of Michigan requires a minimum of two years of job experience. She says most of the school’s business grad students have about five years of work experience. 

Because work is valued, Oknefski tells potential applicants not to rush into an MBA program – to get job experience under their belt. 

“So a lot of times folks finish undergrad, and they get out into the world and an MBA is or sounds sexy, sounds cool, sounds like a way to get that higher paycheck, and they sort of want to rush to get that and from where we sit, students will have a better experience and better learning outcome in the MBA if they come into it with a little more work experience,” Oknefski says.

Oknefski contends that MBA hopefuls, regardless of their college major, should look at program fit for their professional goals. 

“I would say one thing in terms of advice for applicants, if they are not coming with a business background, is to really look for a program that’s going to give them varied experiential opportunities,” Oknefski says. 

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