How to Research Social Impact Careers and Programs for Aspiring MBAs

Aspiring MBA students increasingly desire careers with social impact, ones that allow them to make a difference in the world. Many are prioritizing impact over financial reward. As a result, we have seen a significant shift in the MBA landscape, with business schools introducing new coursework and resources related to social impact.

If you are an applicant seeking to integrate social impact with your business degree, how should you go about researching your career and program options?

Before we dive in, let us take a look at the social impact careers that are possible for MBAs. Many avenues exist to a profession with social impact. Here are several paths we have seen in our work with MBA candidates:

  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
  • Social impact consulting
  • Impact investing
  • Sustainability/cleantech
  • Supply chain/sustainable sourcing
  • Nonprofits/foundations
  • Corporate roles (e.g., marketing, finance) within socially responsible companies
  • Social enterprise/social entrepreneurship

Once you have identified the areas of social impact that interest you, gather information to confirm your career goals. Look for job openings on LinkedIn and other job search sites that have a social impact focus, such as Net Impact and Idealist. Network and speak with people in your target areas of social impact. Ask them how they got to where they are today, what skills enable their success, and what experiences helped prepare them. Also, check out these blog posts by our mbaMission Career Coach on Identifying Your Career Goals and the Four Key Qualities of a Successful Job Seeker.

Next, self-evaluate to identify how your background aligns with your desired roles. What skills and experiences do your target positions require? Do you have any significant gaps in your skill set? Earning your MBA should help close many of them (more on that later), but you could still consider pursuing a certification, investing in online coursework, participating in more regular volunteering to show your passion for social causes, join a DEI committee or CSR efforts at work, or seek out a junior board position to demonstrate leadership within a nonprofit organization.

Lastly, as you think about how the MBA fits into your social impact career path, look for business schools that have robust opportunities related to social impact. We have highlighted a few such programs in the past (including Berkeley Haas, the Yale SOM, and Duke Fuqua), but this list is rapidly growing. Depending on which area of social impact interests you, we also recommend Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, UPenn Wharton, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg, Dartmouth Tuck, Michigan Ross, NYU Stern, and Oxford Saïd. Consider downloading free copies of mbaMission Insider’s Guides and International Program Guides to learn more about these schools and what they have to offer with respect to social impact.

As you research school options, we recommend you focus on three keys areas:

  1. Career: Dig into each school’s employment report. Some programs publish the percentage of graduates going into the nonprofit sector, but look beyond that percentage because many social impact careers can be categorized in other industries (e.g., consulting, finance). Sometimes, schools also report the percentage of graduates focused on impact across sectors. For instance, Berkeley Haas indicated that 18% of its 2022 graduates accepted a role with a social impact component. Also, check to see if you can find several desirable organizations on the school’s major employer list. Talk to students (or recent alumni) to get their take on social impact career opportunities. How supported are/were they in their social impact career search?
  2. Curriculum: Look through the program’s academic offerings and resources thoroughly. Does the school have an impact-focused major or concentration, such as UPenn Wharton’s new DEI and ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) concentrations? Does it have a center that focuses on impact, such as Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center? Does the curriculum include at least five or six elective courses related to social impact? Are lab courses available that provide real-world exposure, such as the Yale SOM’s “Social Impact Lab”? Do any of the school’s professors conduct research in the areas of social impact that interest you?
  3. Community: Familiarize yourself with the school’s extracurricular resources and student culture. Are any student clubs focused on social impact, such as Net Impact? Does the program offer conferences or case competitions related to social impact, such as Berkeley Haas’s Patagonia Case Competition? Are board fellowship opportunities available, such as Fuqua on Board at Duke Fuqua? Are scholarships offered for students pursuing social impact careers, such as Oxford Saïd’s Skoll Scholarship, or loan forgiveness programs? Is “impact” noted as part of the school’s mission statement or values?

We hope that by exploring your business school options with these questions in mind, you will be able to create a short list of programs that could equip you to pursue a career with impact. We at mbaMission have helped many MBA applicants on their way to pursuing social impact careers. If you would like more targeted guidance on identifying the right MBA program to pursue to help you launch your social impact career, we encourage you to sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with one of our admissions experts.

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