If you are an entrepreneur who is planning to apply to an MBA program, you have some huge advantages! First and foremost, most MBAs dream of starting a business at some distant point in their post-MBA future, and you already have that experience—which means not only that you can offer an important and underrepresented voice in the class but also that you have a higher likelihood of being an entrepreneurial standout going forward. You have both immediate and long-term contributions you can make! However, you also have some challenges that you will need to manage proactively to ensure that you do not inadvertently send the admissions committees the wrong message.
If your business is currently operating, you must clearly convey to the school that you are committed to your selected program and to the entire MBA experience. This should probably be obvious, but you have to be crystal clear on this point because admissions officers will worry that you might have one foot out the door at all times and that you could prioritize your business over engaging in the MBA experience. So, you might want to address this potential concern head on in the optional essay, explaining that you have a plan in place to manage your business during your time in the MBA program because you want to focus on your education.
Also, in your goal statement, make a point of very specifically highlighting the skills you need to develop and showing that you have a clear sense of purpose in pursuing your MBA. Furthermore, even if you have wrapped up all the loose ends and sold your business prior to applying to business school, you will still need to convey your seriousness about the educational experience. You cannot risk inadvertently creating any mystery about your level of intent that could cause the admissions office to question whether you will truly be present in class or just quietly incubating your own ideas as business school goes on around you.
Another unique consideration you have as an entrepreneur is who should write your letters of recommendation. Although you do not have a conventional boss, you still have lots of options, and the admissions committees will understand why you cannot offer a conventional supervisor letter. Maybe you have an investor you could ask to write a recommendation letter for you? A board member? A mentor? A key client? A supplier? These are just some of your options! What is important here is that your recommender write with sincerity about you but do so at the same distance a supervisor would. So, your board member or mentor, for example, cannot simply be a “cheerleader” for you. They must write objectively, describing your strengths and weaknesses and assessing you thoughtfully and critically.
Another facet to examine is your goals. Think carefully about how you discuss your goals in your essays and interviews. You have likely done something exciting in the course of your entrepreneurial pursuits, so keep the excitement going. And although we have seen applicants successfully do so, as an accomplished entrepreneur, you will have a tough time selling the admissions committee on the idea that you would go into a conventional “job” after graduation. You might be able to present the case for targeting a high-level role at a start-up or an associate position in venture capital, rather than launching another business, but convincingly arguing that you would go into consulting, for example, would be much more difficult.
Finally, we should address the case of the unsuccessful entrepreneur. If you took a big swing that ended up being a big miss, just own it! Whether you are discussing the experience in an interview or writing about it an essay, take pride in the gutsiness you exhibited in your attempt and own the outcome while revealing what you learned along the way. That we all learn from setbacks is not a cliché. Show that you have gained certain knowledge and skills as a result and are resilient. Schools want to admit applicants with character, and you will have demonstrated that you have it.
If you wonder which schools you would be competitive at or have questions about your application essays, sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with an mbaMission consultant.