MBA Application Tips for Nontraditional Candidates

If you want to go to business school but do not have a “traditional” background in consulting or finance, you might be worried that you will not be accepted to a top MBA program. Maybe you are a teacher, an athlete, or a journalist. Perhaps you are in the military or have a background as a chef. Nontraditional applicants like you are different, and believe it or not, admissions directors love that!

If you are a nontraditional MBA applicant, here are a few tips to help you navigate the application process and give you some confidence about your candidacy.

1. Do not try to be something you are not.

Although more MBA applicants come from finance and consulting, your unique background helps you stand out. Highlight what you are good at and showcase accomplishments you have had in your field. Remember that no professor wants to be in front of a class of just bankers and consultants. Your experience adds diversity and allows you to look at situations from a different perspective than that of others. Emphasize your distinctiveness!

2. Showcase your quantitative or analytical skills.

Even if such skills are not a major part of your work experience, you need to show the admissions committee that you can handle the quantitative rigor of an MBA program. A recent applicant who worked for a TV station had little quant experience, but she conducted an analytical study of the station’s social media impressions, which led to some programming changes and ultimately resulted in a boost to advertising sales. That story became an important part of her applications! You can also think about taking some courses that would bolster your quant profile, such as Harvard Business School’s Credential of Readiness program or a college class in statistics or economics. By doing so, you are showing the admissions committee that you are dedicated to strengthening your quantitative skills, thereby creating greater confidence in your ability to perform well in its MBA program.

3. Be clear on why you want an MBA and where it will lead you.

The good news if you are a nontraditional applicant is that you most likely do not have an undergraduate degree in business, so your reasons for needing an MBA are easy to establish in your applications. Still, articulating career goals that make sense for your specific background and skill set is important, meaning you want the admissions committee to feel confident that you will get a job after business school without a struggle. For instance, a client who worked as a chef and TV food stylist built her career goals on moving into consumer products marketing, with a focus on food. This path made perfect sense to the admissions committee.

4. Highlight your team-building skills.

Almost every career requires teamwork, so make sure the admissions committee knows how well you work in a group or team setting. Think about your experiences within your work environment or through extracurriculars, and tell stories about times you have engaged positively and productively with others. For instance, a teacher might write about collaborating with fellow staff members to develop programming that raised test scores school-wide.

If you have questions about your nontraditional background or wonder which schools you would be competitive at, sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with an mbaMission Senior Consultant.

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