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I Have a Non-Traditional Background. Is An MBA Still Right for Me?

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Don’t have the traditional profile of an MBA candidate? Here is some advice.

A prospective candidate recently said to me, “I know I don’t have the traditional profile of an MBA candidate, but I am still interested in doing an MBA.” If this is you, here is some advice. 

When starting your research on MBA programs, you might see profiles of candidates who bear little or no resemblance to you or your career type. Over time, and several profiles later, you might think of your experiences and start to wonder: Do I fit this mold? Is this really for me? Great questions, and to be able to answer them it’s important for you to understand your goals from an MBA program.

Choosing to do an MBA is a personal decision, and every candidate has a different motivation behind wanting to earn one. But understanding why you want an MBA is the first, and perhaps most difficult question to answer. Where do you want to take your career? How would having a great understanding of business mechanics and leadership skills help your future career? Go beyond the first answer you can think of. Wanting a better understanding of how to conduct business is great, but there are other ways you can gain that knowledge – without ever setting foot in a classroom.

For example, you might think of leaders you admire, famous or not, and examine what qualities draw you towards them. Are they great speakers? Visionaries? Do they have a way with people that motivates and encourages? Examine your answers and then think learn how an MBA program can help you develop these skills. Further, ask each school how their program can specifically address your goals. It’s a great way to gain a better understanding of how each program approaches developing you as an individual, plus it shows us that you’re thinking about how an MBA can make a difference in your career.

An MBA program is intense, fun, stressful and a marathon, so it’s important that you have a good understanding of why you’ve chosen such a challenge. Otherwise, you might be setting yourself up for a difficult time.

It's All About Perspective

Through the admissions process, our team has the benefit of meeting candidates from around the world. From architects to artists and engineers to entrepreneurs, we have the pleasure and opportunity to speak with people from a wide range of industries and job functions. It’s one of the best parts of our job.

While diverse, there is a common theme throughout this group of people: everyone is seeking to learn and improve themselves.  This is an important fact that I share on the first day of class with our students. From the very first moment they sit in the classroom together, they have something in common. That’s a powerful statement.

We have the benefit of seeing a class come together and it’s our desire to create the most diverse classroom experience possible. Diversity is what makes the classroom. This is why many MBA programs seek a balance of viewpoints and experiences – it’s better for shared learning. We want people who have great experiences, both personal and professional, and want to share them. Our goal is to create a classroom environment of varied ideas, opinions and viewpoints. Whether you opened a restaurant our led a team of ten project managers, your experiences are valuable when shared.

It’s More About Who You Are, Not What You Are

So, how did I respond to the "non-traditional" candidate sitting in front of me at that event? I started a conversation to learn more about them. I asked many of the questions I listed above. I wanted them to understand that while I was interested in what they did for a living, I also wanted to know about them as a person – their experiences in life. We went on to have a great and interesting conversation.

In my opinion, the traditional MBA candidate is someone who wants to learn, challenge themselves and improve. If that sounds familiar, then congratulations – you’re the traditional MBA candidate. But, when considering going for your MBA remember to develop a clear understanding of yourself and your post-graduation goals.  Only then can you determine whether an MBA is right for you.

Best of luck in your MBA journey!