This time of year, applicants from all walks of life are contemplating returning to b-school, and it’s not just businesspeople who are applying. Does it make a difference where you come from when it comes to getting in?
While a natural assumption for the layperson would be that business people are the ones going back to business school, this is a bit too simplistic. There is a subtle but important distinction with MBA programs, and that is, people who go to business school all have one thing in common, that is, they all desire to go into some kind of business after business school. This doesn’t necessarily mean they were already in business before business school.
Despite all the hoopla in MBA world around work experience, you don’t necessarily need a particular flavor of work experience under your belt when you apply. Sure, the most applicants to business school hail from the investment banking and consulting industries, but a very high number of accepted applicants actually checked the “other” box on the application instead. Certainly if you are trying to game your acceptance with your work experience, you’d probably want to go into venture capital. After all, the latest trends show that the VC industry has the highest acceptance rate to top schools these days.
Remember, however, that business schools are very keen on diversifying their student body.
The key is not in specifically what you did, but why you did it and how you did it. Schools are looking for driven, passionate achievers, and clearly you can be driven and passionate about literally anything. For those who come from an alternative background, it’s important to couch your story in this light and to be able to parlay it into a dynamic future vision post MBA. If you can take an unusual or unique background and convince them it prepared you to do something great in the future (with the help of business school of course), it’s likely you will actually have an easier time getting in than “just another banker.”
Another key to making an impression with an alternate background is in nailing the GMAT and hopefully having a good undergraduate education under your belt. Particularly if you can demonstrate quantitative skills, you will be a shoo-in with a wildly impressive, but out-of-the-mainstream background.
Coming from the military is an advantage as well.
B-schools just love high-achieving military applicants. The leadership training alone is enough to have top schools clamoring over applicants from the US military (and abroad as well for that matter). In fact, second to the VC industry, the highest percentage of successful applicants come from those in the pool who have military service.
So as you begin to dive into the pool of b-school applicants, know that you will encounter there just about every type of person and professional you can imagine. Focusing on the uniqueness of your own story will keep you from drowning.