What Do Business Schools Look For?

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What educational background do business schools look for?

What is the best undergraduate major for MBA students? Do you wonder (or worry) if your undergraduate major will help you get into a terrific graduate business program? Are you an undergraduate now and considering the best major to help you get accepted to the MBA graduate program of your choice?

Don’t fret. The MBA degree is what you might think of as a great equalizer. The fact is, it doesn’t much matter what your undergrad degree is or was before getting into business school or excelling in a business career. The right school will teach you what you need to know, even if you majored in a subject you think is utterly unrelated to business. For instance, the vice president of GradSchools.com – who puts together the business plans and handles much of the budgets – has an undergraduate degree in psychology.

What Do Business Schools Look For?

Business graduate schools admissions committees are generally looking for a package of characteristics that show your potential for a business career. If you possess the qualities they seek, they are confident that once you begin studying for your Masters in business, you can learn the nuts and bolts – even if you studied art history or astronomy.

MBA admissions committees generally look for qualities such as: leadership potential, intellectual and scholastic ability, business and management aptitude and potential, work experience, communication skills, character, curiosity, passion, innovation, maturity and personal contributions to society. As you are no doubt well aware, they’ll also consider your grades, GMAT score and, if English isn’t your first language, your TOEFL score. Many top schools will also consider your performance at a required interview.

Different business programs place different amounts of emphasis on each of these criteria, but the important thing is that regardless of what you studied in college, you can present a strong package showcasing many of these assets.

So even if you’ve never studied anything business-related, don’t fear. And if you are an undergrad convinced you’ll apply to business grad school after college, do what interests you now. You can learn the business of business once you are in grad school studying for your MBA. Your best bet is to get a well-rounded education and pursue what you are passionate about. College is the place to do that.

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MBA Students Come from Many Educational Backgrounds

Skeptical? Still think you need to have majored in – or at least focused on – business as an undergrad? Check out the breakdown of majors for the top three U.S. business schools (as ranked by U.S. News and World Report for 2008) that report this info in their profile of the Class of 2009.

  • Harvard Business School (ranked No. 1) – Humanities and Social Sciences: 36%, Engineering and Natural Sciences: 34%, Business Administration: 25%, Other: 5%.
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business (ranked No. 2) – Humanities and Social Sciences: 46%, Engineering, Math and Natural Sciences: 35%, Business: 19%, Advanced Degree Holders: 11%.
  • MIT Sloan School of Management (ranked No. 5): Engineering: 43%, Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences: 22%, Business and Commerce: 18%, Mathematics and Natural Sciences: 10%, Computer Science: 8%.

Notice that undergrad business majors don’t top 25% of the most recent incoming class for these top business graduate schools. Majors in the liberal arts still make up the majority of incoming MBAs. What exactly are the liberal arts? Well, they include almost every type of major listed above besides business itself. The liberal arts are the disciplines long considered to be the cornerstones of education: arts and humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences and mathematics.

So how does an English or Biology major benefit a future MBA student? Because a liberal arts education is one that provides you with broad experience and understanding of many areas, preparing you to succeed in any field you choose, and that includes business. A well-rounded undergraduate education should provide you with writing, communication and logic skills, at a bare minimum. It doesn’t matter if you majored in Philosophy, East Asian Studies or Engineering.

If you are an undergrad now and you know you want to go to business school, basic economics courses surely can’t hurt. And the increasingly popular business minor is another option. A business minor may help you land that first job after you graduate from college. In fact, it could well be that job (not what you majored in as an undergrad) that contributes to your being accepted to the master’s in business program of your choice.

The moral of the story on majors is this: even if you didn’t major in business or economics, and even if you never took an economics class or business-related quantitative class, a good MBA program will prepare you for the business world once you begin studying for your graduate business administration degree. It’s your management and leadership potential that will ultimately determine your success. Having done well in college is most important – not so much the classes you took.

When applying to MBA programs, don’t be afraid to embrace your college major – whatever it is!

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