Is an MBA Right for Someone Without a Business Degree?
| OnlineMBA.com Staff Modified on May 3, 2022
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Master's in business administration (MBA) programs accommodate diverse learners pursuing business careers. MBA requirements often include a bachelor's degree, but many enrollees hold a BA or BS in a non-business discipline. Some MBA candidates even enter their programs with no degree at all.
MBA Data Guru reports that education, law, and liberal arts and humanities majors are the likeliest to get accepted into a top 10 MBA program. Meanwhile, applicants with a general business bachelor's clinch the 10th spot.
An MBA prepares graduates to pursue management roles across many industries. This degree can help students with varied educational and professional backgrounds advance in their fields. MBA candidates can tailor their degree to their career goals through concentrations like marketing, finance, and general management.
Can I Get an MBA Without a Business Degree?
Yes, students without a business degree can pursue an MBA. Most business schools accept MBA applicants from non-business disciplines. Schools emphasize an applicant's skills, professionalism, and motivation over prior education.
MBA programs offer practical career preparation. These programs focus on real-world skills rather than theory. Therefore, learners of almost any educational background can gain the skills needed to change or advance their careers without needing a business foundation.
Still, schools may outline MBA requirements for non-business degree-holders. Typical criteria include post-baccalaureate or prerequisite coursework, skill assessments, or standardized test scores. Some programs also require at least one year of business-related work experience.
According to Earnest data, specialized and general business majors account for 48% of an average MBA class. However, liberal arts graduates are 24%, and science and engineering majors each account for 10% of MBA students. The following table highlights some of the most common non-business undergraduate majors for MBA programs.
Why Is an MBA Advantageous for Non-Business Majors?
Many companies prefer to hire non-business majors who earn advanced degrees in business. Fields like medical research and technology may seek employees with dual specializations in their industry and in business. Pursuing an MBA can prepare graduates for a career change to business or for advancement within their current industry.
An MBA provides corporate-level business management training. Students learn to evaluate business decisions, oversee staff, and manage financial resources. These skills can help candidates pursue upper management positions or analyst jobs. MBA graduates may also hold positions as directors or program managers.
Along with practical skills, MBA programs emphasize an understanding of corporate organization. MBA students receive training in critical competencies like management, delegation, and task completion. These skills are widely applicable to many industries.
In-Depth Interview With an Enrollment Manager
Kohl Friery has served in enrollment management at Lenoir-Rhyne University since 2014. In December 2016, Friery earned his master of arts in university leadership from Lenoir-Rhyne University. Friery holds a bachelor of science in education with a minor in English and telecommunications from Bowling Green State University. He grew up in rural northwest Ohio and currently resides in Asheville, North Carolina, with his fiancé Shelby.
How much weight does the undergraduate degree have in the MBA application process?
A background in business is certainly helpful, but according to our faculty, the MBA was intended to develop business skills and philosophies that students weren’t learning in their undergraduate degree.
I would say that a business education would be helpful in meeting the prerequisites like accounting, finance, econ, and statistics. Without having a foundation in those areas, some students can be frustrated as they start the related courses in the MBA program.
There are plenty of ways to obtain that knowledge without having to enroll in a whole business program. There are companies that offer remedial education in business. One that we use is called Ivy Software. There is a larger company called StraighterLine that offers prerequisite courses as well. I am sure with a quick internet search, an applicant could find many ways to obtain the core knowledge to feel confident when entering an MBA program.
How can a student without a business degree best approach the application process?
Speak with the faculty and the admissions contact. They can give you an idea of how many people in their program have a background in business and how many do not. Ask them if the people without a background struggle without that background. Faculty members are usually very helpful.
If an applicant or prospective student doesn’t have a business education, that doesn’t always mean they haven’t had experience in business. Their family may own a business or they may have landed an entry-level position at a corporation right out of college.
Business schools really do care about your background. If you studied something in the realm of liberal arts to become a well-rounded member of society, then went into business, I think most business schools would value that diverse background and experience.
What are the most important aspects of the application process for non-business applicants?
I may have gotten ahead of myself on this answer, but you’re explaining your related experience and also explaining why you want to hold an MBA. I would be very clear in your personal statement/essay on why you think the MBA would benefit you and why you think you would be a good fit for the program.
It depends on the graduate school you’re applying to. If you’re applying to a school that has 1200 applicants a year but only 200 spots, then you should also have the GMAT scores and relevant work experience to support your endeavors.
Would you suggest a GMAT or MBA prep course for non-business undergraduate applicants?
I would suggest both! The prep course offers the knowledge that you may not already have (accounting, finance, etc.). The GMAT serves as a signal of aptitude and readiness to the graduate school. The GMAT and the prep course aren’t exactly connected.
You could have multiple years of business experience, but no prerequisites. I would then suggest the formal prep courses and see if the GMAT is even needed for your application. Some schools will waive the test score requirement with experience.
What benefits does an MBA offer to someone who doesn't have a business bachelor's degree?
It offers students the opportunity to go to college and grow, take a chance, be creative, etc. — all those things that college is supposed to be. To have a well-rounded undergraduate education, you’re learning so much about yourself as a person and a professional, so you know what your talents are.
The MBA then allows those students to earn the business knowledge needed to be successful in the corporate/business landscape. If you wanted to study anthropology, philosophy, or any of the humanities, but find that you have a desire to work in business and find your meaning of success, then the MBA allows for both.
Pursuing an MBA as a Non-Business Applicant
Unlike more specialized graduate degrees, an MBA can lead to many different career opportunities. Graduates can work in corporate or nonprofit management, pursue director or analyst positions, or become financial managers. However, prospective MBA students without a background in business should think through whether an MBA would help them reach their professional goals.
Students should research what careers their MBA program prepares them for. For example, find out whether an MBA enables you to move into upper management positions that relate to your undergraduate degree. Professionals researching an MBA can also talk with mentors or colleagues about career advancement opportunities with a graduate business degree.
Applicants should consider whether graduate certificates, specialized training programs, or advanced certifications make more sense than an MBA. These programs may cost less time and money than a degree. While certain career paths require an MBA, other credentials provide similar advancement opportunities in some fields.
Prerequisites for MBA programs vary by school. Applicants without a business undergraduate degree often need to complete MBA core classes before taking graduate coursework.
Competitive GMAT scores can help a prospective student prove their business knowledge. Because MBA programs value diversity in incoming classes, the lack of an undergraduate business degree should not stop prospective students from considering this degree.
MBA Admissions Requirements
Although applicants do not always need a bachelor's degree in business, candidates must meet other MBA prerequisites. For instance, prospective students must often submit bachelor's transcripts.
Criteria for an MBA in the U.S.A. vary by school. The sections below explore MBA admissions requirements like GPA, test scores, and education.
Education Requirements for an MBA
Nearly all MBA programs require that incoming students hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Applicants often submit official transcripts. However, although rare, some learners earn an MBA without an undergraduate degree. Some programs may waive the bachelor's requirement for candidates with exceptional professional experience.
In general, though, education requirements for an MBA include a bachelor’s degree. Regardless of major, bachelor's programs help develop skills that students can apply towards an MBA, including critical thinking, analysis, and writing. Completing a four-year degree also shows that a prospective student can meet degree requirements and finish a program successfully.
GPA requirements vary by program, but students must often hold a 3.0 or above. Applicants can make up for a low GPA in several ways, including post-baccalaureate coursework or a high GMAT score.
Business school admission specialists consider an applicant’s undergraduate GPA a key part of their academic history. However, not all programs set a specific minimum.
Post-Baccalaureate MBA Requirements
MBA students without a business degree may need to complete prerequisite courses before enrolling. These core courses differ from MBA prep courses, which often focus on studying for the GMAT.
Prerequisite classes emphasize the basic knowledge required to succeed in an MBA program. These courses help incoming MBA students build foundational knowledge in statistics, accounting, and economics.
Prospective MBA students should consider taking post-baccalaureate coursework to meet their program's prerequisites. For example, students with a liberal arts background often need to complete mathematics or accounting courses. Even applicants with business-related degrees may need an economics or finance course.
MBA degree requirements vary by program, with some schools offering specialized core classes for students already enrolled.
- MBA programs expect all incoming students to be proficient in statistics. Statistics courses provide foundational knowledge in statistical methods, probability, business statistics, and quantitative analytical methods. An undergraduate statistics prerequisite prepares incoming MBA students for advanced graduate coursework.
- Accounting plays a foundational role in business. Incoming MBA students should learn how to analyze and prepare financial statements. They should also gain familiarity with areas like international accounting and business accounting. Undergraduate accounting courses provide these key skills.
- Economics courses introduce students to micro- and macroeconomics. Topics covered often include economic analysis, policy, and theory. MBA programs usually expect incoming students to hold basic economics knowledge before they begin their MBA coursework.
MBA applicants must usually submit GMAT scores, though some schools may accept the GRE instead. Admissions committees consider the GMAT a key indicator of future business school success.
The GMAT tests students on problem solving, analytical writing, logic, and critical reasoning. The test also incorporates a reasoning section in which test-takers evaluate multiple information sources. Even without a business bachelor’s degree, test-takers with strong verbal, quantitative, and reasoning abilities can earn a good score.
Test-takers should devote significant time to preparing for the GMAT. Many companies offer test preparation materials and courses. The GMAT Exam provides free and paid resources like test prep books, practice exams, and question banks. Companies like Kaplan and The Princeton Review also offer test prep courses, along with private tutoring options.
Work MBA Prerequisites
A school's MBA requirements sometimes include work experience. Applicants often need at least two years of professional experience to apply. However, this requirement varies between programs.
More important than quantity of experience is quality. Students do not always need to have worked in a business-related field. Gaining leadership and communication experience in any industry before returning to school can contribute to a strong application.
Candidates without a business background can focus on their professional strengths when applying. Letters of recommendation, certifications, and awards may help an application stand out.
Diversity in MBA Programs
Business schools try to enroll diverse cohorts of incoming MBA students. Admitting learners from many undergraduate and professional backgrounds allows peers to encounter a variety of perspectives.
Student body diversity can improve learning outcomes. Enrollees with different backgrounds and outlooks can learn from each others’ strengths as they work together toward a common goal. Additionally, since MBA programs emphasize management skills, a diverse cohort more closely replicates real-world management situations.
MBA students' different professional experiences contribute to the diversity of ideas, strategies, and business ventures in a program. As long as non-business majors meet the program’s course prerequisites and understand the basic business concepts, they can excel in an MBA program.
FAQ About MBA Degree Requirements
What are the requirements for MBA admissions?
MBA applicants usually need a bachelor's degree from an accredited school. Students with a non-business bachelor's degree may need to take preparatory courses. Additionally, student transcripts should show applicable coursework. Many schools require a GPA of at least 3.0-3.5.
What is the admission process for an MBA?
Generally, MBA applicants must submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores, and resumes. Candidates should also write an essay that shows their writing skills. Applicants without a business degree may need to complete prerequisite coursework.
What is MBA early admission?
MBA early admission offers college seniors a spot in a future MBA program. After acceptance, a candidate gains work experience, usually for 2-5 years, before beginning their MBA studies.
What are the criteria for an MBA in the U.S.A.?
MBA programs in the U.S.A. seek candidates with a bachelor's degree and professional business experience. Most applicants must also take standardized tests, usually the GMAT.
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