“Whew. Longtime reader here. I agree with you, but I definitely have a crazy different background than anyone I’ve met and Kellog, Tuck and Duke all admitted me this year (headed to Kellogg in the fall). I actually think you’re generalizing everyone into one of two camps – blue chip and other – instead of the three camps that really exist. Sure “blue chip” is the largest group, but for aspiring applicants, “other” should be divided as “boring” and “exciting”. Seriously! I have a little bit of a blue chip background (2 out of 6 years) but the other 4 years have been crazy exciting with startups that no one’s heard of and enough stories to write a tell-all about the tech/entertainment industry. If someone’s applying without blue chip experience, I say go for it as long as it’s exciting/different/scandalous… and to be honest, it’s us different ones who make bschool fun for the rest of ya’ll squares.”
The above comment was left anonymously on my previous post, The Real World. I rarely address the comments that are left on my blog. I feel that if I’m going to make my thoughts public then I have consented to opening myself up to others opinions on what I’ve written. Although I am often complimented on The Brain Dump, not everything I say goes over well with everyone (Exhibit A). Nine times out of ten I let all of the comments ride without deleting them or responding. However, in this case I felt the need to dedicate an entire post to this comment. Why? Because I agree with it 100%.
I wrote “The Real World“ because I’d seen several threads pop up on the MBA forums from people asking if their work experience made them competitive for top 10 programs. In some cases the answer was yes. In others, I would say an emphatic, “No.” However, I would see some people give the advice that any work experience would be viewed favorably as long as you can demonstrate leadership. As evidenced by the people who actually get into highly ranked business schools, this is a myth that needs to die a sudden death. As I said in my previous post, I am not trying to be a Debbie Downer. However, I am a realist. I would rather tell someone up front about the challenges their educational and/or career background will present in trying to get into a top 10 school then to see them apply with all of the confidence in the world only to be let down. “The Real World” was really talking about jobs that would not be considered relevant to business education. However, Anonymous is right. I wrote only about the extremes and unintentionally communicated that unless you graduated from Yale/Williams/Berkeley/Stanford/UPenn/etc and worked for Google/Goldman/P&G/Bain/etc. that you don’t have a prayer. That is far from the truth and it is not the message that I meant to convey. While I still maintain that a snowball has a better chance of surviving in hell than an insurance claims rep has to get into Wharton, I know that there are quite a few round pegs in the square hole of MBA land.
I will shout from the rooftops all day everyday that a traditional background is not a prerequisite for gaining admission to a top program. One of my soon to be classmates is a professional pole vaulter (so kick ass). I met a full-time musician (who now wants to be a consultant, lol) during Kellogg’s admit weekend. There are successful candidates from the non-profit sector, military, government, the arts, education, and more at all of the top schools. These people may not be a dime a dozen in b-school, but they are definitely represented. These are those diverse backgrounds that business schools love to advertise. These backgrounds tend to hold weight because they’re either cool as hell (A FREAKING POLE VAULTER!!!), give a different perspective on business (hey non-profit people), make great leaders (Hello Captain!), or offer some other piece to the management education puzzle that’s not provided by the bankers, consultants, marketers, engineers, and other traditional applicants. In other words, they’re interesting.
I will also go on record and amend some of what I said in my previous post. Although pedigree definitely plays a large part in the admissions game (especially at some schools), it is not the be all and end all. If your experience is RELEVANT (that’s the key word), but your employer isn’t considered “blue chip” you still have a shot at getting into a top program. However, the onus is on you to stand out among other applicants who have similar roles at more well-known companies. The bigger companies tend to be known quantities to admissions committees because they send employees to these schools every year. An admissions officer knows what consultant at Bain/Deloitte/BCG/Accenture does without too much explanation. The same can’t be said for a consultant at a small boutique firm. This applies across industries. People get into top 10 schools from smaller companies all the time (hello, startups!). However, it often takes a little bit stronger sales pitch and overall profile to do it.
If you read my previous post, thought of your career in non-profit/education/etc, and got discouraged, don’t be. That post was not directed toward you. Being different isn’t a disadvantage. True it is to your advantage if your non-traditional employer is well known, but even if they aren’t that’s not the end of the world. I apologize if I gave you a scare. Don’t let your dreams of a top 10 business school evacuate the building just yet. For you round pegs, my last post was simply a false alarm.