For many students, undergraduate school has become like a game of chess. You don’t make your next move without considering your follow-on moves.
That can be true of business programs as well. Many students know they’ll eventually go back to school for an MBA. In the interim, they focus their time on blowing out the GMAT, fine tuning their essays, piling up extracurriculars, and gobbling up leadership opportunities. They check all the right boxes when it comes to jobs, connections, and achievements.
Is an Undergraduate Business Degree an Advantage?
Logically, students who majored in business—and earned high marks—should have a real advantage in the MBA admissions process. Why? For starters, their target schools know exactly what to expect. That’s not the case for non-business majors, where adcoms must project their abilities.
Take theater majors, true poets. If they’ve been on a stage, they can convey a presence that draws others, no different than any leader. To prepare for parts, they’ve studied (or created) their characters’ manners and motivations. And that gives them an advantage in understanding others and building relationships. They’ve honed their craft among other cast members, paving a smooth transition to team-based projects. Don’t forget, they’re required to quickly memorize and apply large and unfamiliar scripts. Talk about a key skill for those quant-oriented courses!
Despite these transferrable skills, adcoms will still ask: “Can this candidate master the fundamentals, especially the quant in the program?” That isn’t necessarily a question for students who graduate from a rigorous undergraduate business program. There, the comparison is relatively apples-to-apples, particularly for the top programs. If students thrive at a Washington University or a Wake Forest curriculum, they should (theoretically) do the same at the MBA level. They already have the foundational knowledge in place. More important, they’ve already worked alongside other top students.
In reality, business majors don’t have a real head start. MBA programs are predicated on diversity of backgrounds and perspectives for success. Here, success is based on strategic thinking, practical application, and creative problem-solving, which isn’t the sole province of any discipline. In fact, a bachelor’s degree in a business-related field may actually be a disadvantage. Some administrators even freely admit it. For example, Sara Neher, assistant dean of admissions at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, believes that business majors face greater difficulty in being accepted. “We want 75% of our class to be non-business undergrads,” she told Bloomberg BusinessWeek in an interview. In some respects, there is a higher bar [for business majors] than for non-business majors.”
Don’t forget, the GMAT places every candidate (even English majors) on even footing. ‘You are what your score says you are,’ to paraphrase a famous sports saying. With the GMAT’s integrated reasoning section mimicking MBA program realities, even business majors can’t hide their weaknesses in areas like critical thinking and analysis. Plus, with resources like MOOCs freely available, it won’t take long for non-business majors to close their knowledge gap. (Take heart, business grads: In grad school, you won’t need to take those pesky prerequisites or work late into the night to master on basic tools and concepts).