Pursuing an MBA: What to do when you do not fit the class profile


If we see the class profile of most business schools (B-schools), particularly the student body of an MBA class, the students typically have a minimum of three to four years of work experience, with an educational background in economics or business, and with work experience in consulting or financial services. Making the decision to pursue an MBA that does not fit the class profile may be a challenging process, but it is a feasible option.

Just to provide the context for this post, my educational background is in social sciences, with less than one year full-time work experience at a development bank when I started applying for B-schools. Before applying, the most important thing to prepare is to have a very strong case on why you want to go to B-school; have a reason on why you are rushing to go to B-school instead of waiting for a couple of years after you have solid experience in the workforce, what you will do with your degree, and what kind of contribution you can provide to the class dynamics.

Another important point to understand is that less work experience might give you a slim chance to be admitted to top-tier B-schools. I will not argue that the brand and quality of top-tier B-schools can provide abundant advantage for its students, but what prospective applicants forget to do is to see the personal fit of the school. Ask yourself, what kind of experience would I like to gain? Do I want to be in a school with a high or a low student-faculty ratio? What kind of function/industry do I want to work in after I graduate? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the school I am applying to? Are there any research/teaching assistantships I can get? Every B-school provides a different set of experiences for its students; having answers to the questions above will guide you to finding a B-School that fits your needs.

Finally, make sure that you are mentally prepared to go to B-School. Having classmates that are experts in a certain job function or industry, and, in some cases, already have a masters degree prior to B-school may be intimidating. B-schools put much emphasis on case studies, group discussions and teamwork, thus you need to have the confidence and knowledge to be able to have an intellectually stimulating discussion with your teammates. In my case, I had to put extra effort outside of class to understand a business case and read business publications to make sure that I can contribute to my team.

Working longer prior to pursuing an MBA may give you a more competitive resume, but there could also be issues: one is already comfortable with current job, a bigger lost of income, having dependents (e.g. having to raise a child, spouse not willing to relocate), and so on. Despite the challenging process, going to B-school with less work experience has been a rewarding experience for me. In terms of career, I am fortunate enough to get job offers from different industries for positions where I have room to make an impact, not to mention a salary increase (in percentage) well beyond what is reported in MBA graduates statistics. As long as you take calculated risk when applying for B-school, the return you gain after graduating is worth all the hard work.

Image credit: © Hero/Corbis

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Deasy Priadi received her B.A. in Psychology from University of Indonesia and her MBA from Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University. While at Hopkins, she got the chance to work on a consultancy project at a micro-asset financing institution in Kenya as part of her Business education. She currently works for Eli Lilly and Company as a Corporate Affairs Manager based in Jakarta. As the first Corporate MBA ever recruited by Eli Lilly Indonesia, she is in a development program where individuals are prepared to hold leadership positions at the company.


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