A Typical MBA: Is There Such a Thing?

There are some persistent stereotypes of MBA’s—some of them perpetuated by TV commercials and “reality” TV shows—but what we know from years of experience is that there really is no “typical” MBA.

The global spread of the MBA degree and the wide variety of business schools that offer it means that there are literally millions of MBA’s who represent different nationalities and cultures, different career paths, and different backgrounds.

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education showed that MBA’s studying in the United States were more diverse than students in any other graduate program. So, who are MBA’s? Could you be one of them?

The only things we know are true of virtually all candidates exploring their MBA options are that they attend MBA programs when they determine that an MBA is likely to further their personal and career goals they find a school and program that is right for them and, when the admissions staff at the school(s) to which they have applied decide that the applicants’ experience, qualifications, and goals indicate a strong possibility of success as MBA grads in the working world.

Talk to a group of successful MBA’s

You won’t find a magic formula for the perfect undergraduate major, set of academic achievements, pre-MBA work experience and extracurricular accomplishments, essays, interviews, or references. Nor will you find a common career goal or industry in which they aspire to work. What you will find they have in common is motivation, self-knowledge, solid and realistic career goals, and a desire to learn and grow. If that sounds like you, you’ll fit in fine.

Pre-MBA Work Experience

Talk to MBA’s, and you’re likely to meet—

one who has worked in investment banking (well, maybe two)
one who has run a non-profit company
one who has been in sales
one who has been an engineer
one who has been a policy analyst for a government organization
one who has been a consultant
one who has been a copywriter for an ad agency
one who has designed Web sites
one who has been a compensation analyst for a corporation
one who has been an auditor
one who has been a researcher or an economist

The fact is, the MBA is potentially right for all these people—provided they show management aptitude and a track record of performance in their pre-MBA work, two things employers look for in new MBA hires.

Academic Preparation

MBA’s are a diverse group academically—the most diverse of any graduate students in a professional program. All college majors are acceptable preparation for an MBA, with a few additional considerations:

Not all schools have the same undergraduate priorities. Some may favor technical undergraduates, for example. Others may favor language majors who are minimally bilingual. Other schools want both.

You will need certain quantitative and analytical preparation for most programs—calculus, statistics, and economics. If you did not take these courses in college, it’s not a problem, but specific MBA programs may require you to take some courses before you enroll, so you’ll be ready to do well in the MBA core curriculum.

Academic performance does matter, but how performance is judged will vary from school to school. Some schools will give consideration to difficult majors (such as engineering) or prioritize candidates from particularly competitive schools. The combination of your academic achievement over a period of time and your GMAT® score gives MBA admissions staff a good sense of your academic preparation for the MBA.

MBA Career Goals

The goals of MBA’s show the versatility of the degree in preparing candidates for many fields, functions, and industries. If you’ve used the CareerLeader online self-assessment, you know that there are distinct MBA career paths. To figure out how your experience could help further your progress toward a specific career goal, consider whether you have the skills and abilities required of someone in your desired job function.

When you start researching schools, find out whether the school(s) you are interested in place many graduates in your desired field and what backgrounds those graduates have.

When to Get Your MBA

The length of pre-MBA experience varies for MBA’s. The majority of MBA students are between the ages of 25 and 34, but many people go for an MBA earlier or later. How did they determine when to start their MBA studies? If they were wise, these people decided to go for an MBA when they had enough career experience and self-knowledge to determine what they wanted to do and to have a good sense of how their MBA investment would pay off personally and professionally.

Every job has a plateau, where your contributions have made a difference but your learning tapers off; that may be a good time to go for an MBA that will boost you to the next level of career growth. Only you can determine when the time is right for you to go back to school, both in terms of that professional learning curve and your personal life and finances.

Rest assured that whenever you decide to go for an MBA, and for whatever reasons, there is another MBA student or graduate (maybe more than one) who is very much like you. The MBA offers many different people exciting and fulfilling opportunities, and you can make it your degree, too.