Am I ready for an MBA if I don't have a business background?

By Eileen Jacob

Am I ready for an MBA?

It's a question that every potential applicant needs to ask.

There are circumstances that could stop you from applying to business school, but one thing that shouldn't hold you back is the fact that you see yourself as a non-traditional business school applicant.

Wondering if now is the time? Click here for five signs you're ready for an MBA

Business schools, and the people who attend them, need and value diverse perspectives. More than 75 percent of the students entering the full-time Berkeley Haas MBA Program in fall 2016 majored in engineering, natural science, social science and other non-business fields in college.

Students in the Berkeley HMBA for Executives and Evening & Weekend MBA programs are similarly diverse: many have work experience in industries like technology, banking, health services, retail—and everything in between. Berkeley MBA applicants have just one major thing in common: they want to be empowered to have a greater impact on something they care about.

Here are two students who are getting the tools they need to make that impact:

Making chemistry work for humanity

Maxwell Kushner-LenhoffMaxwell Kushner-Lenhoff is a full-time MBA student at Berkeley Haas. He received a BS/MS in inorganic chemistry through an accelerated four-year program at Yale. His research, in renewable fuels production, was funded by the Department of Energy.

Maxwell applied to Berkeley Haas with the goal of supplementing his scientific training with the business mainstays that so often make or break a technology's success. The diverse backgrounds of his classmates have helped to enhance his experience.

"The sheer diversity of talent (from philosophy to engineering) and of backgrounds (from Boston to Bangladesh) have broadened my experience by driving me to consider perspectives I've never faced before," says Maxwell. 

From the very beginning of his scientific career, Maxwell has directed his research toward making chemistry work for humanity, and the MBA program is helping him continue on that path.

"Today, just over one year after submitting my essay during round one, I have come into my own at Berkeley, as the Haas Center for Responsible Business Fellow, VP of Development for the Berkeley Energy Resources Collaborative (BERC) and a member of the executive team of LAUNCH, the UC Berkeley Startup Accelerator. I could not be happier with my choice to come here!"

Making a difference in the arts

Amelia KusarAs an undergraduate student, Amelia Kusar majored in classical music performance, playing both the clarinet and the bass clarinet. She interned at Lincoln Center and fell in love with the administrative side of the business. Amelia knew that she didn't want to be a professional musician but that she did want to stay in the arts and make a difference.

She decided as an undergraduate that she wanted to pursue an MBA because of the well-rounded curriculum. "The other thing that really excited me about the thought of getting an MBA was being in a room with people who were different than me, who had completely different experiences, because I could learn from that," says Amelia.

"In the arts, there's really a lot we can learn from for-profit organizations that are different from us. It's something I become more and more convinced of every day as I move through the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA program," says Amelia, who is associate director of public relations for the San Francisco Symphony.

For those who think they may be non-traditional MBA applicants, there’s no reason to assume that keeping up with classmates will be too much of a challenge. Non-traditional students make up a large portion of the MBA class.

"When I talk to people from other non-traditional backgrounds, their main concern is, 'I'm not going to be able to hack it in business school, I'm going to be so behind and all of these people are going to be so much smarter than me,' and the long and short of it is that it is absolutely not true," says Amelia.

"I remember being shocked that I was on a level playing field with people in the class. My classmates might be engineers, or they might be in finance, but the subjects that we're learning in business school aren't their specialty either, so we are very much on a level playing field."

An MBA can make you stronger regardless of your background. Find out if you're ready with our free ebook: Five Signs You're Ready for an MBA.

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Posted on February 15, 2017
Themes: Applying
Eileen Jacob
Eileen was Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals from 2017-2019. She enjoyed meeting prospective students and helping them explore the benefits of an MBA, and hopes these blog posts provide valuable insight into the Berkeley MBA experience.