If you’re applying to business school from a non-profit background, then congrats! The richness of the student community at many top business schools is due to the diversity of their student’s unique backgrounds and perspectives, so do not run from your non-profit experience – embrace it!
MBA programs have historically been filled with students from more traditional feeder industries, such as consulting and finance, but this does not mean these are the only industries Admissions Committees are looking for. There are a few factors to keep in mind, however, as you apply to top MBA programs from a non-profit background:
What type of coursework did you take as an undergraduate student? Was it primarily quantitative or more qualitative? These factors play a big role in how ready your candidacy appears for the predominantly analytical core curriculums found at most business schools. This issue is heightened even further if you also have a low GPA or poor performance in past quantitative classes, given that your non-profit work experience may not be perceived as analytically rigorous as other traditional MBA feeder industries.
Your GMAT score plays another important role in the viability of your candidacy. Your ability to achieve a competitive score, particularly on the Quantitative Section, could help dispel any doubt about your ability to perform in your first year at business school.
Although the non-profit sector still remains a relatively small industry for MBA applicants to come from, the transferable skills schools look for in candidates from this field are relatively similar those from other, more traditional industries. Showcasing your leadership and teamwork abilities will be critical to highlight your potential to make an impact on campus and as a future alum of the school.
Like many other applicants, non-profit candidates often pursue business school as an opportunity to switch careers – sometimes this career switch is a complete turnaround from their prior work experiences, and other times it’s just a subtle tweak to their career trajectories.
In both respects, it is important to identify the transferable skills that you have gained during your time working in the non-profit sector and how these skills will be able to be utilized in your future industry of choice. If there is a personal passion that drove your initial interest in your non-profit, try and connect that in some way to your future career goals, if relevant. Having a commitment to something that has a broader impact on the world around you has always been viewed positively by the Admissions Committee (when authentic).
Keep these strategies in mind as you plan out your approach for applying to MBA programs from your non-profit background.
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Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.