Can You Get An MBA Without A Business Degree?

Michael Mccarthy

Written By: Michael McCarthy

Published: 5/3/2022

Learn about the potential advantages and disadvantages of applying to an MBA degree program without an undergraduate business degree.

Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees are the most popular master's degrees in the U.S. by a healthy margin. There are several varieties of MBA that you can earn, including many online degree options with a range of concentrations. But do you need an undergraduate degree in business to apply for one of these programs?

The short answer is no, you don't need previous business education. But the question calls for a more nuanced response, so read on to learn about potential advantages and disadvantages of applying with a nontraditional background.


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Do I Need a Business Degree to Apply for an MBA?

The news is good for career switchers: Though you need a bachelor's degree to pursue an MBA, you didn't need to specifically study business as an undergraduate. Students in MBA programs come from a variety of educational backgrounds, including economics, education, and the liberal arts. For example, only 29% of the University of Southern California's 2023 MBA class studied business or commerce as undergraduates, with the rest composed of non-business majors.


No matter what you studied, you'll usually need to demonstrate several years of professional experience when applying to an MBA. The average MBA applicant is in their late twenties and has worked full time for a few years, so you can expect to discuss your professional experience during the admissions process.


Will I Be At A Disadvantage Without A Business Degree?

Not necessarily. You'll need to prove yourself that same as any other prospective student: discussing your desired learning outcomes, illuminating your career path goals, and demonstrating your aptitude in certain areas. Your previous education and experience might potentially affect both your application and performance during the program.

Application

All MBA candidates need to tell a compelling story about why they want to earn this degree. Admissions officers will readily understand your story if you studied business and worked in the corporate world or even in nonprofit or government administration. They may also understand if you did one of those things but not the other.

But if you have no business background at all, you should be prepared to discuss how and why your interests have changed, both in entrance essays and admissions interviews. Rather than view this as a disadvantage, you can use it as an opportunity to set yourself apart from other applicants. After all, you'll have made your decision to switch careers after exploring opportunities that many business students may not have considered.



If you have no business background at all, you should be prepared to discuss how and why your interests have changed, both in entrance essays and admissions interviews.

Still, you need to make sure that your quantitative abilities shine in your application. An article by Stratus admissions counseling points out that a potential weakness in nontraditional applications is a lack of experience working with budgets, data projections, or other numerical functions that are crucial to business. You can try to offset this by touting whatever quantitative experience or education you do have, including any courses you've taken since earning your bachelor's degree. A solid score on the quantitative section of the GMAT will also strengthen your application.

Coursework and Performance

An MBA curriculum typically covers both foundational and specialized topics in business administration, so previous business students might be familiar with some of the subject matter. However, your performance usually depends on how well you absorb the MBA material and complete assignments rather than your existing knowledge of business.

Above all, remember that a school of business decided to admit you based on your experiences. The program's administrators trust that you will succeed in your studies and beyond, so you should measure your success against yourself, not against your classmates.

Is an MBA the Right Choice for My Goals?

The answer depends entirely on what your goals are. If you want to increase your chances of a stable career with high wages, then you might want to consider an MBA. Based on the numbers, there's a good chance that this degree will pay off in the long run. The Graduate Management Admission Council conducted a 2021 survey of corporate recruiters indicating that MBA graduates are in high demand and enjoy a generous salary boost over colleagues with undergraduate business degrees. This data tracks with other sources, such as 2020 wage projections by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which also show a large salary premium for business master's alumni.



A survey of corporate recruiters indicated that MBA graduates are in high demand and enjoy a generous salary boost over colleagues with undergraduate business degrees.

For other career goals, the answer might not be so clear cut. The goal of most MBA programs is to create leaders who can manage teams across a variety of disciplines, so the most important trait for candidates is the desire and ability to lead. If you want to stay immersed in the everyday functions of your industry, then you might consider a master's degree related to the subject matter of your current job rather than an MBA; see the Alternate Degrees section for more ideas.

But if you want to lead, then an MBA could be a good choice. Hiring managers in many industries seek MBA graduates because they value the knowledge and skills that these programs typically teach: leadership, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and data literacy. MBA alumni have gone on to work in fields as diverse as consulting, technology, finance, healthcare administration, government, and policy analysis.

Is an Online MBA the Right Choice for Me?

Online education is convenient and flexible, but corporate recruiters have found that their organizations prefer traditional in-person degrees to distance learning. Only one-third said their employers believe that online learning is equal to on-campus study. But even skeptical recruiters may change their minds as online degrees — including MBAs — continue to increase in popularity.

What's more, no one at your employer necessarily needs to know that you studied online. Many business schools offer both online and on-site MBA degrees, and they almost never note any difference on the official diploma.

Alternatives to an MBA

Your choices for graduate school are nearly endless, so it helps to set out career goals and talk to people in your chosen field about the educational requirements needed to meet those goals. This may mean a master's degree in the same subject as your bachelor's or perhaps a master's degree in a field related to business administration. We've listed a few of those here.

Engineering management aims to create managers who can lead engineers to success.

Educational leadership is for teachers who want to enter administration.

Finance master's degrees are for professionals who want to move money around U.S. or international markets.

Healthcare management covers the specific needs of leadership in this industry.

Organizational leadership features master of science degrees that involve more theory than a typical business management program.

Project management is a management specialization involving leadership of cross-functional teams to deliver successful outcomes.

FAQs About MBAs and Business Degrees

Is an MBA Right for Someone Without a Business Degree?


It can be, but depends on the individual. Every year, hundreds of schools admit thousands of students who have no prior business education to their MBA programs. But there's just no data about the success rate for these MBA students versus those with undergraduate education in business.

What Are the Requirements for Admission to an MBA Program?


Admission requirements vary, but the following are common to many graduate business programs.

  • Official transcripts for a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, usually showing a GPA of at least 3.0
  • A resume detailing at least two years of work experience — though some schools reserve a few spots for exceptionally high-performing recent graduates with business degrees
  • Official GRE or GMAT scores, though some colleges offer waivers to students with extensive professional experience
  • A personal essay
  • One or more admissions interviews with professors and administrators

What Are the Benefits of an MBA?


As with any degree program, an MBA can potentially provide a credential that testifies to your knowledge and skills, helps increase your earning potential, and helps lower your chances of unemployment. Because MBAs are so popular, their effects on alumni's careers are well researched, with consistent findings of a large salary boost for graduates.

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