Is It Worth Earning an MBA as a Non-Business Undergrad?

by Genevieve Carlton
• 4 min read
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The majority of fall 2021 incoming MBA students graduated without a bachelor's degree in business. But is it worth earning an MBA as a non-business major?

An MBA often translates to a higher earning potential and increased decision-making responsibilities in the workplace, and you don't need a business degree to earn an MBA. In 2021, fewer than half of incoming MBA students earned a business degree as undergrads. Humanities, social science, and STEM majors make up more of the incoming class than business or economics majors.

Applicants without a business degree can thrive in business school. However, they should first consider the benefits and drawbacks of earning an MBA without a business degree.

The Benefits of an MBA Degree

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) 2021 Prospective Student Survey, new MBA students ranked three goals at the top of their list: increasing their salaries, managing people, and moving into a senior-level role. An MBA helps graduates achieve these goals.

After earning an MBA, professionals typically see an increase in their salary. MBA graduates working for U.S. companies earn a median annual base salary of $115,000, according to GMAC MBA salary data.

That represents a significant increase over the median salary of those with a bachelor's degree, which, in 2021, stands at $65,000. Over the course of a career, an MBA can mean $3 million more in earnings.

The focused training of an MBA also prepares graduates for management and leadership roles within organizations. Coursework in strategic management, organizational leadership, and data-driven decision-making provide a strong foundation for roles as mid-level managers or senior executives.

Applying to Business School Without a Business Degree

MBA programs require a bachelor's degree to gain admission. However, applicants do not need a bachelor's in business to earn an MBA.

Some business schools set undergraduate prerequisite courses, which are generally listed under their admission policies. For example, the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington requires undergraduate courses in calculus, English composition, accounting, economics, and statistical methods.

The MBA program at Wichita State University requires preparatory courses in accounting, marketing, management, and economics. Incoming students who have passed classes in these subjects receive a waiver.

MBA applicants without a business degree may already meet the coursework requirements as part of their majors, general education requirements, or electives. If not, they will need to complete the courses either before applying or before enrolling, depending on the program. This can add time and cost to an MBA degree.

Strategies and Tips for Earning an MBA as a Non-Business Major

Prospective MBA students should review the admission requirements at their prospective programs. Some programs may not list prerequisite business courses. Others offer preparatory courses for admitted MBA students.

Applicants without a business degree can potentially save time and money by researching MBA programs where they already meet the requirements.

Many MBA programs look for more than a high undergraduate GPA. They look for applicants with professional experience and valuable human skills, like teamwork and communication.

When applying to an MBA program, consider showcasing these skills through your resume, letters of recommendation, and statement of purpose. Gaining work experience between undergrad and grad school also helps prepare students for an MBA program.

Most MBA programs will require you to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Assessment Test). The GMAT tests specific skills and abilities required during an MBA program, including data analysis, reasoning, communication, and problem-solving skills.

As a result, applicants without a business degree should invest time into studying for the GMAT. A high GMAT score can reassure the admission committee that you can succeed in a graduate-level business program.

An online MBA program prioritizes flexibility –– and a large number of online MBA applicants do not hold a business degree.

In 2021, 29% of incoming MBA students hold a bachelor's degree in the humanities or social sciences, according to GMAC data. Another 37% hold a STEM degree. Online programs appeal to working professionals and busy adults who cannot relocate or attend a full-time on-campus program.

MBA Alternatives

An MBA can pay off. Many graduates find themselves earning higher salaries and taking on leadership roles in their organizations. However, before applying to MBA programs, prospective applicants without a business degree should also consider their alternatives.

Gaining professional experience can not only help college graduates increase their salary, but it can also increase their chances of getting into an MBA program. At many top business schools, MBA students work for five years or more before pursuing a graduate degree.

A specialized master's program, like a master's in technology or human resources management, might also make more sense than an MBA, depending on your career goals.

After researching alternative career paths, you may find an MBA offers the best return on investment. Increase your chances of admission to an MBA program by researching admission requirements, reaching out to your network for strong recommendation letters, and writing a strong statement of purpose.

Frequently Asked Questions About MBA Degrees

true What Is an MBA Degree?

An MBA, or master of business administration, provides graduate-level training in organizational leadership, management, and strategic decision-making. Most business schools offer MBA specializations in areas like technology, marketing, finance, and human resources. An MBA typically takes two years, though some programs offer a one-year accelerated MBA.

true Can I Study for an MBA Without a Business Bachelor's Degree?

Yes; business schools do not require a bachelor's degree in business to enroll in an MBA program. Some programs may set prerequisite undergraduate courses for incoming students without college-level coursework in business.

true Is an MBA Right for Someone Without a Business Degree?

Yes, an MBA can make sense for professionals without a business degree. An MBA requires strong critical thinking and analytical skills, which many disciplines emphasize. However, an MBA may not be the best route to career advancement for someone without a business degree. Before applying to MBA programs, prospective students must research the requirements and consider alternatives.

true Can You Get an MBA Straight Out of Undergrad?

Yes; many MBA programs admit applicants directly from their bachelor's program. However, some MBA programs require at least 1-2 years of work experience. Even programs that do not set a minimum work experience requirement often prefer candidates with professional experience. For example, the top MBA programs report that their incoming classes have an average of 4-6 years of work experience.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

Header Image Credit: Westend61 | Getty Images

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