By betsy On Thursday, December 09 th, 2010 · no Comments · In , ,

It’s funny, but almost everyone I know is a non-traditional candidate for their MBA. And it scares them.  They think everyone else applying to business school comes from consulting or finance, and those not from those fields should just give up. We all know a few consultants, investment banking types, and more than a few engineers at business school. And indeed, if you look at the profiles of many business schools (here’s a link to the Wharton MBA site, where you will see a combination of 37% for those in finance and private equity).  But thousands of others from backgrounds in the arts, social enterprise, hard science, start-ups, and the military will make their way to MBA program of their choice in the fall of 2011. Really.

It’s a Master of Business Administration

Here’s something that most people don’t understand: getting into business school is not just about leadership.  Indeed, leadership is very important, and may be one of the most important elements of the application, but understanding what makes a business enterprise work is probably just as important.  Dee Leopold, the famed director of admissions at Harvard Business School, calls this business acumen “bizability.”  I wrote about it in a previous blog post, last August after watching her presentation to prospective students. Bizability is so important, that it is worth going over again.

The term bizability reminds students that they are (nearly always) applying to a school of business.  The degree is called a Master of Business Administration.  The Yale School of Management had tried for two decades to sell its Master of Public and Private Management (MPPM) degree, but the school officially changed the name to the MBA in 2000.   Business is about commerce, about enterprise, and even in the case of non-profits, it’s about making money. Dee Leopold described it as being “grounded in the language of business.”

Bizability means that students have to, at some level, like business. I once met a student who wanted a joint degree in education and business to fund a school, but she hated business. She didn’t care about it; she didn’t appreciate finance, she just thought it was all evil.  That is not a great admissions strategy. You have to like business well enough to have been exposed to what makes a company tick and want to learn more.

Drawing upon your own experiences

It doesn’t mean that you have to work in the private sector to “get” business.  You have to be able to appreciate what makes businesses work well. For those of you who have only worked in non-profit or government, think hard about where you have used actual business skills to succeed. Have you run – or do you work with — the budget for your department? Do you know how to read financial statements?  Do you follow the business press?  Have you ever run your own little business? You don’t have to answer “yes” to all of these questions, but they cannot scare you.

So think about what business school is about and what having a career with a business degree means. Think about words like industry, commerce, management, enterprise, company, market, trade, and finance. Do you have an affinity for any of these ideas? If so, you are on your way, and are perhaps not so scarily non-traditional after all.