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WHY STUDENTS FROM ALL DISCIPLINES ARE PURSUING MBA

If you’re thinking of applying to MBA programs but feel discouraged because you haven’t taken business courses before, you’ll be surprised to hear that the majority of students in some of Canada’s top business schools don’t come from business backgrounds. For many students, earning an MBA is a great way to broaden their career options, regardless of their undergraduate degree.

“The reason that an MBA degree so sought after is that it allows you to move functions, move industries, and it allows you to have some credentials that are known and respected in different areas,” says Niki da Silva, director of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

In fact, engineering students make up the largest part of some full-time MBA programs: they comprise over one-third of the class of 2014 at both Rotman’s and University of British Columbia’s MBA programs.

Engineers have become more interested in MBA programs because they are exposed to financial assessments when they work on consulting assignments, says Marja Harmer, who provides career guidance to MBA students at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “If you don’t have a business degree, they have to hire someone else to do that work,” she says.

A great number of students entering MBA studies also come from life sciences, computer science, and arts and humanities backgrounds. For these students, an MBA can mean opening the door to new positions in their field, acquiring the skills to develop an entrepreneurial idea, or changing careers altogether.

How your inexperience can help you

A lack of business education won’t hinder you in your MBA studies—in fact, it might even help you make the most of an MBA.

Da Silva says there’s tremendous value in having students with diverse backgrounds in the program. She says students are there to challenge each other and share the “different lenses they have to look at the world” to help solve problems. That type of peer-to-peer learning won’t work without a diversity of students from different backgrounds.

Furthermore, da Silva says, coming to the program from another discipline can give students a clean slate for learning the concepts, whereas business students might be constrained by fixed ideas formed during their undergraduate studies. “[Coming from a business education], you sometimes miss an opportunity to step back and reframe the problem, reframe the question and understand from a broader perspective what’s really trying to be demonstrated in class,” she says.

Diversifying your education could also have long-term advantages, says Harmer. “I would think that when you have two different disciplines in your past you have really strong positioning opportunities afterwards,” she says.

Advice from the experts

Your mid- to late twenties are the ideal time to do an MBA, says Huber. In your twenties, your mind is still fresh and you’ll relate more to your peers, and you likely won’t have any serious commitments. However, he encourages potential candidates to work for a few years before entering the program, as most schools suggest, in order to gain real-world context that will enhance the lessons.

Huber also cautions against paying too much attention to news articles that suggest that the same business skills you acquire through an MBA can be learned through Internet courses or books. “What those articles tend to miss is that the inherent transformative value of the MBA is the experience itself,” he says. “It’s not necessarily all about the coursework.”

It’s important to research every program you intend to apply to and understand what job outcomes you might expect after graduation, says Harmer. “It’s an expensive investment, so in any intake interview they want to hear the reasons why you want to do an MBA. Why does it make sense to you, and why does it make sense to your personality?” she says.

Staying true to your personality is key. Da Silva says students from other disciplines often worry that their experience won’t be valued by the admissions committee, so they submit an application that doesn’t reflect who they are. The act can be tough to hold up throughout the application process and the program, she says.

Students may face a similar problem when they see their MBA classmates paying attention to subjects or activities different from the ones they are interested in, she says. “Understand what it is that you’re looking to get out of the MBA and what your priorities are,” says da Silva. “It’s easy to be swayed by what other people are interested in and it might sound interesting and exciting, but at the end of the day it really isn’t you.”

What comes next?

With your previous degree and MBA in hand, you will be armed with a variety of skills and interests that will help you find a job, whether it’s related to your initial field of study or a completely new direction.

“It is going to open up a world of opportunities that you probably don’t even know exist now, both in terms of careers and in terms of the limits and skills you didn’t even know you had,” says da Silva. And for those who want to stay in their previous field, da Silva says, “The best advice is stick to your passions because if you do what you love, you’ll excel at it.”

After graduation, Huber plans to continuing working in design, but with a twist. He’s now specializing in business design, which he says will help him delve deeper into business development, strategy, marketing and innovation when he graduates.

He used to consider design to be about the visual aesthetic process. He says now he considers visual design to be one of many important aspects under the umbrella of business design.

“[An MBA program] should be transformative,” he says. “You shouldn’t be the same person coming out of it.”