While many young adults fresh out of college are continuing to pursue business degrees, a growing number of nontraditional students are also becoming interested in what a degree like an MBA has to offer. Competing with younger applicants can leave nontraditional students feeling insecure about how they can prove themselves in the MBA application process. Nontraditional students have much contribute to the business world and entering a top-notch MBA program is often only a matter of overcoming a few obstacles. If you are a nontraditional MBA applicant looking to jumpstart a career in business, here are five of the biggest challenges you may face — and the ways you can overcome them.
Preparing for the GMAT
Studying for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is difficult for almost everyone, and nontraditional students face the additional challenge of taking a standardized test many years after receiving an undergraduate degree. The prospect of being tested on quantitative knowledge, analytical skills and critical reasoning can seem daunting for those who have not been in an educational setting for years. Ease your anxiety by giving yourself plenty of time to study and taking refresher courses online or at a nearby university. Focus on classes, such as statistics and accounting, that will launch you into a quantitative mindset. For nontraditional students who have been out of school for a while, it is important to learn to adapt to the computer. The GMAT is entirely online, and the process can be intimidating for those who are used to paper tests. Look for online practice tests to get a feel for what it is like to read and answer questions on the computer.
Lack of Experience
For many nontraditional students, the desire and/or opportunity to pursue a career in business does not come until later in life. This can leave applicants feeling like they do not have the hands-on experience needed for MBA programs. Rather than focusing on experience you don’t have, emphasize the accomplishments that demonstrate your leadership abilities as well as your commitment to hard work. Business schools are looking for talented individuals, so don’t be discouraged if you feel your particular talents or skills are different than the average applicant’s. If your previous job did not involve them, brush up on your knowledge of business topics such as accounting, finance and economics.
Uncertainly About What Business Schools Want
According to U.S. News and World Report, the uncertainty of what MBA programs look for is one of the biggest challenges facing business school applicants. Nontraditional MBA candidates are at a greater disadvantage as they lack the business connections of many recent graduates. It is essential for nontraditional applicants to thoroughly research their top business schools and to become familiar with each program’s decision-making process. Familiarize yourself with the basic qualities MBA programs seek, including excellent communication skills, a solid academic profile and a proven desire to succeed in the business world.
Perceived Lack of Quantitative Ability
The ability to interpret and communicate complex data is an essential skill in the business world. Nontraditional students are sometimes perceived as lacking in quantitative knowledge due to the existing time gap between obtaining a bachelor’s degree and pursing an MBA. Facing this stereotype can be particularly challenging if your college transcripts lack quantitative courses or if your grades were deficient in business-related courses. Fortunately, you can still prove your quantitative ability by creating an alternate transcript. You can do this by taking relevant courses at a community college or university. According to Business insider, proving your quantitative ability is one of the most important ways to stand out as a qualified applicant and creating an alternate resume is a great way to show the admissions committee you are a dedicated candidate.
Fear of Age Discrimination
Nontraditional MBA applicants fear they will be tossed aside for younger candidates with similar credentials. To ensure age discrimination does not keep you from being accepted into an MBA program, emphasize your maturity as an advantage. Your admissions essay is an excellent opportunity to tell your story and to sell that your experience in other professions has given you insight younger applicants lack. Additionally, you will be asked during your business school interview why you want to pursue an MBA and what you intend to accomplish. You can use your nontraditional status to your advantage by clearly articulating what has motivated you to pursue an MBA later in life.
While nontraditional MBA applicants face unique challenges, business school admissions committees recognize the value of investing in a diverse range of students. Follow these tips for overcoming common obstacles faced by nontraditional students and you will be well on your way to a successful business career.
Image by James Martin from Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: Sharon White is a contributing writer, and university professor of business and marketing.