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Undergraduate Majors and their effect on MBA admissions

ANormalSeniorGuyANormalSeniorGuy 307 replies28 threads Member
edited June 2018 in Business School - MBA
Hello everyone!

I am a sophomore at UC Berkeley (very young, I understand), and I have to declare a major soon. I will apply to Haas, but like anyone my chances are slim. In the case I don't get in, I have some questions regarding other majors and how they are seen in MBA admissions. My natural skill-set is more liberal arts than mathematics, and so I will likely do better in a liberal arts major than a more quantitative field. That being said, I know that MBA schools like to see professional experience, and so I have this debate in my mind:

1. If I go for a more quantitative field, like statistics or economics (quant oriented here at UCB), I may have a lower GPA but I will have some internship experience which can lead to a job later down the line. I could then say I need the MBA program to gain more skills for that job, and I feel like this would be a good path as long as my grades do not suffer too bad.

2. I could go for an easier liberal arts major (psychology, philosophy, etc [I mean easier for me as compared to quant subjects]) and likely have a 3.8 GPA or above (given my current track record), but I may not be able to get the professional experience to build my application properly. I may look to liberal arts for business schools.

Some important facts:
HBS breakdown of what majors are admitted (typical of other schools):
STEM - 36%
Economics/Business - 45%
Humanities/Social Sciences - 19%

I do have an internship at a start-up hedge fund doing analyst-like work. I feel like I would be brought back, but I am not sure.

I wish to pursue finance in an MBA program.

My main questions:
1. In people's experience, to what extent is it hard to get into an MBA program with a liberal arts degree, and specifically how hard is it to get business experience with it.
2. In general, is GPA or professional experience seen as more important?
3. Is there any bias for or against a liberal arts major applying for an MBA program?
4. Anything else I should know?

Thanks so much!
edited June 2018
15 replies
Post edited by MaineLonghorn on
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Replies to: Undergraduate Majors and their effect on MBA admissions

  • UCBUSCalumUCBUSCalum 1098 replies4 threads Senior Member
    It seems like you already summed it very well, maintain a high GPA in liberal arts and get good solid work experience. Graduating from a great school like UC Berkeley with a great academic reputation also helps. The only item I would add is to score high on the GMAT, say at least 700+, to get into the top group of MBA schools that you apparent are aspiring for. Not getting into the undergraduate Haas Business School is not the end.
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  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 42352 replies455 threads Senior Member
    Can you major in something solid (Philosophy is often considered stronger than sociology unless sociology is backed by a lot of statistics courses) and minor in statistics, CS, IT, or something "quant"?
    In addition, look at Wharton:
    https://mba.wharton.upenn.edu/class-profile/
    Yale
    https://som.yale.edu/programs/mba/admissions/class-profile
    USC
    https://www.marshall.usc.edu/programs/mba-programs/full-time-mba/admissions/class-profile
    Northwestern
    http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/programs/full-time-mba/student-culture/class-profile.aspx

    Now keep in mind that Humanities majors represent a small minority of applicants (on average, 55-60% had an undergrad business degree, and a large percentage comes from STEM and economics) so that their representation is actually outsized.
    Now, obviously, it means that your major (+ minor) should lead you to a position where you have responsibilities and impact. Career services, professional experience, etc, would be paramount.
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  • ANormalSeniorGuyANormalSeniorGuy 307 replies28 threads Member
    @MYOS1634 thanks! I can but I have no idea what internships I could get with that degree, or jobs. Most likely I will work for 2-3 years after undergrad so I can prepare for the GMAT, but do you know of the difference between the two paths regarding what work I can get? If the idea is that it should culminate to a job, what jobs can I get with a philosophy degree vs otherwise, and will it matter?
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  • ANormalSeniorGuyANormalSeniorGuy 307 replies28 threads Member
    @UCBUSCalum Thanks. The only concern I have though is what is defined as "solid work experience" and to what extent am I blocked from top-tier work experiences due to my major? I would assume any IB internship is off limits due to major, but I could be wrong. Any knowledge on that?
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  • happy1happy1 23341 replies2310 threads Senior Member
    edited June 2018
    You are kind of asking people to read the tea leaves and predict your future under different scenarios which is impossible to do. I would say you should not go through college solely in a quest to eventually get into a top MBA program but rather figure out where your strengths lie and what majors might be employable from your college.

    Have you talked to anyone in career services about employment opportunities from different majors? If not I'd recommend taking that step. From some top tier schools employers do hire liberal arts majors for training programs, etc. I do think IB would be difficult with no business background.

    Admission to the top MBA programs is competitive, difficult, and unpredictable. As you understand you need every single aspect of your application (GPA, GMAT, recommendation, essay) to be outstanding and generally 2 - 5 years of work experience showing increasing levels of responsibility.

    That said, MBA programs do take people with a wide variety of backgrounds. My H went to Wharton MBA and there were classmates who had non-business careers (ex. fighter pilot, opera singer, book editor, rocket scientist to name a few). And a friend just graduated Wharton MBA and Justin Tuck (former NFL player) was in her class. So I don't think IB is at all necessary background -- the more important thing is to find something you can excel at and go with it.

    edited June 2018
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  • ANormalSeniorGuyANormalSeniorGuy 307 replies28 threads Member
    @happy1 Thanks, but im not asking specifically for me. I am asking general trends which people might have experienced. A question I should have asked is if there is a specific bias against liberal arts majors applying, and what explains them being the minority? Is it simply lack of interest so not many apply, or are they seen as weaker candidates and so they end up being the minority for a reason. I also asked general questions about the process that people may have, such as GPA or work experience being more important.

    I have asked some in the industry and in career services, but none had similar experiences to determine a trend and none knew the process behind the doors of an MBA admissions board. It was all anecdotal because the pipeline for Business/econ majors is so strong. So nothing clear there.

    As for the value judgement of the question and the idea I should be going to school looking to find out what I will do, unfortunately I can't do that because I have too many financial responsibilities to pick a low-paying career and I never really enjoyed school to begin with. The IB path is very exclusive and they have a strict order of operation where a internship is required in Junior year to go to a good firm, and so it is a process of elimination to try that first and then go to other fields which may not be as strict later. So, I am asking these questions in relation to that, as I can maybe get into IB or another banking field with a good enough MBA school, hence these questions.
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  • happy1happy1 23341 replies2310 threads Senior Member
    To answer your specific question, I do not believe there is a specific bias against liberal arts majors at MBA programs. Rather I think that many liberal arts majors choose to pursue fields other than business if they do graduate work. Liberal arts majors are expected to have meaningful work experience although it does not have to be in a business-related area.

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  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 42352 replies455 threads Senior Member
    If anything, I'd say that if you compare the ratio of applicant/admitted at top MBA programs business majors aren't especially favored (this used to be easy to find but not anymore, but the numbers showed business majors had the lowest odds with STEM having the highest odds - the explanation given was that a top MBA wants you to come "fresh" to their business classes, with a different skillset and a variety of professional experiences. The exception tended to be top 10 undergrad business programs, which generally expect a lot of classes in non business subjects.) The idea is that a business major is sufficient to find a job, then you progress through your career, then you can do a part time executive MBA. You need to have an actual reason to apply to an actual MBA.
    Another factor is that STEM majors can also apply to MFE and other master's in Finance, which opens up more paths to high paying jobs. FYI, MFE's are interested in people with experience in machine learning and AI as applied to business, finance, risk management, etc. so if you're still hesitating and are able to handle that field, look into that path. Supply Chain is another area coupled with an Asian (or African) language minor can also be of interest. China is moving away from the "manufacture of the world" model but other developing countries such as Thailand are trying to pick up the mantle, while CHina is still an absolute mainstay, and finally Africa is THE geographic area on the rise, due to very low wages, supply of workers, space, and a huge emerging consumer base (what is threatening this potential is political instability, lack of infrastructure, and civil war/terrorism.) Countries to watch are in the lower central area - Nigeria and below - where English, French, Portuguese are important languages. Watch for countries with a growing middle class that invest in infrastructure, schooling, and democratic participation.
    Where you attend school also matters: Art History at Williams could be an excellent pathway to IB, not if you attend Bowling Green State or Adams State.
    Another issue is that the specific types of business majors preferred by top MBA programs all expect in reality a sort of double major (Business+ Liberal Arts - check out graduaton requirements at Mendoza or Wharton or Stern, all require a heavy dose of non business classes). So the percentages are deceiving - basically, it's better to come from a top school, which anyone could tell you. Exceptions include flagships and their honors colleges, so if that's your case make it work for you.
    My recommendation would be to do both, Business + any field you're really good at. Keep in mind that *no matter what* you'll need to be really good at what you choose, interested in it, willing to network (learn the skills if you don't have them - it's not innate, you just need to practice), invested, proactive (haunt the career center lol).
    Finally, if your goal is any MBA, there are tons of them and as long as your grades are ok and you have some experience, you will get in somewhere.
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  • ANormalSeniorGuyANormalSeniorGuy 307 replies28 threads Member
    @MYOS1634 Thanks, that was really informative! I will definitely take all that into consideration. The only issue is that I am locked in at Cal and I cannot minor in business if I do not get into the major. What would you suggest minoring in to get both what I am good at and business on my resume? Also, what is the consensus on interdisciplinary majors or concentrations that are business oriented (for example, if I could major in psychology but focus on behavioral economics or something like that).
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  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 42352 replies455 threads Senior Member
    The typical answer is Economics. For organizational psychology it depends on everything else you do/are interested in.
    But most importantly pick what you can be really good at.
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  • RoaringMiceRoaringMice 690 replies2 threads Member
    edited June 2018
    In terms of getting a job after a major in anything, the key is what career related experiences you got while you studied. You're welcome to major in philosophy or what have you, and you can get a job in, for example... HR, if you were to become an RA during school, work the orientations, volunteer for admissions, get some customer service experience, etc. It's also possible to get a job in computer science if you major in philosophy, if you take CS classes or minor in CS, and focus on formal logic in philosophy.

    Out of most majors, including philosophy, you can also enter one of the management training programs at Bloomingdales or Sherwin Williams, if you gained some customer facing experience during school. Or you can teach English abroad for a couple of years. Work in university admissions. Go to Teach for America or AmeriCorps. It's about your interests and what you do as you study.

    These types of majors are highly flexible, and - unless you study history and plan to be, say, a historian - are less about what you studied than about what you did while you studied.

    MBA programs aren't biased against liberal arts majors. The one thing I've seen them recommend to people coming out of such majors is to take a class in accounting, and in statistics, while they get their degree (if it's not possible to do that at CAL, you can do it in a summer elsewhere), but even that isn't always required.
    edited June 2018
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  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN 3554 replies12 threads Senior Member
    You should major in what interests you but make sure to take an econ course or two along with a stats course. This is good advice for MPP programs as well which you didn’t ask about, but I thought I’d share.
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  • peterquillpeterquill 67 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Now keep in mind that Humanities majors represent a small minority of applicants (on average, 55-60% had an undergrad business degree

    I believe that this statement that 55-60% have an undergrad business degree is either incorrect or unverifiable (or both).

    If the statement is regarding matriculated MBA students, the correct figure for the percentage who hold undergrad business degrees is more like 20-30%. Let's bear in mind that the top MBA programs tend to draw students from the most prestigious undergrad programs, many of which (e.g. the usual suspects such as HYPS) do not even offer undergrad business degrees.

    On the other hand, if the statement is indeed regarding the percentage of applicants to the top MBA programs who hold undergrad business degrees, the websites presented provide no information about applicants per se. Indeed, I would be most curious indeed to locate any hard information specifically pertaining to applicants.
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  • PublisherPublisher 9577 replies120 threads Senior Member
    edited September 2018
    There are about 470 fully accredited MBA programs in the US with widely varying admissions standards. Because you reference Harvard Business School, I will assume that you are only looking at the 12 or so highest ranked MBA programs.

    As ranked by US News those top MBA programs are:

    1) Harvard
    1) Penn-Wharton
    3) Chicago--Booth
    4) MIT--Sloan
    4) Northwestern--Kellogg
    4) Stanford

    7) UCal-Berkeley--Haas
    8) Dartmouth-Tuck
    9) Columbia
    9) Yale
    11) Michigan--Ross
    12) Duke--Fuqua
    12) NYU--Stern

    One's undergraduate major does not matter so long as certain courses are completed prior to entering the MBA program. You can check each school's website for that information. (Typically, statistics, macro & micro economics, basic accounting courses & some math courses are required.)

    Very important factor in admissions to the most elite MBA programs is one's work experience, followed by GMAT score, then undergraduate GPA & statement of purpose (reason for wanting & needing an MBA).

    Certain employers--led by MBB consulting firms-- have a track record as feeders into the most elite MBA programs.

    It also appears that certain undergraduate schools also act as feeders into the most selective MBA programs.
    edited September 2018
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  • PublisherPublisher 9577 replies120 threads Senior Member
    The US News rankings listed above are a year old. The 2019 MBA rankings have the same 13 MBA programs ranked at the top, but with a slightly different order.

    1) Harvard
    1) Chicago
    3) Penn-Wharton
    4) Stanford
    5) MIT
    6) Northwestern-Kellogg

    7) UCal-Berkeley--Haas
    7) Michigan--Ross
    9) Columbia
    10) Dartmouth--Tuck
    11) Duke--Fuqua
    11) Yale SOM
    13) NYU--Stern
    13) Virginia--Darden

    15) Cornell
    16) UCLA--Anderson
    17) CMU--Tepper
    17) Texas--McCombs
    19) UNC
    20) Emory
    20) USC
    22) Univ. of Washington--Foster
    23) Rice--Jones
    23) WashUStL
    25) Georgetown
    26) Vanderbilt
    27) Indiana--Kelley
    28) Georgia Tech
    29) Arizona state Univ.
    29) Minnesota
    31) Ohio State
    31) Penn State
    31) Notre Dame
    34) Univ. of Florida
    35) BYU
    36) Texas A&M
    37) Michigan State
    37) UC--Davis
    37) Wisconsin
    40) Univ. of Georgia--Terry
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