MBA for Non-Traditional Careers - Emerging Trends

Kavita Singh Explains about Non-Traditional MBAsF1GMAT: Should you pursue an MBA if you are not thinking about going into consulting, finance or other more traditional careers?

Kavita Singh: Most applicants to MBA programs, still plan to pursue fairly traditional post MBA careers such as finance, consulting and general management. However, there are a number of ‘non-traditional’ careers after an MBA that applicants are now considering.  Some students are considering this largely because of the economy, while others join an MBA program with the intention of pursuing an alternative path.

Non-Traditional MBA: Alternative Paths

So what are some of these alternative paths? Working in a social enterprise is one that seems to be gaining steam. A social enterprise could be a non-profit organization or a for profit organization that has both profit and social goals. In fact, Columbia Business School’s 2010 Employment report showed that in 2010 7% of alumni were working in the non-profit sector and Harvard Business School’s Class of 2010 career statistics show that 6% of the class was employed in the NGO/Government sector.

Non-Profit Sector Needs Skilled Leaders

So why do an MBA if you want to join the non-profit sector? It is largely because future MBA students are looking to apply the leadership and management skills taught in business school to the nonprofit sector. Further, key skills such as accountancy and marketing skills, are often lacking in the not-for-profit world, By getting an MBA students can acquire these skills, setting them apart from other prospective job applicants, and help drive change within the non-profit world. A recent article in Businessweek talked about just these very transferable skills and how they helped Charles Abani, Oxfam's regional director for Southern Africa who manages 450 people across the region with an annual budget of $28 million. The article stated that “After taking a four-week executive course funded by University of Oxford last year, Abani says he gained private sector skills, such as strategy planning and brand development, that are transferable to his work on poverty eradication and government advocacy in Africa.”

Related: Top 5 Non-Profit MBA Programs

Further, some of these students plan to immediately or eventually set up social businesses of their own or start an NGO. An MBA helps them to build key skills relevant to being an entrepreneur as well as the resources develop and refine their business plans; this includes mentorship programs, business plan competitions and various avenues that give potential entrepreneurs access to funding. Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford offers 5 Skoll scholarships a year, a Saïd program funded by eBay co-founder Jeffrey Skoll,  that pays the tuition and living expenses for five students each year who are pursuing careers in social entrepreneurship.  

Government Jobs

Another career path that was picking up pace for MBA students at US business schools  over the last two or three years was that of a role with the Federal Government.  An MBA can be valuable at a time when government is playing a key role in several sectors, from finance to education to energy. When the regulations being implemented can change the rules by which corporations play and the direction in which an industry is moving, the experience and skills and MBA brings to the table can be quite valuable; skills in strategy, innovation and turnaround management are all transferable. Further the experience of being involved in the government can be one that is in turn quite attractive to an MBA student.

Education and Health

Other non-traditional career paths include opportunities in sectors like education and health; both these sectors continue to show an upward employment trend in both the US and several emerging economies such as India. In addition, opportunities in emerging markets are also seeing an upward trend amongst potential MBA applicants. Gaining experience in a diverse, global class can help MBA students learn global best practices in an industry of functional area that can be seen as very valuable in an emerging market. Additionally the experience and skill of being able to work effectively across borders is another skill that is valued in emerging economies, where many companies looking to recruit international MBAS are doing a significant amount of their business across different countries.

Harvard Business School – New Trends

Many potential applicants assume that a nontraditional career goal may hurt their chances of getting into an MBA program. However if you do have a non-traditional goal the questions you should be asking yourself is ‘Could having a traditional post MBA career goal help me get into Business School?’. There were several articles towards the end of last year that were debating as to whether Harvard Business School was trying to change its admitted class profile. This debated was spurred by comments made by Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria on a National Public Radio show in Boston. “People think we only turn out MBAs who become consultants and investment bankers,” said Nohria, “but the reality is that we have people who go to work in social enterprise and in small business. What people want of us are leaders who can contribute to all these different types of organizations in society.” It was further stirred by reports that several admissions consultants had found that ‘private equity and investment banking superstars’ that would normally have close to 100% chance of admission were having a much tougher time getting into HBS this year. It will be interesting to examine the class profiles for the Class of 2013 to see if there really is a significant shift in the profile or not.

About Kavita Singh

Kavita Singh has over 13 years of experience working in the U.S. and India. Kavita is the CEO of FutureWorks Consulting. She is an MBA graduate of Columbia Business School and holds a BA (Hons) from Oxford University. She has worked for leading companies such as Mars, Colgate-Palmolive and Web MD at higher management and consulting roles.
Kavita writes for elite publications like the Hindustan Times


FutureWorks Consulting offers array of services for both undergraduate and postgraduate admissions at leading institutes abroad. FutureWorks Consulting also runs NDTV.com’s study abroad center.

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