Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Dip in the pool 

A couple of e-mails I've received from people have alluded to the 'fact' that 'non-profit' is an easier demographic to get into business school from than 'consultant' or 'investment banker'. I've been musing on this, and thought I'd share my thoughts.

The main argument for non-profit types having it easier relies on the belief that applicants are looked at in terms of groups, or pools, of applicants from a similar background. Because there are fewer of us applying than consultants, I-bankers or even, say, engineers, the argument goes that we are therefore in a less competitive ‘pool’ and so have a better chance of getting in. The search for diversity in the classroom must, I think, mean that there is degree to which professional background plays a part, although I’ve no idea to what extent. Even if we take it as a given though, I think the argument only stands up to a limited extent. I’ve no doubt that there are fewer non-profit types applying, but there are also fewer of us in business school classrooms. I’ve no idea what the applicant to admit ratio is for any professional background, but I suspect we’re looking at a pretty low ‘conversion’, even for non-profit types. So, if we are looked at in pools then non-profit applicants undoubtedly inhabit a smaller one, but one that it is still difficult to be picked from.

Another issue is that, if you’re a non-profit type looking to stay in non-profits post MBA, there is a limited number of schools to which you’re likely to be applying. Chances are you’re going to be interested in non-profit focused classes or activities. You’ll almost certainly be looking at scholarships and loan forgiveness programmes in order to make it financially viable. So the overall pool, whilst small, is likely to be concentrated in a few specific locations. Having said that, when it comes to the ‘why here’ bit of applications, non profit opportunities are certainly a concrete differentiator of a school, which helps. Of course, if you’re from a non-profit background and you’ve got a mission to bring a social conscience to the corporate world, or if you’ve seen the error of your ways and just want to make shed loads of money, then you’ve got more choice and might be more of an admissions novelty :)

Where I think non-profit types do have the biggest advantage is in the process which brings us to applying. MBAs aren’t the norm in the non-profit sector. If you’re from a non-profit background it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have worked along side a whole crowd of people with MBAs or that the qualification will be seen as the automatic next step on your career path. Chances are you won’t even have a career path, other than the one you’ve visualized for yourself. Nor is it likley to open doors that would be otherwise locked closed. So if you’ve reached the point of applying for an MBA you’re likely to have very well thought through reasons for ‘why MBA and ‘why now’, which puts you at an advantage compared to those people from traditional feeder industries who are mainly applying because it’s expected. (I’m not implying that all consultants etc only apply for that reason, just that some do.) Of course, if we go back to the ‘pool’ idea, this would mean that non-profit pools have a higher concentration of ‘quality’ applicants, upping the competition.

Ultimately, I think the reality is that schools have many, many more high quality applicants from all backgrounds than they have places. Looked at in terms of raw statistics, it’s difficult for any of us to get it, whether we’re a consultant, I-banker, fundraiser or Elbonian frog juggler. The challenge to all of us is to know ourselves and our reasons for wanting an MBA as well as we can, and then do our best to convey them to the adcoms. It’s then that statistics become meaningless, and we each become an individual in need one seat.

Just one.

Please can I have one?


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