Interview with Nonprofit, Older B-School Applicant “MBA My Way”
We’d like to introduce you to our next blogger, MBA My Way, an anonymous non-traditional MBA applicant who has been working in the non-profit world for the last eight years. Thank you MBA My Way for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck! (Read more about MBA My Way on her blog, MBA The Nonprofit Way.)
Accepted: Let's start with some basics: Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Can you give us a brief tour of your professional background?
MBA My Way: I'm originally from the Midwest, but have lived all over the U.S. I studied humanities in the Ivy I attended. I was rebelling against the all-math-and-science education I had up until that point; I was always good at math but I enjoyed creative work much more. When I finally got to pick my own courses, I went all into humanities and social sciences. And, predictably, I was crazy behind in reading comprehension and writing skills compared to my peers. I hadn't read any Shakespeare, Dickens, Salinger, Conrad or any of the other writers that most students studied in high school. I had a LOT of catching up to do, and that's what partially accounts for my low-ish 3.4 GPA.
Professionally, I decided that I would do nonprofit work back in college. We spend so much of our lives at our jobs, and I really wanted my efforts to go toward a clear cause I believed in. And due to my newly-developed skills, I ended up in marketing and communications. There are a lot of interesting psychological factors at play in marketing for the nonprofit sector, like how to speak to people's consciences without being overbearing or unapproachable. Or you could go the opposite way and play a heart-wrenching Sarah McLachlan song over sad images of abused animals. It's always interesting to see what kinds of tactics are successful.
Accepted: What motivated you to pursue an MBA at this point in your life?
MBA My Way: I was actually very convinced for a long time that I did NOT need to go to graduate school. Any graduate school. I thought I could put my head down, do awesome work, climb a ladder and get where I wanted to be on my own skills and gumption. And although I do think that was possible in the past, sadly, that has not turned out to be the case for me. I blame a good amount of that on the economy I entered after college. There's just been no growth or expansion, especially in the nonprofit sector. Despite my being the absolute standout employee wherever I work, I'm regularly told that there is simply "nowhere to go" from whatever position I'm in at the time.
I've also been carefully plotting my professional experience so far to cover all areas of marketing, and I am now ready to take my next big step up. But whenever I come across a marketing job at a nonprofit that looks like the perfect opportunity, it always has that one line: "MBA preferred." And I can't compete against an applicant pool already saturated with MBAs. Can't get much of a clearer sign than that!
Accepted: How will an MBA help you move forward in the nonprofit world? What do you plan on doing post-MBA?
MBA My Way: I've seen a clear preference in nonprofit upper management to hire MBAs and people with corporate, for-profit backgrounds for higher level positions. I think there's a double standard at work there, but hey, whether I agree with it or not, I need an MBA to get where I want to be, so I'm going to do it.
One of the causes I care about most is animal welfare. And no, I am not a vegetarian or a PETA militant. I just don't think it's right to take their lives for granted. I'd really like to be able to work for an organization like the World Wildlife Fund or the ASPCA after I obtain my MBA.
Accepted: What stage are you up to in the application process? What has been the biggest challenge in the process so far and what have you done/are you doing to overcome it?
MBA My Way: I'm about halfway through submitting all my apps for 2014 enrollment. The most unexpected challenge for me with this whole application process is how much time I had to spend discussing my recs with my recommenders. It's something I thought would take one or two meetings, maybe, but it ended up taking so much time that it almost threw off my entire schedule. And a huge part of it is that my recommenders are really great and they just really want to do as good of a job as they can. But, in the end, I ended up spending more time on recommendations than some of my essays, which is probably a really dumb thing to do. But some of the questions they receive are insanely detailed and hard to answer, especially if you're asking supervisors from your past (who can remember that much from years ago??). A lot of it feels like artificial hurdles put in place to try to weed out people who are cheating/writing recs themselves. And though I understand that effort, it alienates applicants like me who are just trying to be honest and straightforward.
I actually have built up some resentment over the entire recommendation process because I don't think the value that schools place on them nearly equals the amount of time and effort it takes for all of us to produce them.
Accepted: Where are you applying? Do you have a first choice?
MBA My Way: I've submitted apps to Yale, Stanford, Berkeley and Northwestern so far. I am planning on submitting to UCLA, Cornell and USC next. I chose those schools based on a combination of their nonprofit programs, their locations and for personal financial reasons.
It would be a downright miracle if I got into Stanford, and if I got in, I'd go 100%. But after that, I really like all the schools I'm applying to, and I think each can fulfill what I need out of an MBA in different ways. I'm going to have a lot of thinking to do once decisions are released (assuming that I get admitted and get in to more than one school, but seriously, who knows what will happen?).
Cornell is my personal dark horse. I haven't gotten the impression that they are as dedicated to the nonprofit sector as other schools I looked at, but little details about their program keep standing out to me...like the fact that they offered a live chat on how to pay for business school that went over the basics of student loans. So often that part of getting an MBA is glossed over by schools, maybe because a lot of candidates have finance/consulting backgrounds and have money, or their employers are helping sponsor them.
I definitely do not have money, so I really appreciated that Cornell went through the effort of reaching out to folks like me who will be covering everything with loans 100% for two years. I also think Ithaca seems like a crazy beautiful place, and I could use some nature in my life right about now.
Accepted: What has your experience been as an older applicant? What advantages or disadvantages do you think you have?
MBA My Way: Was this question meant for someone else? Because you certainly can't be talking to me! 😉
By the time I enroll in 2014, I'll have 8 years of full-time work experience, which is a lot when compared with the average. But I rarely think about it, and I didn't shape my essays or application in specific terms of that fact at all.
My career track makes perfect sense to me, and I think I have fully developed skills in all areas of marketing now. What I'm missing is the high level, top-down organizational skills and know-how to break into upper management, and that's exactly what an MBA can give me.
I'm really not sure why adcoms don't want older folks around. Maybe they think we're jaded and stubborn and grumpy? Well, I am certainly not that. I definitely still have that early 20s "I can do anything!" mindset. But at the same time, I think I can bring really useful practical knowledge and experience to share with fellow students in school.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your blog?
MBA My Way: I started my blog after reading Sassafras's blog, MBA: My Breakaway. I was so glad to find another person with a nonprofit background enrolling in b-school, and I thought I'd add to whatever content was out there about it so others in the same boat won't feel so alone. We all need to stick together!
I'm approaching my blog as a way to tell my story, whether I succeed or fail. So it might be an inspirational journey...or a cautionary tale. My application is a huge gamble, especially my essays. So we'll just have to see how it goes!
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This article originally appeared on the Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog, the official blog of Accepted.com.