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  • Writer's pictureMichael Gallant

The Admission Equation to get an MBA without an undergrad

The majority of MBA students come from a handful of traditional backgrounds: consultants, investment bankers, engineers/lawyers/accountants-in-pursuit-of-a-career-change, NGO professionals. These candidates are the backbone of the student cohort, amassing 90-95% of the student population.

Alongside them, every school admits “non-traditional” candidates. Those who come from unusual backgrounds, have an unusual career progression, or just have a funky story. Examples include students who in their “past lives” were entrepreneurs, soldiers, musicians, athletes, or professional poker players. Some candidates do not have an undergraduate degree (myself included).

Speaking with dozens of candidates, consultants, admission officers and others, I became aware that schools are in fact VERY MUCH INTERESTED in candidates with non-traditional backgrounds, as it diversifies the classes and more often than not brings asymmetrical value to the rest of the students. That being said, today (2020) only a handful of schools systematically admit candidates without an undergraduate degree.

For example, Jordi Alexander, a pro poker player who turned finance professional, gave poker lessons and lectures to a hundred of his class mates in INSEAD. How cool is that?

The framework I built based on hours and hours of conversations is described here as the “admission equation”:

Creating value:

This is the product side (product being you). Most schools are interested in a certain mix of academic, professional, and ‘extra-curricular’ (life…) experience. Some schools would also be interested in how ‘international’ the candidate is.

Candidates who come without an undergrad would need to compensate in other areas: having good scores on their tests, having a strong work experience, have unique life experiences. I will expand on these in following articles, though the best way to ‘deep dive’ on this subject is by listening to our podcast and checking out our Youtube channel.

Telling a good story:

Sales is probably the most important, yet the least appreciated, life/career/business skill. To speak in terms of the other person’s interests, to be energetic and persuasive, to close a deal – all of these are tremendous tools on your belt, and can take you from another Plain Jane or Average Joe to a real life superhero.

To separate your application from the thousands and thousands of applications admission committees are going through, you need to be able to shine in a special light. This can be through your essays, through the application videos, through the interviews, through the campus tours, or best – through all of the above!

I highly recommend taking at least one sales course (better) or a storytelling workshop (also ok). If you need recommendations, ping me.

Meeting the requirements:

Make sure you meet the GMAT, TOEFL, essay, etc requirements. If these are not mentioned specifically (and they usually won’t be), aim high. Yes, we all know a guy with a GMAT of 640 who got in, but would it not be easier for you to get in with a 700?

If you are a candidate without an undergraduate degree (a ‘woBS’), this is even more true for you. Because you are lacking the academic credentials, this is the way for the school to make sure you can keep up with the academic pace during your MBA. This is especially true for one year programs, where there is literally no time to retake exams or courses.

Not much to add here. Put in the work, make sure to get good grades, this is critical. If you need recommendations on resources, couches, courses, etc – reach out to me.

“Secret Sauce”:

These are the little tips and tricks that get the candidate a ‘tactical’ advantage. I am not going to elaborate too much here, as different tricks apply to different schools and different candidates. I’ll throw a few in every once in a while, and in any case – there are plenty in our podcast and in the book.

If I can help you get into a school, if you have a good story, or if you want to be a part of this journey – reach out to me. Would be happy to help, listen, laugh.

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