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Tips for Getting Your MBA without a Business Background

Heaven forbid! Are you an MBA applicant with a complete lack of business knowledge and a background in liberal arts, sciences or technology? While it may feel like you are starting the application process on a different planet from everyone else, have no fear. You are not alone.

That’s exactly how Shervin Shahidi, a current MBA candidate at York University’s Schulich School of Business, felt. His background in biology, genetics and computer animation hadn’t prepared him for the concepts that he would learn in his first term at Schulich. “Before my MBA, my knowledge of accounting and finance could have been easily summarized as follows: There are people who work in financial institutions…and I have to pay my taxes!” he shared in a recent blog post.

For Shahidi, the Flying Start program at Schulich was a huge help. Flying Start is a prep course that provides foundational knowledge on core topics. It’s held twice a year—before the fall and winter terms—and is designed to prepare incoming students for the demanding first-year MBA curriculum. The course includes three workshops: Quantitative Methods, Accounting and Finance. It’s perfect for students with limited exposure to these core disciplines.

“Without a doubt it was a condensed schedule—packed with four days of non-stop conversations and lessons covering topics from math to accounting and finance to case analysis,” says Shahidi. “Flying Start gave us a first glance at what we were going to learn very soon in class; it was a thorough and helpful peek at what was coming, which I definitely needed.”

Shahidi isn’t the first MBA candidate to enter a program without business experience, and he won’t be the last. If your MBA program doesn’t offer a course similar to Flying Start, you may feel a little out of your depth, but success is still possible.

Four Tips to Prepare for the MBA Without a Business Background
Launa Wood, a first-year student at the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business, majored in secondary English education and taught high school English before heading back for her MBA. Just like Shahidi, she felt behind her fellow students but, in a recent blog, she outlined how she prepared for her first day. She followed four pro tips: take an intro class, read up on Excel, don’t be scared of numbers and utilize free online courses.

  • Take an Intro to ____ class: The type of class you need is up to you and where you feel you have the greatest weakness. “At McCombs, our core classes are very quant-heavy. In the first quarter of the semester, you’ll take accounting, finance and statistics, and in the second quarter, you only build on the skills you learned in the first, so it’s very easy to become overwhelmed if you’re not familiar with the material,” she said. “So audit a community college ‘Intro to Statistics’ or ‘Intro to Finance’ class during the spring or summer. If you’re able to know what a Z table is before the first day of class, you’re already one step ahead of where I was.”
  • Read up on Excel: If you don’t have a business background, you probably don’t know Excel as well as you should in order to survive your MBA career. While you can get by with limited knowledge, you’ll be so much further ahead and feel better prepared if you brush up on your skills. “I recommend reading Marketing Analytics by Wayne Winston,” says Wood. “It’s not a book that you read at leisure (it’s more than 700 pages long), but it does show you step by step how to use Excel functions in ways that you will be expected to know.”
  • Don’t Be Scared of Numbers: “The best thing you can do as a student who has more qualitative skills than quantitative skills is to recognize that and commit time and energy into strengthening those areas,” says Wood. “Your MBA career will require a depth and breadth of quantitative knowledge that you may not have. The key is to jump in and take classes or study textbooks that can prepare you.
  • Utilize Free Online Courses: Many websites offer free courses to help you brush up on your skills before your first day of class. “I would recommend browsing sites such as Coursera.org or Smart.ly to find a course that is most tailored to the skill gaps that you may have,” says Wood.

 

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About the Author


Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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