Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 8am

How Your English Major Can Be an Asset to Your MBA Application

MBA admissions

Image: 360b/Shutterstock.com;

Your degree in English major is NOT a dirty secret, especially when you are working on your MBA application and MBA essay. Despite puppets on Broadway asking, "What do you do with a BA in English?" it turns out that your degree can be used as more than just antiperspirant – even when aspiring to a top business school’s MBA program.

By numbers

Following the lead of an intrepid investigator from 2009, here are some results from a search into class profiles of the five top business schools outlining their acceptance rate for people with various undergraduate backgrounds. Though of course every school is different, the results may shock you.

To find these out, we looked at the schools' official websites.

1. Harvard

  • 41% Economics
  • 40% Science, Technology, Engineering, Math
  • 19% Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 1% Other

A little low, but still, a full fifth of Harvard MBA students are graduates of liberal arts and science disciplines.

2. Stanford

  • 14% Business
  • 38% Engineering, Mathematics, Natural Sciences
  • 48% Humanities and Social Sciences (!)

Amazing! Even with the understanding that economics probably comes under social sciences.

3. Wharton  (University of Pennsylvania)

  • 27% Business
  • 23% Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM)
  • 45% Humanities and Social Sciences (!)


4. University of Chicago (Booth)

  • 34% Business
  • 22% Economics
  • 17% Engineering
  • 16% Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • 11 % Other

Well, it's cold there anyhow…

5. Sloan (MIT)

  • 31% Engineering
  • 19% Business
  • 17% Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 17% Science and Math
  • 16% Economics

Of course, it's skewed to engineering (MIT grads, most likely), but how exciting is the fact that you are MORE LIKELY to be admitted to Sloan with a humanities degree than one in economics?

It's fascinating to see just how welcoming the five top business schoolsfive MBA programs in the country are to humanities majors. If that doesn't raise your eyebrows (and your hopes), I don't know what will.

So, don't hide your English major under a bushel

In my many years of helping people with literally thousands of MBA application essays to top business schoolsfor MBA programs, there is one thing that I see English major applicants consistently do wrong in their MBA essay. It is a fatal error – one that can truly mean the difference between acceptance and rejection to the school of your choice.

The one thing that your MBA application should never do is hide from (or make excuses for) your past – particularly if it is a non-traditional undergraduate degree, like an English major.

Admissions counselors are interested in creating the most diverse classroom environment possible. That means that your experience studying King Lear with Tibetan monks might have more zing in an MBA application than the story of someone who has been an intern/drone at Goldman. In fact, some studies show that undergraduate business majors are actually at somewhat of a disadvantage when it comes to their applications.

Go forth and brand yourself with a killer MBA essay

You are the ultimate driving machine. You have great taste with fewer calories. You are the place with the helpful hardware folks. You are a product – show the accepting committee how your buttons work.

It seems odd to think of yourself like this, but it is exactly how you have to market yourself for the available positions in the next MBA class. Be organized and focused, particularly in your entrance essay. Make sure that your narrative is consistent and everything is as specific as possible while pointing to your uniqueness, your diverse background, and how you will add to the flavor of the incoming student group.

Make sure to include not just what an MBA can do for you, but what you can do for your MBA, while highlighting your passions.

With an degree in English major, you probably have alacrity with text – your MBA essay is the place to use it. Here is where your secret weapons come into play: words! It's very likely that your MBA essaypiece will be much stronger than that of your average math major.

With this in mind, go forth and shine on, you stalwart English majors. Be confident in the idea that it is the road less traveled that will be your best asset when breaking into the business world.

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Ryan Hickey is the managing editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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