Nontraditional Students Embrace MBA to Effect Career Change

Career change

This article is sponsored by the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management (FS). Learn more about FS and its programs here

MBA candidates often follow a traditional path. They progress from studying finance or accounting as undergrads to forays in management and the corporate world. They apply to grad schools with an eye on the executive suite. Their applications are supported by formalized business training along with an understanding of mathematical and managerial principles.

Yet, there are other roads to the MBA. Many programs target ‘nontraditional’ candidates with non-business backgrounds who want a career change. These men and women bring different experiences and backgrounds into the classroom, along with unique perspectives – that all-important diversity. At the same time, however, they face obstacles from the moment they consider applying.

Nontraditional applicants are encouraged to emphasize career experiences that will let them seamlessly segue into business school. As one application consultant explains, “Maybe you’re a mango farmer sick of picking fruit, but you’ve been running the family business for a few years. Even the mango farmer has MBA-relevant skills: leadership, management experience, teamwork, even problem solving.”

Although many nontraditional students return to their field after graduation, others seek a career change. To find out more about the journey and challenges faced by nontraditional MBA candidates, TopMBA.com spoke with two Frankfurt School MBA students, Ifeabata Vanessa Okeke and Oliver Schwarz.

The Journey to the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management

At first glance, Oliver Schwarz’s CV seems traditional. Yet the path he took to Frankfurt School was unconventional.

“After doing an apprenticeship as a banker, I founded my own business in the insurance sector when I was 18 years old. [Over a dozen years later], in 2011, I needed a new challenge. Since the topic of distressed mergers & acquisitions was already fascinating, it was my aspiration to work in this area.

[I knew] it would be an enormous shift in my career and therefore could mean a lot of obstacles. I decided to go for it.

Considering, that I even do not have a college degree, I first had to qualify myself for my desired study. My apprenticeship and my professional experience of around 10 years entitled me to do an entrance exam. After passing it, I was admitted to Hochschule Wismar, University of Applied Sciences, Technology, Business and Design.

In March 2014, I finally earned my diploma. The aspiration of enhancing my strategical understanding increased my interest in doing an MBA. “

Ifeabata Vanessa Okeke earned a bachelor’s degree in law from Nigeria’s Madonna University in 2011, putting her among the 17% of the 2014 Frankfurt MBA class with a background in consulting or law.

Prior to Okeke’s enrollment at FS, she worked as a legal counsel at Dambo and Co. in Nigeria where she handled litigation matters, project management, debt recovery matters and consulting.

Why get an MBA?

IVO:  First, I have always found the interdisciplinary undertaking of law and business administration refreshing as well as challenging. Giving the unpredictable economic situation of the world today, I feel that the fine blend of law and business administration will give me a holistic perspective in finding solutions to business problems.

Second, my exposure to challenging business problems beyond my legal experience motivated me to pursue this MBA program.

Third, I also decided to earn this MBA because it will provide me with a wider range of career options.

Why did you choose Frankfurt School of Finance & Management?

IVO:  My choice of the Frankfurt School was influenced by the fact that this prestigious school’s degrees are taught by renowned faculty with a strong background in relevant areas of research, looking for forward-thinking solutions in the fields of international business, finance and management, where agendas and issue are constantly changing. I also chose Frankfurt School because it will afford me the opportunity to gain international experience, network, and learn a foreign language. In addition she points out that - beyond Frankfurt School’s MBA program - “Germany is really beautiful and touristic. There is nothing like studying in a pleasant environment!”

OS: After doing a lot of research, I concluded that the Frankfurt MBA would give me the opportunity to do an intense and tightened MBA at a business school with an excellent reputation in finance. Furthermore, the curriculum very much suited my personal interests and also the opportunity to study a module at a prestigious and highly ranked university like Bocconi Milano was very appealing to me. The fact that I could combine doing a full-time MBA with working in my own business made this program to my choice number one.

What has surprised you about yourself during your time at Frankfurt School?

IVO: The main thing that has been a source of constant surprise to me is my thinking process. In analyzing a problem, I don’t just develop hypotheses based on a one-directional perspective, but rather on a 360° one. There is so much room to be innovative and creative.

OS: I not only learned strategical implications of organizations, but also improved my soft skills significantly. Since we had to do a lot of presentations during our studies, I truly improved my skills in this area. The fact that we have a very diverse group in terms of nationalities and professional backgrounds gave me the opportunity to enhance my intercultural understanding. In my opinion, doing an MBA does not only mean learning from your professor, but also really learning a lot from your fellows.

What was your most unexpected experience within the MBA?

IVO: For me, learning through the use of case studies and real-life consulting projects is by far my most unexpected experience. And I must say, an enriching, challenging one – well worth the effort.

OS:  There were also a lot of unexpected experiences. One time I worked with three Indian and two East Asian guys, coming up with ideas for a new digitalization strategy for a German retail bank. The day before the final presentation – at which some high-level representatives of the bank would be listening to our ideas – we were working until late at night. Everybody was working on their part. At midnight it turned out that, due to a ‘cultural misunderstanding’, our parts did not match... It seemed impossible. But, after working some more hours, we presented our solutions and received great feedback afterwards.

We also received support from our professors. For example, some professors organized workshops with industry experts and also gave valuable advices to us, how to get into the finance industry.

During your time in the program, has there been a piece of advice which you felt really helped?

IVO:  My career code coach, Professor Eric Barthel told me, “No need to de-learn your past experiences in the name of acquiring new skills; your past knowledge should always complement the new set of knowledge you will be acquiring.”

What would you recommend to upcoming students hoping for the best MBA experience?

IVO:  Learning is fun when you come prepared.  I seriously recommend that prospective MBA students start working on their presentation skills, learn the German language and be prepared to network; it’s the second best thing about the MBA program.

OS:  Earning an MBA forces yourself to step out of your comfort zone and to go to your limits, or even beyond them. This makes you aware of your strengths and weaknesses and makes you even more self-confident. Since the learning environment of a university is a safe environment, making mistakes only can move you forward in your future career. Therefore, especially during an MBA one should be open to new ideas and try out new things.

At Frankfurt School of Finance & Management the MBA program allowed me not only to learn a lot of new things but also to connect already existing knowledge and a broader understanding of a corporation and how things work together. In the end, this gave me the ‘big picture’, how enterprises work. 

Is there a career change in the future?

The career change has already been implemented half-way through the programme for Schwarz: Over the next three months, he will do an internship at a distressed mergers & acquisitions company. “After that, I am confident that I will continue to work in this area in a full-time job. Five years after my decision to make a career change, now finally I can turn my aspiration into reality.” 

Answers edited for length and clarity.

This article is sponsored by the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management (FS). 

Written by John Bankston

Content writer John began his career as an investigative reporter and is a prolific educational writer alongside his work for us, authoring over 100 nonfiction books for children and young adults since 2000.

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