How to Brave Business School with a Non-business Background |

How to Brave Business School with a Non-business Background

By Julia G

Updated July 31, 2018 Updated July 31, 2018

You could say I came to business school with a slightly unorthodox background. An undergraduate degree in English literature and classical civilisation didn’t exactly scream ‘next great business leader’, and the fact that I hadn’t studied a quantitative discipline since I was 15 (I was 23 when I started my masters) was another difficulty to contend with.

I studied Marketing Strategy and Innovation at Cass Business School, and whilst a degree in marketing is somewhat more creative in focus than a MSc in Business Analytics, it was still a heavily business orientated course, which, aside from some work experience, was a completely alien subject for me.

With hard work and determination, I went from a business newbie to business school graduate, and these are the lessons I learned along the way….

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Sometimes, you need help. This is something I really learnt to my cost when I assumed I’d be able to pick up accountancy with the same ease I picked up market research (spoiler alert: I catastrophically did not). Ask your tutors for help in office hours, ask a fellow student who has a better understanding of the subject, or, if you’re really struggling, seek external tutoring.

There’s no shame in not being as strong in a particular area, especially if it’s far removed from your previous experience. If you know there are gaps in your knowledge, pre-course reading or catching up before you’re floundering in a lecture, five weeks in to your degree is a good idea.

This is particularly important, and something you’ve probably already considered, if your chosen business school degree requires a GMAT for admission, as those with a more literary background will need to focus on the quant section, and likewise those from more scientific or mathematical backgrounds should spend more time on the verbal section.

Adapt to new ways of learning

With a new discipline comes new ways of learning, which is something you need to be prepared for when beginning a degree in business school.

Group work was one of the newest things for me. Although we were put in seminar groups to do presentations on a theme in a text in some modules during my three-year undergraduate degree, these took up a minority of the rest of the course, and at most counted towards 10 percent of our final grade.

However, fast forward to my one-year masters at business school, all but one module (out of 14) was based on group coursework. Working with others isn’t always easy (especially when you have some strong personalities in your group), but it does prepare you for similar situations in the working world in an environment with less at risk.

If you’re attending business school in another country this change of scene may be even more of an issue - many of my classmates who had attended American universities were astounded at the UK grading system - where 70 percent was considered a fantastic grade, and marks over 90 percent were almost unheard of.

It’s worth noting teaching styles in some countries may be different to where you achieved your undergraduate, such as more importance placed on practical applications of knowledge than theory.

After a while, these changes will become second nature, but it can be stressful at first, especially if your degree only lasts a year. The only way to conquer this fear is to dive in and don’t try to stick stubbornly to your old ways, as that will only cause you problems in the long run.

Focus on your strengths

Whilst I didn’t have the knowledge that many of my classmates did on business models and formulae (I assumed the BCG Matrix had something to do with Keanu Reeves), some elements of my literary/arts background did serve me well for my Marketing degree.

For example, although you wouldn’t think an exam on brand management and an exam on Shakespearian tragedies would seem entirely linked, I had a real advantage in having had to learn huge swathes of text, both from plays and critics, to insert in my exams. Turns out, academics in all disciplines love you to refer to external reading in exam papers and this ability to learn quotes or points off by heart became a real strength in business school exams.

Outside of your academic strengths, aspects of your personality may lend themselves well to business school. For example, if you’re a good public speaker (or maybe studied drama as part of your undergraduate), you’ll have a distinct advantage in delivering presentations in class. Similarly, you may have organisational skills that will make you a good project manager in your group, or writing skills that help make your coursework stand out from the rest.

Don’t be disheartened!

Whilst you may not be as comfortable at the beginning of the course as those who have previously studied similar subjects, there’s no need to feel defeated. Remember, continuing education is hard, no matter what your background – masters courses are difficult, and everyone will be just as nervous about exams and grades as you are.

Two of my closest friends in my cohort – who got some of the highest final grades in the year – had undergraduate degrees in history and biology. I also ended up doing significantly better than I’d expected prior to starting my degree when my attitude was ‘all you need is a pass grade’.

It’s more than possible to excel in a business degree with a non-business background. Be confident in your abilities, study hard, and enjoy the once in a lifetime experience.

This article was originally published in July 2018 .

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Written by

Julia is a writer for, publishing articles for business students and graduates across the world. A native Londoner, she holds an MSc in Marketing Strategy & Innovation from Cass Business School and a BA in Classical Studies & English from Newcastle University.


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