Three Non-Traditional Routes to an MBA Degree |

Three Non-Traditional Routes to an MBA Degree

By Seb Murray

Updated May 29, 2019 Updated May 29, 2019

The MBA degree is not just for investment bankers or management consultants – though many still flock to business school in search of career progression. Once the preserve of financiers, MBA cohorts are now made up of doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, musicians, movie directors – even the odd circus performer.

At the Harvard Business School, for example, among the largest contingent of pre-MBA backgrounds are technology, communications, government, education, and non-profit.

Diversity is increasingly the mantra of business school, as students learn from mixing with their classmates. “We seek students from all over the world, with a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives,” says Chad Losee, Harvard’s managing director of MBA admissions.

There are several non-traditional routes to an MBA degree, three of which are outlined below:



Increasingly, healthcare professionals are seeking a business education, to move into more senior management positions. The industry faces a growing and ageing global population, which has put pressure on services and budgets. “I thought an MBA was a good way to transition out of research and into a healthcare administration role,” says Michelle Cleghorn, who is an MBA student at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, alongside working for research hospitals in Canada. Previously, Cleghorn studied for an MSc in health policy.

Rotman has just created a new 18-month EMBA program in healthcare and life sciences designed for working professionals in the fields. Launching in 2018, the program will focus on delivering healthcare and making it more affordable. “The health and life sciences sectors are the most important industries in the world,” says William Mitchell, co-academic director of the program. “Globally, they have a huge impact on economic development and a huge impact on human life.

“Our new program will teach general management and leadership skills, with direct application to people working in life sciences and healthcare.”



With clients increasingly expecting lawyers to have at least a basic understanding of business processes, some lawyers are enrolling in joint JD/MBA courses, for example at Harvard, The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and NYU Stern. Law firms are also hiring in less numbers, and a joint MBA degree can give lawyers an edge in the jobs market. It can also open up opportunities in new fields, such as entrepreneurship.

“Students…Will have a distinct competitive advantage when they graduate,” says Peter Rutledge, dean of Georgia Law school, which offers a joint JD/MBA with the Terry College of Business. “In only three years, students will earn a law degree and an MBA, saving both time and money, while gaining the necessary knowledge to succeed in today’s marketplace.”

Buck Wiley, managing director of Merrill Lynch Global Institutional Consulting, who holds a JD and an MBA from Georgia, says business leaders are facing growing regulatory environments in everything from employment, taxes and finances, while corporate lawyers need to fully comprehend their clients’ businesses and what drives their income statements and balance sheets. “This makes dual-degree programs, such as the JD/MBA, relevant to the job demands of graduates and employers as well.”



With demand growing for business leaders who can marry technical skills such as computer science and engineering with business acumen, business schools such as Stanford Graduate School of Business are launching joint courses in engineering. “A wide range of skills are needed for leaders in every industry, and engineering or technology are no different,” says Yossi Feinberg, a Stanford professor. 

One survey by Deloitte found that technology leaders, in particular, fear they lack coveted leadership skills, which many MBA programs focus on. The ability to run large-scale IT projects and work with external partners to manage day-to-day operations are a particular challenge.

At Stanford, students benefit from two world-renowned teaching departments. “Our business students and engineering students take shared classes and complete projects with professors from multiple departments,” says Feinberg. “One example of this collaboration is the Startup Garage, where people bring in an idea or innovation and work in teams to create sustainable business models.”

This article was originally published in January 2018 . It was last updated in May 2019

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Written by

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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