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Vast Majority of MBA Program Applicants Open to Change

Career change in industries and MBA applicants

You’d be hard-pushed to find an applicant that wasn’t at least open to the idea of changing industry through enrolling and graduating from an MBA program.

As much as 94% of respondents to the newly-released QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey 2015 indicated that they would be interested in opportunities in industries outside of the one in which they currently work.

Of course, being open-minded to the kind of new career prospects that habitually present themselves over the course of an MBA program isn’t quite the same thing as going into the application process with a career change as one of your primary motives. That proportion has remained relatively stable in recent years - at around 40% in 2015, down from 43% in 2013. (Of course, ‘career change’ is something that encompasses a change in function or location as well as industry, but for our purposes here we assume that industry forms a large part of desired change). 

In an age in which business schools continually advocate students making the most of the MBA program experience, the fact that only 6% of QS’s applicant respondents are adamant that they will return to the industry from which they came should be seen as something decidedly positive. While it’s important to know what you want to achieve in taking on the challenge of a top MBA program to impress schools’ admissions teams, this certainly doesn’t mean you have to know exactly where you’ll be working come its conclusion – though, of course, that will help!

In which industries are applicants most open to a career change?

Are applicants from some industry backgrounds more open to a career change than others? The simple answer is yes. Manufacturing, education, telecoms and the nonprofit sector all provided proportions of applicants open to changing industries that were higher than the overall average of 94%. Technology yielded an average figure, while every single one of those coming from an R&D/science background said they would consider other industries – which makes sense, as if you had no intention of leaving an overtly R&D role behind, you probably wouldn’t need an MBA.

Those currently working in consulting were a little under the average for their industry open-mindedness, but it’s still a whopping majority of 92% that will consider alternatives. Just three industries produced proportions of more than 10% that were only interested in their current walk of life – HR/recruitment/training (12%), entertainment/leisure (16%), and the sector in which the most steadfast of MBA program applicants were to be found,  finance, in which 18% cited no intention to look elsewhere. It makes sense – they’re all industries in which one can make considerable progress with an MBA under one’s belt.

How many succeed in changing industries through an MBA program?

At this stage, it’s probably worth looking at the reality behind career change ambitions and proclivities. If we say that roughly 40% of MBA applicants know they want a career change in industry and that roughly 90% are open to it, it is perhaps unsurprising that the actual number of MBA graduates who change industries with their first job post-qualification lies in between these two figures.

This is something that is borne out by schools which make these figures publicly-available: At HEC Paris, for example, 65% of its class of 2014 changed sectors on graduation, according to the school’s latest employment report. The equivalent figure at SDA Bocconi was 70%, while at Cambridge Judge, it was 66% among its class of 2013/14. The three-year average for MBA graduates of IMD, meanwhile, is 64%. Away from European schools, this pattern still holds true - 65% of HKUST’s latest MBA class switched industries.

The immediate question facing today’s MBA applicants therefore seems to be whether they are in the 40% who know they want to switch industries or – assuming these applicant numbers translate into MBA cohorts – in the 25% that see their interests in other industries come to the surface during their time at business school.

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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