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March 10, 2009

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The process of applying to business school begins long before you begin thinking about pursuing your MBA. It begins the moment you step on campus at your undergraduate institution, since every reputable business school will request your undergraduate transcript in order to judge whether your achievements while in college are worthy of admission to their school. The choices that are made in terms of school, course work and activities will be reviewed as closely as the GPA that you earn during this time. Admissions officers care about the experiences that you had in and out of the classroom and what you learned from them. They want to see people who took risks and learned lessons, expanded their horizons and gained valuable leadership skills.

Academic Choices

Students pursuing their MBA come from every imaginable background. From professional musicians to Navy SEALs, there is no one traditional path to business school or a "right" major to choose while you are pursuing a bachelor's degree. Much like your school choice, the decision to pursue that fine arts degree will not eliminate you from consideration by any business school admissions committee. However, being able to paint like Picasso is not the best preparation for business school.

Starting early: majoring in business

The best preparation for a graduate education in business is, not surprisingly, an undergraduate education in business. This course work will allow you to make the transition to your MBA studies easily because you will be familiar with the topics that are likely to be covered at the outset of business school. And not only will a background in traditional fields such as accounting, economics, finance, marketing and management prepare you for the curriculum that you can expect in business school, but it might also allow you to accelerate your education by waiving some of the school's mandatory courses. A business major will also remove any doubts that you'll have difficultly grasping the subject matter you'll face while pursuing your MBA.

The most important thing about any undergraduate major is that it positions you for success in your career prior to business school. If you have turned your degree in underwater basketweaving into a multinational underwater basketweaving empire, you have chosen well and will be an extremely compelling applicant. But if you chose to pursue a humanities degree and then spent the last four years working in a bank, you'll need to be able to explain why that humanities degree was a better choice than the business degree you decided not to pursue. At the end of the day, you need to be able to talk about the decisions that you made and be able to spin them in a positive light. You're selling your background to admissions officers; if you're able to make a compelling case, they can be certain you will be just as impressive when job recruiters come to interview you.

Course work

Like selecting a major, the courses that you take will speak volumes to admissions officers when they review your application. If you didn't pursue a business degree, did you have the foresight to take some classes that would prepare you for an MBA one day? What about the level of difficulty of your classes? Did you challenge yourself or just take the path of least resistance? Admissions officers will review your transcript in an attempt to answer these questions, and it's important to show them again that you valued the experience and made the most of your time in school.

How to make up for a non-business major

In reviewing the transcript of a non-business major, admissions officers will look for business courses or at least quantitative courses. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Business schools are looking for students who will be able to grasp the material they teach in the classroom. A few high grades in a business subject like economics or a clear mastery of engineering will alleviate any concerns about your not having a business major. So make sure that you take some classes that highlight these quantitative skills.

We all know that some professors are easier than others or that some universities allow you to select different courses to earn the same degree. But remember that the person reading your application may know as much about your undergraduate institution as you do. "I interviewed a candidate from my alma mater who had a Bachelor of Arts in business rather than the more traditional Bachelor of Science," says a recent alumni interviewer. "I knew that was the easier path for students who couldn't achieve a high enough grade in either accounting or finance. The applicant was immediately at a disadvantage." While it is certainly easy to pad your GPA with "Rocks for Jocks" or P.E. classes, high grades in these courses aren't likely to impress. Taking challenging courses outside of your major is one additional way that you can differentiate yourself from other applicants.

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