Graduate Management News
Data & Trends

What Draws Non-business Majors and Career Switchers to B-school?

As business schools seek to diversify their classes, there's a lot more focus on attracting students who didn't major in business as undergraduates and working adults who want to change careers.

But to be truly effective in recruiting these students, we need to understand their situation, what motivates them—and what leads them to enroll in graduate management education.

Rachel Edgington, GMAC Director of Market Research and Analysis, shared some insights about this group at GMAC's Annual Industry Conference in San Diego. In the first of three planned research studies, GMAC conducted interviews and focus groups with 90 US citizens with nonbusiness educational backgrounds. (Studies of Asian and European citizens are planned.) About half were undergraduates and half were MBA students who had graduated in the past four years.

Nontraditionals were divided broadly into four major psychographic segments, Edgington said:

  • Artists, aspiring actors, dancers, writers, and architects.
  • Society, those interested in helping or studying people as a group or culture through work in government, research, the law, or academics.
  • People, those interested in helping or studying people as individuals, through work as teachers, social workers, or counselors
  • Science/Technology, doctors, engineers, and other smart people who seek to apply their skills in helping help or study people, society, or organizations

"The three underlying career motivators that drive these educational goals are creativity, impact, and freedom," Edgington said. "Creativity in the sense of using diverse skills and stretching oneself. Impact in the sense of increasing one's influence on individuals, society, and organizations. And freedom in the sense of easing financial concerns and having the ability to choose personally meaningful work."

GMAC's annual survey of registrants sheds more specific light on student motivations for pursuing a MBA degree, Edgington added. That research suggests that motivations for pursuing their education fall into four major groups:

  • Human capital development, or the desire to develop new skills and open more opportunities for challenging and interesting work
  • Personal career development, the desire for respect, recognition, confidence, good salary, and a sought-after job
  • Career switching, the desire to change job function or industry
  • Business and social entrepreneurship, the desire to manage one's own business and/or contribute to solving some of the world's problems

"By making the connection between career goals—impact, creativity, freedom—and educational goals—human capital development, personal career development, career switching, business and social entrepreneurship—within the context of the nontraditional candidates' background," Edgington said, recruiters can "develop truly authentic messages that will resonate with nontraditionals and thus help them make the connection between their goals and GME."

Edgington also noted, though, that messages do not work in a vacuum; the candidate has had to have experienced an event that has triggered a self-evaluation of their personal path and destination. This period of self-assessment opens a door for business schools to show students alternative paths—such as graduate management education—that fit with students' career motivators.

"By understanding where nontraditionals are in their lives and what they are experiencing, you can identify the right kind of outreach to conduct, where to conduct it, and what the goal of the message should be," Edgington said.

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