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Surprise, I’m Going to Business School! (tips for the untraditional applicant)

My application journey: Kate Galloway, UT-Austin McCombs Full-Time Class of 2020

“Instead of doubting myself, I embraced my non-traditional aspects. I realized that even though this was uncharted territory, I had a right to be here and have the chance to tell my story to an admissions team.”

 

 

 

 

Kate Galloway, University of Texas McCombs MBA ’20, contributed this piece to Touch MBA. Kate was previously a Nurse at St. David’s Healthcare. She got her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from University of Texas at Austin. If you would like to share your MBA application journey to help future applicants, please contact us here.

Touch MBA is a great resource for those applying to business school; however, I want to expand on their advice for non-traditional applicants (though these tips could apply to any applicant as well). As a non-traditional applicant, I often felt discouraged and out of place during the admissions process. After taking the Touch MBA Profile Review and Best-Fit School Recommendation, I received disheartening feedback about my application. Nevertheless, I believed that I had more to offer than what met any reviewers standardized checkboxes, and thankfully applied regardless of my “score.” I hope my story and advice can ease intimidation felt by traditional and non-traditional applicants alike.

I am first and foremost a nurse. With many opportunities for career advancements and graduate degrees within the nursing field, I never expected that I would end up going to business school. But after years at the bedside, I became bothered that the care I deliver is directly impacted by decisions from C-suite level members who have never actually taken care of a patient. Rather than let this frustrate me, I decided I wanted to fix it.

On a complete whim I looked at the curriculum for the University of Texas McCombs School of Business MBA program (I had attended UT for undergrad), and as corny as it sounds, it was love at first sight. The McCombs program stacks all the core classes together in the beginning of the curriculum, which allows your entire second year to be electives of your choosing. A make your own MBA program if you will. Coupled with their healthcare concentration, I knew this degree would give me the right mix of knowledge to do what I wanted to do.

Only after deciding that I wanted to go to business school did I realize all that was entailed in the admissions process, and boy I was in over my head! Other applicants had more traditional backgrounds, more applicable real-world experience, and been preparing for this next stage of their careers. How did I ever expect to be competitive?

Instead of doubting myself, I embraced my non-traditional aspects. I realized that even though this was uncharted territory, I had a right to be here and have the chance to tell my story to an admissions team.

Tips for Non-Traditional Applicants:

Focus on Your Goals and How This Program Will Get You There

The most important part of your application are your goals. Without those, nothing else matters. It may sound silly, but admission boards are really good at figuring out who isn’t being sincere. What is driving you to get this degree (other than making more money)? What impact on the world do you want to have when you graduate? How will this degree make you happier? Spend time looking introspectively and figure out what you want from a post-MBA life. Being able to clearly articulate your goals and synthesize them into a single sentence forces you to realize what is important to you.

Ex: “I want to find financial solutions to nursing problems.”

Non-traditional applicants generally have non-traditional goals, so draw a roadmap for the admission team clearly outlining how their program will specifically fit your goals and educational needs. How does their curriculum fill out your current weak areas? What university/department/business partnership are you most excited about? Show admissions that you have already connected the dots and that you belong here, regardless of your background.

Showcase Your Differences

Yes, you’ve heard this time and time again, but if you can’t identify what sets you apart from another applicant, how will the admissions team? Thankfully, as a non-traditional applicant, this is one area that is a little bit more obvious. Except that some differences in a non-traditional applicant can potentially be viewed as a liability (Ex: lack of computational skills, no management experience). It is up to you to highlight these differences in a way that shows them as an asset to an admissions team.

Ex: “6 years of working in hospitals has taught me to think critically on my feet and given be the ability to remain clear-headed in stressful situations.”

Why is your unique perspective going to benefit your classmates? What do you bring to the table that no one else can? Business schools are looking to increase diversity, not only in their applicants but also in the ideas and experiences brought to the classroom. Prove to the admissions team that you can contribute, even in areas that are not specific to your background.

Ex: “As a nurse, I have had the opportunity to work with, care for, and learn from people of very diverse backgrounds.”

Button up Your Resume

Essays are a great place to tell your story, but your resume is going to be the first thing an admission team looks at. You need to be able to start telling your story through your resume, which can be difficult. How do your experiences form a cohesive story? How does this story culminate in business school? Try to paint a picture that from all of your experiences, getting your MBA is the only next logical choice.

Ex: “Presented the Neonatal Pain Policy at [Hospital] Partnership meeting, winner of best speaker award out of 25 presentations.”

Additionally, make sure your story is true to yourself, don’t try and fit into the “business school box” of what you think they want. Maybe you don’t meet category X or Y, but you exceed in category 2, something they didn’t even know they were looking for. It can be okay to admit that you miss a certain checkbox, as long as you acknowledge than you can give them something they weren’t even looking for.

Ex: “Developed interdepartmental communication tool to improve nurse communication and reduce errors when transferring patients between different units.”

When I was admitted, I thought I would be considered an outsider without “real” business background. Now after talking to my classmates, I realize that for many programs there is no longer such thing as a traditional applicant. I hope these tips help you to embrace your non-traditional aspects and help you create a unique application.

Good luck!

– Kate

Kate Galloway, University of Texas McCombs MBA ’20, contributed this piece to Touch MBA. Kate was previously a Nurse at St. David’s Healthcare. She got her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from University of Texas at Austin. If you would like to share your MBA application journey to help future applicants, please contact us here.

 

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