3 Key Things to Know About Recruiting Non-Business Undergraduates

Posted by Amy Hughes
Amy Hughes is a freelance writer covering higher education and graduate management education. She has written sponsored and non-sponsored editorial content for BusinessBecause as well as GMAC Media and works regularly on content marketing pieces for business schools around the world. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of York and a master's of studies degree in English with American Studies from the University of Oxford.

Posted on Jun 27, 2022 11:00:00 AM

blog_students in class_3Diversity is a popular buzzword in MBA recruiting. From achieving gender parity to building an international cohort, business school experts agree that a diverse class is a strong one. To achieve this diversity, B-school marketers not only need to appeal to international applicants, but also to candidates with academic backgrounds beyond business and economics.

In theory, this shouldn’t be hard to do. According to the latest GMAC Prospective Students Survey, about half of the global application pipeline for graduate management education (GME) comes from disciplines beyond business and economics. The candidates are there – you just need to get your program in front of them, right?

Not quite. As we outlined in our most recent research brief, our data show that there are some key differences between non-business undergrads and their business studies counterparts. To best appeal to competitive candidates, business school recruiters should take note of the differences.


In this article, we’ve outlined the three key takeaways from the Research brief that we think B-School marketers need to know about.

But first, why is it so important to attract non-business undergrads to your programs anyway?

Who are non-business undergrads – and why should you be recruiting them?

The GMAC Prospective Students Survey defines a non-business undergraduate as a candidate who did not study either business or economics for their bachelor’s degree, and who is now considering a graduate management program.

This takes in a broad range of academic disciplines, from social sciences and humanities to STEM degrees like biology and computer science.

In terms of their demographics, our data show that non-business undergraduates are generally older than their business major counterparts, are more likely to be men, and are strongly represented among candidates from Central and South Asia, Canada, and the Middle East.

At HEC Paris, between 60 percent and 75 percent of MBA students studied subjects other than economics or business for their bachelor’s degree. According to the associate director of admissions for HEC’s MBA programs, Louise-Marie Fischer-Dallee, the positive effect this has on classroom learning is palpable.

Our student body is one of the most diverse in the world,” she says. “We have had professional athletes, medical doctors, lawyers, academics, entrepreneurs, and musicians, to name a few. In September, we have an agronomist joining the class!

Students with a non-business background have a different point of view from those coming from a business background. In many situations, such as negotiations, they can provide a different solution because they see the situation from a different angle.”

Clearly, it’s an advantage to recruit non-business undergrads to your program. But what do you need to know about them to do so? Here are the three key findings from our report.

1. They are more likely to have additional master’s degrees

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that they are usually older than business major candidates, non-business undergrads are more likely to have completed additional degrees by the time they apply for their MBA.

Nearly a quarter of non-business students surveyed had completed a master’s degree, with 6 percent completing a professional program. This is significantly higher than business major candidates, among whom less than 20 percent have completed an additional master’s degree.

This reflects the overall trend we saw in our survey that non-business undergrads are more likely to start considering GME later, with 68 percent saying they were considering business school to help them “start out on a new path.”

This additional education is another advantage of recruiting non-business undergrads into the MBA classroom.

“The community is enhanced when a candidate brings in frameworks learned in a humanities degree,” says Eric Askins, executive director of full-time MBA admissions at the UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

“In circumstances beyond the classroom I’ve seen our students bring their different skills to bear in entrepreneurial efforts – whether they be problem-solving skills from engineering students, research skills from political science majors, or the technical know-how of our computer science students. It’s an important part of the mix here at Haas.”

2. They are less interested in pursuing careers in finance

It’s well known that corporate finance and financial services are bread and butter for most MBA grads. However, our research shows that not all candidates are equally attracted to the sector.

While 49 percent of business undergraduates expressed an interest in the finance and accounting industry for a post-MBA career, just 36 percent of non-business undergrads said the same.

In fact, they were far more attracted to the tech industry (47% compared to just 28% of business majors) and products and services (49%).

The roles that non-business undergrads are targeting also reflect this difference. While 41 percent of business majors express interest in finance and accounting job functions, less than a quarter of non-business undergrads say the same, instead targeting roles like consulting, general management, marketing, and sales.

3. They’re more interested in learning management and technical skills

As we’ve already mentioned, non-business undergrads are more likely to turn to graduate management education after a few years in the workforce – usually when they want to apply for a new role and realize they don’t have all of the requisite skills.

Combined with their different target functions and industries, this leads them to seek out different teaching from their MBA programs.

Where business majors are likely to have covered some form of management training during their bachelor’s degrees, this is an area of particular interest for non-business undergrads. Non-business majors express more eagerness to study courses on leadership and change management, general management, and project management than their business-educated peers.

They also show greater interest in courses that cover technical skills such as business analytics and data science, technology management, and information systems, as well as topics like entrepreneurship and sustainability.

How to reach non-business undergrads

Knowing more about non-business undergrad candidates can help you reach competitive applicants and create that all-important diverse class – and the good news is, it’s a self-fulfilling goal.

Non-business undergrads look more closely than business majors at factors like gender parity, minority representation, age range, and experience, so recruiting more diverse candidates is likely to attract more of them to your program in the future.

To find out more insights into the current state of the global GME pipeline, read the latest GMAC Prospective Students Survey.


Topics: Prospective Students, Research Insights, graduate business school candidate, graduate business school, candidate research

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