A Non-Traditional Candidate Reflects On Why He Wants An MBA

As a non-traditional candidate, I feel isolated in my decision to apply to MBA programs.  Not only do I not know anyone applying to business school, I know only one or two people who even attended one!

One of the major reasons I decided to start a blog was because this isolation has been somewhat exacerbated by the forums.  What I wouldn’t give to be an Indian techie or an American financier–all those connections and all that relevant advice!

Joke’s on them in the long run though since they represented an oversaturated pool.  Knowing that, I’m happy these poor souls have the forums–they deserve all the help they can get!

Nevertheless, I hope that my story and process resonate with non-traditional candidates who wonder what the hell they are doing, and even with the traditional candidates who experience isolation in their own uniquely snowflake way.

Why I’m a snowflake among snowflakes:

At 29, I’m a wee bit old by MBA standards.

I work for a non-profit, and about half of my experience has actually been in direct service (meaning with children).

GASP, my direct service wasn’t even with Teach For America!

I’d never even heard of Haas, Ross, Fuqua and all those other exotic names before researching the world of business schools.

So now the answer to the now age-old question that every aspiring MBA candidate needs to answer: Why do I want an MBA?

My favorite part of my job is not at all unique to non-profits–in fact it’s just general business practice.  I love strategic planning, I love creating organizational vision, I love training people, and weirdly enough, I love supervising people.

On the heels of this is a lack of mentorship.  My boss is truly amazing, but teaching me the things I want to know is a full-time job (i.e. full-time degree).  I’ve been lucky, but so many other non-profits are horribly mismanaged.  Lack of resources should not mean lack of competence and organization.

The skills I lack but desperately need to manage a non-profit include finance and accounting. And I know I have tons to learn in soft skills like strategy development and marketing.

Business school is an amazing place to meet people, network, and think critically and creatively with diverse people.

The dirty little secret: a masters in education is (not my words): “a waste of a degree if you’ve already worked in the field.”

Ergo, MBA!

Sassafras is a 29-year-old MBA applicant who works for a San Francisco-based non-profit organization with a primary focus on youth development and education. With a 730 GMAT and a 3.4 grade point average from a highly ranked liberal arts college, he currently blogs at MBA: My Break Away?

  • Sassafras

    When I originally started blogging, I saw that the average age at schools like Harvard is 26. Being 30 feels way different. You’re right, and you’ll see down the line I critiqued others’ (and my own) obsession with numbers like age. It is statistically true that some schools trend younger than others, but that doesn’t mean 30 is old. So I agree with you! And as far as the comment below this one. The point for me is also that you have to have shown more accomplishments as an older applicant, which I think is what you mean as well (e.g. career expectations).

  • Sassafras

    you can reach out to me at sassafras@mybreakaway.com

  • johnD

    Great post! You sound perfect for an MBA. Hope you are in my class next year! Also, is there an email I can reach you with? I recently started a nonprofit and would love your advice since you are experienced in the field.

  • Ahmed

    29 is not old at all. avg age of the Fuqua class of 2014 is 29!. Your experience is unique. I think you will make a competitive applicant for all M7 schools, Fuqua, and Yale. I am somewhat sure you will make it at Fuqua, and very optimistic for Stanford..Yes, stanford love the unique profiles…good luck..

  • Ragagopalachari Manivannan

    Zach..I dont think he meant age in the context you are referring to. I think at 29-30ish people are looking to start families and stuff. You want to be settled by a certain age in terms of career and other things. Also, there are more responsibilities as you get older, especially societal responsibilities.

  • Zach in Small Business

    How is 29 and 30 considered old? No way. I graduated high school when I was 19..I finished college at 23. I worked for about 6 yrs before applying to bschools last year. Sure there are a lot of 25 and 26 year old bankers and consultants…but there are a lot of people in their late 20s and early 30s. Age is just a number. There is a 26 yr old guy in my class that looks at least 40 after spending 4 years in wall street…hair loss and fat and out of shape. There is a 37 yr old woman from the army who looks like she is 24 and fit! Another girl who is like 25 I thought was our instructor. Age is just a number. It’s how you feel and what you have done with your life.

  • SV

    Great blog mate! Enjoyed reading it. I wish you the best..Of the schools you are applying to — no doubt Hass and Stanford will be the most gay-friendly and welcoming. Also, wise move not to pick Harvard..

  • TJH

    This post really hits home. I’m 30 and have worked in a manual labor manufacturing environment for several years. I’m applying to Emory and Vanderbilt next fall and your blog was very encouraging. Thanks.

  • Sassafras

    Thanks to both of you! Hopefully luck will indeed be on my side. if you click on my blog link you’ll see I’m quite enamored with Yale after a recent event. Applications due in a few weeks, so gotta get crackin’.

  • SV

    Please check out Yale’s program. Very solid in non-profit. Ross Mich is also good for that.

  • Dan

    Bschools need guys like you to add perspective. I think you will be a welcome addition to any school. Good luck!