Undercover Ross: The Non-Traditional Path To An MBA

Adam Brewster, a 2nd year at the University of Michigan’s Ross School, reporting for CBS during the 2020 Presidential campaign

There are many roads that lead students to the halls of an MBA program.

For some, the road is fairly straight. Maybe they leave undergrad knowing that an MBA is likely in their future 5-7 years down the road. They may plan their life around this change, knowing it’s essential to advance their career. 

Others may spend a few years in the working world and realize that their chosen career path isn’t quite for them. Some of these people make smaller pivots: accounting to finance, engineering to tech, advertising to marketing. 

But there are many who make a larger jump from the non-business universe into the business world. And for those of you wondering if you can really make a jump out of your 5-10-year career into something different, I’m here to tell you unequivocally: 

Yes. You. Can. 

Adam Brewster on assignment

COVERING THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

After finishing undergrad, I spent more than nine years working in television news. After a couple of years in local news in Detroit, I made the jump to New York City to work for CBS This Morning. I worked on the show for four years before I made my way out into the field to cover the 2020 election.  

I had a tremendous career in the news. I wouldn’t trade those nine years for anything. I was in the control room during some of the biggest events of the 2010s, such as the 2016 election, Hurricane Harvey and the Congressional baseball shooting. I had a front-row seat for the 2020 presidential election. 

Covering that election really opened my eyes to the fact that presidential politics is really just one big marketing campaign. Politicians must understand what voters are looking for in that particular election. Being able to best speak to those needs and values – through ads, speeches or other communications – is critical to driving action and winning any race. I loved talking to voters about why they liked and disliked certain candidates. You can always learn something new by asking open-ended questions. 

AN INTEREST IN POLITICS SPARKS A PASSION FOR MARKETING

As time passed, I became more drawn to the marketing side of politics and less to its political side. I was fortunate to have a friend getting her MBA at the time. I was fascinated by how she described the CPG industry and the challenges that marketers at these companies face, such as how to persuade consumers to purchase their product in an environment with so many choices. After a lot of reflection, I decided to make the jump and get my MBA.

I chose to come to Ross for several reasons, but I want to highlight two aspects here. 

First, Ross’ commitment to action-based learning provided a chance for me to learn business skills in a hands-on way. MAP, Ross’ signature program, enabled me to tackle an ambiguous business problem before walking into my internship. My teammates taught me how to create and execute a multi-week project, something that’s less common in the news industry that operates on daily deadlines. Second, I knew Ross would have the resources for a career switcher After all, 94% of Ross students are making some sort of career change. Through action-based programming, Ross MBAs gain exposure to new roles or industries before their internship. 

What I’ve learned over the past year-and-a-half is that, regardless of what your previous work experience was, you have transferable skills that MBA programs and employers are looking for. In fact, students from “non-traditional” careers bring a unique perspective and offer skills that are less common among students from “traditional’ backgrounds. 

Brewster hanging out at “The Big House” at the University of Michigan

MAKING THE BIG TRANSITION

Take journalism. Journalists are excellent researchers and understand how to ask questions to gain information. I realized how valuable that skill was during my internship. I had a limited amount of time to become an expert in a topic I was unfamiliar with, but I realized that I had the toolkit to execute the project. I have also learned that businesses value storytellers. Being able to craft a compelling narrative is essential to persuade senior leaders or to keep stakeholders engaged during a major presentation. 

Anytime I speak with someone who comes from a non-traditional background, I tell them to think about what excites them about work. For me, I love telling stories, I love understanding people, and I love intellectual challenges. I found that marketing scratched all of those itches. 

Once you know what excites you about work, think about how those skills fit into the types of roles where you may be interested in pivoting. This will make you engaged throughout the recruiting process. You’ll find yourself enjoying networking and preparing for interviews because you’re engaged with the material. 

It can be intimidating to make a big career jump. Take the time to think about what you’d want to get out of an MBA. Reflect on what skills get you excited about work. Lean into your unique perspective. Doing all of those things will make you a compelling candidate and set you up for a highly successful career. 

About Adam: I was born and raised just outside of Detroit and I’m thrilled to be back in Michigan. Prior to Ross, I was working as a political reporter at CBS News. I wanted to take my passion for understanding consumer behavior and apply it to a future career in marketing. I chose to come to Ross because it offers so many hands-on experiences and I’m surrounded by genuine, caring and intellectually curious classmates.

You can connect with Adam on LinkedIn and learn more about him in Poets & Quants’ Meet The Class 2024.

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