Why Humanities Undergraduates Should Consider an MBA

Academic background is only part of your MBA application

Why would anyone who majored in English, history or psychology decide to pursue an MBA? This is not just an idle question; it is a question that business school admissions officers must ask themselves almost daily. However, there’s no definite answer to this question. When asked, “What matters most in MBA admissions?” Stacy Blackman, an MBA admissions consultant, writes, “Ask most admissions committee members, and they will tell you that it’s the sum of many pieces — there is no one ‘most important’ part. The top schools want to know who you are, and statistics and a resume don’t tell them that. It’s the essays, interviews and recommendations that ultimately reveal the person beyond the paper.”

In other words, what is your story? Your academic background is only one element of your personal narrative. Your GRE and GMAT scores are another. Your work experience can even be the difference between an acceptance and a rejection. However, former Harvard Business School Admissions Director Dee Leopold has argued that, if MBA programs are truly serious about nurturing the next great generation of executives, they need to focus on candidates “with leadership potential, who are curious about the world, and who can navigate complex, nuanced issues.”

In other words, businesses are human creations, and they exist to solve human problems. Whether managing a scarce resource or satisfying basic human needs, businesses are complex systems built from many interlocking parts. This system may take the form of a major corporation or a small, family-run enterprise, but, regardless, all businesses succeed or fail on the strength of their relationships, both internal and external. If you are a humanities major interested in applying your knowledge of human behavior, values and culture in a business context, how might your non-business degree prepare you for the intellectual rigors of the MBA?

English

Businesses are made of words. Businesses begin as ideas, which then become mission statements, articles of incorporation, contracts, position descriptions, organizational charts and other documents. Once the organization is born, effective communications constitute its lifeblood. Businesses need language experts in order to function. Without effective communications, employees cannot act on directives or share knowledge throughout the organization, making consensus impossible. English majors may have an advantage over other MBA applicants simply by virtue of their knowledge of syntax, grammar, diction, exposition, argumentation and narrative.

Psychology

Businesses rely upon customers, but understanding those customers can be a challenge. Why do people make the choices they do? How do individuals express their desires, and what prompts them to act upon them? How can we predict the future behavior of certain demographics based on what we may have already observed about their behavior in the past? Marketing executives are concerned with making specific discoveries in these areas of psychological inquiry.

Psychology also plays an important role in effective management across any organization. What motivates employees? What incentives are most likely to inspire peak performance? Knowledge of psychology can help answer these and similar questions about human nature, which can be an asset to any number of business operations.

History

Statistics never tell a complete story. Qualified people must contextualize and analyze data before it will yield insights. Historians are experts in combining quantitative and qualitative measures to explain outcomes. Historians map causes and effects. History is not simply a study of the past, however. History is an attempt to meaningfully integrate our knowledge of the past with our understanding of the present and our expectations for the future. Any business operation — such as managerial accounting, which requires forecasting, modeling or informed decision-making — can benefit from a historical perspective.

Fine Art

All businesses create images to represent their organization and the products and services they provide. From the graphs and charts filling internal reports to the photographs of products that drive clicks (and revenue) on your website, aesthetics matter. For example, a legible, attractive logo isn’t just good design; a logo establishes your business’s identity and provides the basis for all your branding efforts. The most successful businesses of the 21st Century, such as Apple and Google, encourage their employees to exercise their imaginations and to develop their creative problem-solving skills. Anyone who has dedicated themselves to an artistic discipline is well-versed in these areas.

Philosophy

Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business prides itself on preparing tomorrow’s leaders to approach complex business situations with integrity. Baylor’s MBA curriculum challenges students to consider the ethical dilemmas and meet the ethical responsibilities of today’s diverse, interconnected, global society. Candidates who possess a strong grounding in the philosophical tradition are well-equipped to engage in the discussions that inform principled leadership.

Economics is also a philosophical discipline, and it is a core component of the Baylor MBA’s Common Body of Knowledge (CBK). A philosophy major’s familiarity with logic, especially of the computational or mathematical variety, may also provide a basis for a rewarding career in business intelligence.

An MBA can increase liberal arts majors' salaries significantly

Humanities majors were able to boost their lifetime earnings by 89% with an MBA

Practical Considerations

Having earned a degree in humanities by no means disqualifies you from pursuing an MBA. The MBA allows you to choose an area of specialization that best aligns with your talents, proclivities, interests and areas of expertise. However, prospective MBAs may still have questions about whether the degree — as opposed to an advanced degree in their undergraduate discipline — represents the best return on investment. Is an MBA ultimately worth more than an M.A., M.S., M.F.A., or Ph.D.?

The great majority of MBA programs require that you dedicate two full years (or four semesters) to your studies. The length of master’s degree programs in the humanities may vary, though most require no more than three years (or six semesters) of study and independent research in the form of a thesis. Completing a Ph.D. can take four years or more of classes, comprehensive exams and a dissertation. While financial aid differs from program to program and from institution to institution, the fact remains that MBA students tend to carry less long-term debt than graduate students in the humanities, in part, because of the shorter duration of the MBA program.

Moreover, MBAs tend to earn higher salaries than many other graduate degree holders. In 2015, education lender SoFi examined a representative sample from its pool of loan applications (approximately 200,000) to determine which graduate degrees offer the best value to students across all disciplines. They found that those with undergraduate degrees in the humanities benefited significantly by earning an MBA. While earning a graduate degree in the humanities increased these individuals’ earnings by about 5 percent, the MBA bested that figure by a wide margin. Humanities majors were able to boost their lifetime earnings by 89 percent. The figures for the social sciences and the fine arts followed a similar pattern: 13 percent to 87 percent, and 4 percent to 68 percent, respectively.

These figures are the result, in part, of the relatively low starting salaries most humanities majors can expect upon graduation. The field itself is simply not incredibly lucrative. However, the fact that the numbers are so consistently high with the MBA, as SoFi co-founder Dan Macklin notes, is a strong argument in favor of the degree.

Learn more about how the online MBA at Baylor University might be a right fit for you.


Sources:

U.S. News & World Report: What Matters Most in MBA Admissions?

Quartz: If You Majored in the Humanities, You Really Should Apply to Harvard Business School

Poets & Quants: MBA Impact High After Any Degree


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