Marketing the M.B.A. To Liberal-Arts Majors

Marketing the M.B.A. To Liberal-Arts Majors

Attention liberal-arts majors: You too can get an M.B.A. That’s the message Harvard Business School wants to send with a new program launching today.

Called 2+2, the initiative allows college students to lock in a spot in Harvard’s M.B.A. program by the end of their junior year. Before they start classes, accepted students must work for two years. The school is providing free career counseling and other resources to help students secure these short-term positions.

Other M.B.A. providers, such as Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business and the University of Rochester’s Simon Graduate School of Business, have adopted similar measures in recent years. And Harvard is by no means short on applicants to its business school. About 1,000 students are admitted annually, and in recent years, more than 7,000 people have applied per school year. But with 2+2, the school aims to better meet employers’ increasing demands for more diverse M.B.A. talent.

Google Inc. is one such employer and is partnering with Harvard. Recruits "have more idealistic goals than those traditionally associated with business school," says sales and operations director Kim Malone Scott. "Attracting these kind of diverse technical employees who also have an interest in business is really important to our continued growth and innovation," says Ms. Scott, who is based in the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. "We’re not driven by quarterly earnings and so it takes a person with a broad mind to succeed here."

Liberal-arts students generally lack exposure to what a graduate business degree can offer, says Andrea Mitchell Kimmel, associate director of M.B.A. admissions at Harvard Business School. "Lots of folks coming out of undergrad oftentimes will make a decision to pursue a graduate degree or take a job, and oftentimes those paths can be very limiting," she says. "What we’d like to do with the new program is talk to them earlier to open up their minds to the breadth of opportunities that exists in business."

"There’s a myth out there that business is putting on a gray flannel suit every day and going to a big office," adds Ms. Kimmel. "No one ever tells [undergrads] that business involves areas like nonprofits, government, education and social enterprise."

By providing deferred admission, 2+2 will also help Harvard Business School attract more women applicants, says Carl Kester, deputy dean for academic affairs. The demographic is one that M.B.A. programs in general have historically struggled to recruit. "Young women who are considering an M.B.A., but believe they need for five or six years of work experience before applying, are often faced with concerns about when they might start a family," he says. "By comparison, many professional-degree programs can be completed in less than five years."

Alberto Arroyo, 28 years old, says he didn’t seriously consider an M.B.A. while a psychology undergrad at Bluffton University from 1997 to 2001. "My desire was to be more psychology than business," he says. Instead, he opted to pursue a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology at Elmhurst College. Later he learned that the master’s program offers an option for students to complete an M.B.A. in just one year. He decided to enroll, he says, because, "if I want flexibility in my future, it gives me an opportunity to go another route."

To participate in Harvard’s 2+2 program, undergrads must apply by July 1 of their junior year, which costs a nonrefundable fee of $100. By comparison, the regular application process for the most recently admitted class was $235. Up to 90 students will be admitted to the Class of 2013 next fall, which will account for roughly 10% of Harvard Business School’s total student body that year.

More than 30 employers, including Google, have so far partnered with Harvard in helping 2+2 admits secure two-year long jobs at their organizations. An additional 70 are being targeted, says Ms. Kimmel. "Basically we’re putting them in touch with partners that want to see resumes from these particular people," she says. "These are leads. They are not guaranteed jobs."

The jobs students select must be approved by the business school, says Ms. Kimmel. "Since they have a coach from September of their senior year, we don’t envision that there will be a problem," she says.

In addition to Harvard, many other business schools have been making efforts to attract more diverse M.B.A. applicants by targeting undergrads.

For example, McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin has been running a deferred-admissions program for three years. Senior undergrads are paired with six large employers that agree to subsidize the cost of the M.B.A. program for qualified applicants. Admits are expected to work at the companies for two to three years after they graduate and before they can start classes.

Other schools, including undergraduate universities, are simply working on ways get more students thinking about careers in business. Among them is New York University, which offers business courses to undergraduate nonbusiness majors. And since 2000, the university has been running the Stern Advantage Program, a four-week introductory business course held during the summer for recent graduates of other universities.

Some business schools see little value in aggressively marketing the M.B.A. to undergrads. "We don’t necessarily support the idea of a two-year deferred admission," says Thomas Caleel, director of M.B.A. admissions and financial aid at The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania. "We would rather have them apply when they’re ready." Still, Wharton participates in about 100 events a year at various undergraduate schools to raise M.B.A. awareness and a select number of students are directly recruited from undergraduate programs. "The important question [students] need to ask is why is now the right time to attend business school," says Mr. Caleel.

— Ms. Needleman is associate editor at
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