Study: MBA Programs Full Of Non-Biz Types

Photo by CollegeDegrees360, on Flickr

Photo by CollegeDegrees360, Flickr

Even if you’re planning to get your MBA someday, that doesn’t mean you need to major in business. In fact, a new analysis shows that while nearly half of all U.S. MBAs have an undergraduate degree in business, that number is significantly lower at the top-ranked programs.

Earnest Inc., a personal and student loan company, researched the educational paths of more than 80,000 loan applicants and found that 48% of MBA graduates in the U.S. completed an undergraduate degree in business, while 28% majored in the arts, and 10% majored in the sciences. But in top MBA programs (based on the U.S News and World Report 2017 ranking), the percentage of business majors dropped dramatically. Only 13% of Stanford Graduate School of Business’ MBA class of 2017 has an undergraduate business degree, for example, while 48% of the class comes from the social sciences and humanities, and 39% from STEM.

Other top schools appear to be closer to, but still below, the national average. At Harvard, 41% of the class of 2018 has an undergraduate degree in business or economics. The actual percentage of those who have a degree in business may be much lower, however, as Earnest counts economics under arts, humanities, and social sciences.  

Earnest Inc. breakdown of business, arts, and STEM majors in top MBA programs. Courtesy image.

Earnest Inc.’s breakdown of business, arts, and STEM majors in top MBA programs. Courtesy image


MBAs make up a large part of the client base for Earnest, which was founded in 2013, says Lian Chang, data visualization designer and data lead for the new study. Because it is a data-driven company — and to help prove they can responsibly pay off a loan — Earnest asks loan applicants for data about their lives, their career trajectory, and their financial behavior.

“Oftentimes we are looking at students and recent grads. Doing an analysis like this is just an extension of that,” Chang says. “We hope it’s interesting for people who are heading into their undergraduate degrees, or who are already there and are wondering if certain majors will limit their future options. And, it turns out, you should study what you’re interested in, and it won’t limit your options very much at all.”


Chang says she hopes Earnest’s analysis will be useful for people who are thinking about getting an MBA. It shows what kind of people they’ll get to study with, and helps encourage those from varied educational backgrounds to apply.

“If you’re applying and you’re coming from a major that’s less often represented in these programs, what the schools are saying is that it’s not a bad thing,” Chang says. “So if someone is thinking about making a shift in their career, and are wondering if they’re going to be at a disadvantage, we’re finding that they’re not.”


Earnest Inc. breakdown of the average MBA class composition. Courtesy image


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