For college students who plan to someday pursue an MBA degree, what undergraduate major will most likely get them accepted into their top business school program? The answer depends on where they would like to get their MBA.
A 2016 analysis of the educational paths of more than 80,000 Earnest loan applicants shows that nearly half (48%) of all MBA graduates previously completed a degree in business. While this is the most common path overall, it’s not the only accepted undergraduate degree, nor the one most preferred by the top MBA programs.
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MBA Schools Are Looking for a Diverse Student Body
Based on our data, we created a typical (and hypothetical) MBA class of 500 students and looked at the previous degrees earned by each member. Nearly half—or 245—majored in business, with the most common specialties being finance, accounting, or marketing.
Undergraduate Degree Dispersion in Average MBA Class (Based on Earnest Data)
- Specialized business: 31%
- General business: 17%
- Liberal arts: 24%
- Sciences: 10%
- Engineering: 10%
- Other: 9%
Liberal arts majors made up the next largest cohort, with 120 students in the class of 500 having a background in the social sciences, humanities, or fine arts. The most common liberal arts majors were economics and political science; the class also included a wide range of majors with humanities degrees. Engineering and science majors made up a smaller share of this typical MBA class, with fewer than 100 students coming from these backgrounds.
What Undergraduate and Graduate Majors Are Studied Before an MBA Program?
Over the years, Business has become a more popular major overall, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 1971, the business major accounted for approximately 14% of bachelor’s degrees earned, but that percentage has risen since then. Since 2000, 20% of undergraduate degrees earned in the United States were business majors. One reason for the increase is that it’s viewed as a practical major for job readiness—and has increasingly become the default choice for many students.
However, as MBA admissions officers seek to build classes with diverse skill sets, applicants with backgrounds other than business are often more in demand. As reported in a 2012 story by Bloomberg, “The fastest-growing segment of bachelor’s degree holders applying to MBA programs is anathema to some top admissions officers: former business majors.”
Top MBA Program Statistics
Current class profiles of the nation’s top business schools show that the most selective programs tend to admit relatively fewer business majors.
For example, 37% of Harvard’s top-ranked MBA class of 2020 has a background in sciences, technology, or engineering (STEM), as compared with 20% for MBAs overall.
In Stanford’s second-ranked program, only 13% of the class of 2017 has a business major. Unsurprisingly, given the Palo Alto university’s ties to the technology industry, Stanford’s MBA class is also heavy on STEM majors, who comprise 39% of the class. A robust 48% hail from majors in the social sciences, humanities, and other areas of study.
There’s No ‘Best Major’ for Getting Your MBA
For undergraduates who are considering a top MBA degree program in the future, you might want to resist the urge to major in business as a default. If a STEM or liberal arts degree fascinates and challenges you, consider choosing it as a major. In addition to broadening your horizons, you just might improve your chances at getting into a top MBA program.