Can you succeed in an MBA program with an arts and humanities background?

One sunny afternoon in July, I took a GMAT study guide off the shelf in my local bookstore and skimmed a few pages. I immediately closed it, put it back on the shelf, and said, “Nope!”

If you’ve ever considered an MBA, but shied away (like me) at the idea of all the regressions and analyses, hear me out. Since the MBA is a degree that is very quantitative in nature, what does that mean for those of us with an arts and humanities – a.k.a., qualitative – background?

Can you do it?

Should you?

Here are my thoughts after nearly two years in the Goizueta part-time MBA program:

  • Put simply, your alternative perspective is needed. If you’re a creative thinker, you may tend to have different, “outside the box” opinions from the rest of the team. In Professor Perry-Smith’s Leading Groups and Teams course, we learned that research shows having a contrarian opinion among the group helps the team come up with a better-quality solution to the problem at hand. Your team needs your creative and different perspective to perform better.
  • You’ll learn to speak a valuable, new language. No, I don’t mean German. If you’re the intuitive type, chances are you have presented an idea to your boss that went something like this: “I think losing ‘X’ employee was bad for the company,” but perhaps you couldn’t say why. If you felt written off, imagine learning to speak a language where those same idea looks like this: “I suspected our profits were down because of lack of employee engagement, so I dug a little deeper and found that employee turnover caused us to lose $15,000 in revenue last fiscal year. Here’s the data.” Now you have his or her attention! Learning to speak the quantitative language gives you more credibility and clout.
  • The “everything but the assignment” contributions are surprisingly valuable to your team mates. For example, if you have artistic skills, they can really come in handy when the group needs someone to spruce up the PowerPoint slides for your deliverable. In times when I felt I didn’t contribute enough to the quantitative parts of our team assignments, I was surprised by comments like these: “I relied heavily on your organizational skills [to ensure we met deadlines]” and “[Y]ou spent considerable time revisiting our team work and adding depth to our analysis, [which] greatly improved our deliverable and set the standard for our subsequent assignments.”

I am so glad that, after I put that GMAT book back on the shelf, I found one for the GRE, took a deep breath, and got to work. To my fellow creative friends out there: don’t write off the MBA degree or sell yourself short in a quantitative environment. You are an important – and needed – contributor. I won’t “sugar coat” the truth and tell you that it is easy, because it is definitely not. However, it really CAN be done, and you and your teammates will both be enriched because of your involvement.

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Ashley Freeman

Ashley Freeman is a class of 2018 Evening MBA student and an independent leadership coach and speaker. In her free time, she loves crocheting, traveling, teaching French, piano and cello lessons, and spending time with her husband and pet bird. Connect with Ashley on Twitter (@AshleyFCoaching), Instagram (@AshleyFreemanCoaching) or on LinkedIn.

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