The skills that MBAs acquire in business school can benefit any organization — government and nonprofit, hospitality, the arts, education. While most female MBA graduates seek jobs in finance, consulting, or products and services, many follow non-traditional career paths after getting their degrees.  

Entrepreneurship is also a popular career option. A 2015 Graduate Management Admission Council report revealed that 22 percent of women in the MBA class of 2014 expected to be self-employed following graduation.

Owning the career switch

Lee Gonzalez’s post-college career path on Wall Street was traditional, especially for someone with an undergraduate degree in Economics and Finance from the University of Pennsylvania. After three years as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, however, Gonzalez did something unexpected. She moved to Barcelona and opened two hostels with her sister. While there, Gonzalez completed a 10-month MBA program at INSEAD. Although at first it shared similarities to her undergraduate education, she discovered a curriculum that “made much more sense after gaining concrete business experience.”

After INSEAD, Gonzalez and her sister sold their hostels and moved back to the United States. In 2014, the sisters tried their hands at entrepreneurship again and opened The Local, a hostel, bar and café in Queens with 15,000-square-feet, 150 beds, 20 professionals and $2.5 million in annual revenue. As a frequent traveler and patron of hostels, Gonzalez says she felt she “could run them better.”

'“My MBA experience pushed me to develop sides of myself that did not come naturally.”'

By all accounts, she has succeeded. Hostelworld recently named The Local one of its Top 20 Best Large Hostels in the world.                                                    

A more rounded education

With a degree in English from College of the Holy Cross and a prior role in education, Kathleen Quirk may not sound like a typical MBA. However, as chief of staff to the superintendent of Partnership Schools — a school management organization serving 2,100 disadvantaged students in New York City — she now applies the skills developed earning her MBA from Duke University every day.

Quirk’s early jobs solidified her interest in education. Those included the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in west Oakland, CA, a nine-month program focused on public policy as a Coro fellow in New York City, serving as special assistant to Chancellor Joel I. Klein at the New York City Department of Education, and consulting for Cambridge Leadership Associates.

In that last role, Quirk realized that she needed traditional core skills in business to develop a more well-rounded career. “My MBA experience pushed me to develop sides of myself that did not come naturally,” she says.

Quirk’s atypical path combines graduate business studies with her passion for education. The latter is especially necessary in her current role at Partnership Schools, where, as she says many around her feel, she works to solve “the social justice issue of our time.”