Can an MBA boost your impact and career?

In October, Curtis Chang at the Stanford Social Innovation Review shared a few management tips for nonprofit leaders based on lessons taught in MBA programs. While he notes the challenges in pursuing an MBA – including cost and time – we know that many people are considering graduate school to help them develop these skills and we are excited to see that MBA programs are expanding their offerings to include a greater focus on social impact. To explore this topic more, we’ve invited Net Impact — a nonprofit that helps business school students and professionals leverage their talent for social change — to share more about the growth of these programs and how we might use them to increase our impact.

By Kyle Skahill

Net Impact, Business as UNusual

If you’ve never really thought an MBA could help you amplify your impact, consider this: more and more business schools are restructuring their programs and incorporating sustainability and social impact issues into their curriculum. In fact, the number of programs featured in Business as UNusual, our guide to impact MBA programs, has grown 170% since we first started publishing it in 2006. That means the tools, opportunities, and connections you gain from today’s impact MBA programs offer newfound potential to create the change you want to see.

Here are a few other ways an MBA might help you advance your career and ability to make a difference:

1)     Expand your impact opportunities

Innovative cross-sector collaborations are opening new avenues for change, so a working understanding of other sectors may be an eye-opener. Business models are changing rapidly, from the rise of B-corporations to unconventional start-ups to cross-sector partnerships – so options abound post-graduation for nontraditional integration of business skills into your career for good.

Who knows, you might even discover opportunities you never considered. Kirsten Tobey was a teacher focusing on experiential education when she realized her interests were increasingly drawn to the bigger-picture issues around food accessibility. So she enrolled in business school, attended a cross-disciplinary product design class, and graduated with the idea for Revolution Foods, which has now served more than 50 million healthy meals to school children nationwide.

This year’s Business as UNusual suggests Kirsten isn’t alone: while entering MBA students came largely from traditional corporations and nonprofits, students’ aspirations post-MBA shifted markedly to include start-ups, social enterprise, and other mission-driven companies (see graphic). It’s clear that the MBA experience opened students’ eyes to a wider set of paths toward making change.

2)     Build your impact-making skills

Nonprofits demand leadership, innovative thinking, and responsive problem solving skills if they expect to make progress on the world’s most serious issues. And they need hard skills like project management, finance, and strategy to galvanize that progress. MBA programs incorporating social and environmental issues give students the chance to develop those skills, while applying them to the issues they care about most.

As one Business as UNusual student respondent wrote about his program, “a deep dive into sustainability through all sectors of the curricula, as well as leadership development, prepares one to implement social and environmental policy in business, one’s community, and our planet’s future.”

But in addition to your own skill building, an understanding of the models and language fundamental to the business sector will be an asset in conversations with partners, sponsors, and stakeholders. Dan Winterson, program director at the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, describes his work on initiatives like the foundation’s Forever Costa Rica effort involving multiple funders and NGOs. “We talk about applying Wall Street principles to conservation because it’s a big project to finance,” he explains. “It’s a big ‘deal,’ essentially, where there are number of conditions that need to be in place before the deal can close. That’s an example where a business background and financial skills are crucial. And I think you see more and more of that in the environmental conservation field.”

3)     Build a network for lifelong impact

The fact remains that a large part of business school’s clout rests on the students and alumni you meet and the doors that this cadre of professionals can open for you. And if you’re an aspiring impact-maker, you’ll find more like-minded students in your MBA cohort than ever before. In this year’s guide, 77% of business students reported that their peers are also prioritizing impact careers in their post-graduation job search. These contacts often translate into future volunteers, partners, employees, and donors instrumental to your organization’s continued viability.

On the first day of that cross-disciplinary product design class, Kirsten Tobey had already started thinking about how to get students eating healthier. So when a classmate – who would become her future business partner – held up a less-than-nutritious lunch she’d just purchased and wondered if there was a better alternative, it was kismet. “We looked at each other across the room,” says Kirsten, “and that was the beginning of a great friendship and partnership.”

With so many MBA programs addressing social and sustainability issues (Business as UNusual 2012 features more than one hundred) to choose from, it’s safe to say that business school is no longer the exclusive domain of the corporate world. The b-school now offers social sector professionals a way to build valuable networks, hone critical skills, and discover new opportunities for impact – and that is a change for the best.

Kyle Skahill is the Community Program Fellow at Net Impact, a leading nonprofit empowering a new generation of leaders to work for a sustainable future. Business as UNusual, the organization’s annual guide to impact MBA programs, can be downloaded free at:

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How your AmeriCorps experience can help you in graduate school

This is the last post in our series about finding, applying, and paying for graduate school. Read all of the posts in the series.  Be sure to visit our Graduate School Resource Center and attend a free Grad School Fair near you!

In this piece, Adam Donaldson, Member Services Director at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, reflects on how his AmeriCorps experience helped him graduate school.  Adam graduated in 2006 with a Masters in Public Policy and Nonprofit Management from Johns Hopkins University.  Prior to graduate school, Adam committed five years to volunteer service, including AmeriCorps with City Year Columbus ’99-’00, Peace Corps Uzbekistan ’01, AmeriCorps with City Year Rhode Island ’02, and Peace Corps Jamaica ’02-’04. 

By Adam Donaldson

In 2004, I began a graduate degree program in Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University by attending the prototype university-cafeteria hamburger cook-out. While dodging bees and balancing my paper plate and slippery soda can, I was introduced to faculty and my new classmates. As I went through the jitters of meeting all the new people, I discovered that not one, not two, but several students were AmeriCorps alums – myself included.

Photo credit: St. Bernard Project, Creative Commons/Flickr


Looking back, my academic experience was enriched by the presence of service alumni.  The AmeriCorps alums were uniquely prepared for graduate school because 1) they could apply research and theory readily to real-world situations and 2) they had more academic focus triggered by their service experience.  During graduate school you learn as much from your peers as the research faculty at the front of the class. In addition to the ubiquitous group exercises, your peers will share independent research and challenge you with their thinking.

I have been lucky enough to complete two terms of service in both City Year, an AmeriCorps program, and Peace Corps.  While attending graduate school, I was a Shriver Peaceworker Fellow, a service-learning program that integrates study, community service, and ethical reflection. While studying education and social policy, I was learning in real time how policies effected the high-poverty youth in the mentoring program I lead at my service placement.  I was putting new evaluation skills to work on my own program.

Meanwhile, while studying welfare reform I could learn from an AmeriCorps VISTA alum about the challenges of families with no bank or credit history.  While studying the difference between direct and block grants, I could learn from an AmeriCorps NCCC alum about the utilization of Homeland Security grants for disaster response.  You can claim that my peers’ experiences are particular to the Public Policy degree, but I would invite MBAs, engineers, and poets to share how service alumni enriched their academic program.

More and more colleges and graduate schools are looking to match the Education Award in order to attract applicants with service history. Look for these opportunities and other service programs at universities.  You will not regret it.

AmeriCorps Alums is the only national network convening the alumni of all AmeriCorps national service programs. Since 2005, AmeriCorps Alums has been an enterprise of Points of Light dedicated to building a community of experienced volunteer leaders committed to a lifetime of service.  To hear more about how fellow AmeriCorps Alums’ service experiences affected their grad school decisions, please join AmeriCorps Alums today at noon ET for their webinar on Choosing a Grad School Concentration by registering here. Learn more about AmeriCorps Alum at

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How to find and land a scholarship for graduate school

It’s back-to-school time! To help you prepare, each Tuesday over the next few weeks, we’re featuring advice on finding, applying, and paying for graduate school. You can read all of our posts in this series here. Want more information? Be sure to visit our Graduate School Resource Center and attend a free Grad School Fair near you!

In this piece, Ines Sucre, Reference/Outreach Librarian at the Foundation Center provides resources and tips for finding and landing scholarships for graduate school.

by Ines Sucre, Reference/Outreach Librarian, Foundation Center

At the Foundation Center, we tell people who are researching and applying for scholarships to think about the process as a part-time job; one they will have throughout the two, four, six, or more years of graduate education. Starting the process early, setting up a well-organized system to process scholarship search results, prepare applications or essays, and handle follow-up with funders will help make this job easier and more fruitful.

Scholarship process over your head? Follow these tips to stay organized and find great opportunities (Photo credit: JuditK, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Searching for the Right Opportunity

According to the College Board (Trends in Student Aid 2011), total graduate student aid for the 2010-2011 school year was $49.6 billion. You can find scholarship opportunities by digging into the following resources:

Government Grants and Student Loans

U.S. citizens and residents are eligible for federal and state financial aid in the form of grants and subsidized loans. The Free Application for Student Aid–or FAFSA–is required (annually) your eligibility for the following: Federal Pell Grant, Teach Grant, Military Service aid, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and Federal student loans. Learn more about FAFSA and government grants at: Federal Student Aid

Institutional Financial Aid

In 2010, foundations gave over $835 million to institutions of higher education and other nonprofits for scholarship funds, fellowships, and other education grants.

Colleges and universities have the means to provide financial aid packets to entering students. Find out what might be available to you by visiting the financial aid web sites of the schools you are researching and planning to apply to. Request an appointment, by phone or in person, with the financial aid office.

In addition, different departments, faculty associations, or alumni groups within a college or university may offer scholarships of their own. It isn’t always easy to find out about these, as they may not be well publicized. Start by asking a professor in the department that offers your course of study whether there is a scholarship for students in your major and, of course, the financial aid office.

Foundation and Employer Scholarships

For finding foundation scholarships, The Foundation Center’s training, databases, podcasts, and online resources can help you to streamline the work:

Getting Started

With so many opportunities, it’s important to make yourself a competitive candidate and stay organized. When you’re ready to apply, keep the following tips in mind:


  • Perseverance is key: if you don’t succeed the first application, you have a much higher chance of succeeding the next time you apply so don’t miss deadlines or don’t apply at all
  • Small scholarships are easier to obtain and are useful in attracting other funders and adding prestige to your resume.
  • Don’t ignore scholarships that are by nomination only. Ask professors, or supervisors to nominate you.
  • Create separate electronic or paper files for each scholarship, organized by deadlines.
  • Tailor each application to each funder’s specifications. To improve the focus of your responses, carefully read directory profiles and web sites (when available) to learn about the aims and goals of each funder.
  • When writing, be specific and give examples. Tell a real story related to funder’s questions. Make your writing engaging.

Following Up

  • Send a thank-you letter immediately upon receiving news of the award.
  • During the semester, write your funders, telling them how your studies and extracurricular activities are going. This will help when trying to get a renewal of the grant.
  • If you receive a rejection, send a thank-you letter anyway, thanking readers for their time. Request comments from reviewers; you may get some useful feedback.

Have questions about the process or have some resources or tips you want to share? Leave them in the comments!

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Heading to graduate school? Here are 5 tips on managing student loans

It’s back-to-school time! To help you prepare, each Tuesday over the next few weeks, we’re featuring advice on finding, applying, and paying for graduate school. Read our first post on three good reasons (and one bad reason) to go to grad school and our second post on finding the perfect graduate degree program. Want more information? Be sure to visit our Graduate School Resource Center and attend a free Grad School Fair near you!

In this piece,  student loan expert Heather Jarvis shares tips on how to manage your undergrad loans and make sense of your graduate school loans. You can also learn more by listening to our podcasts on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and Income Based Repayment Plan.

by Heather Jarvis

Get the help you need to understand your student loans (Photo credit: Phillip Taylor PT, Creative Commons/Flickr)

If you’re thinking of grad school, here’s what you need to know to get a grip on those student loans.

1.  Start by pulling together your student loan information.

Many of us borrowed to finance undergraduate school.  It makes sense to take an inventory of what you’ve got before starting graduate school.  That will help you decide what you can afford.  You’ll find all your federal student loans listed in the National Student Loan Data System and you can check for those pesky private student loans by pulling a free copy of your credit report from

2.  Understand when your first payment is due.

Most student loans have a six-month grace period before you have to start making payments.  In most cases, Class of 2012 grads will start paying around November or December.  If you enroll in graduate school, you can postpone your payments while you are taking at least a half-time course load using an “in-school deferment”.

Student loans only ever have one grace period.  If the six-month grace period on your undergrad loans expires before you go to grad school, payment will be expected on those loans right after you’re done with your grad program (although borrowers can typically secure a forbearance to postpone payment if necessary).  Your new grad school loans will have their own grace period.

Some undergraduate loans include an interest subsidy so that the government pays the interest during in-school deferment (for example while you are in your graduate program).  But many of us also have unsubsidized loans, and interest on those loans will keep adding up whether or not you’re in school.

Sadly, nobody can get subsidized loans for grad school anymore and interest starts to accrue straight away.  Unless you make payments as you go, your debt will be increasing the whole time you are in school.  Yikes.  Borrow as little as you can, and consider whether you can afford to pay some of all of the interest that accrues while you are in school–you’ll save yourself some big bucks!

3.  Decide whether consolidation makes sense for you.

Heads up Idealists!  Consolidation allows you to group your loans together into the Federal Direct Loan program.  That’s important because only Federal Direct loans are eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. But be careful deciding whether to consolidate Perkins loans, because they have their own cancellation provisions that would be lost upon consolidation.

Student loan borrowers can consolidate either before or after grad school, but not while you are enrolled.  The decision depends on your particular situation.  Get a sense about how consolidation might work in your circumstances using the free personalized assessment offered on GLAdvisor’s site.

4.  Choose your own repayment plan.

If you’ll be out of school beyond your grace period, you’ll need to start making payments (although you can postpone repayment while in grad school).

Choosing a repayment plan can be confusing, but if you don’t choose a repayment plan within 45 days of being notified, your loan servicer will automatically put you into a “standard” repayment plan, and that might or might not be the best plan for you.

If you need reduced monthly payments (for example during a job search), consider the income driven repayment options.  Income-Based Repayment is available now and is a good option for people with low income compared to student loan debt.  Monthly payments are based on a percentage of income so that when you don’t earn a lot, your payments are low.  You’ll need to determine which repayment options are available to you, and evaluate which of the available options provides the most benefits.

Use the Department of Education’s calculators to estimate how much you’ll pay under the different repayment plans.

5.  Know where to go with questions.

Your loan “servicer” handles the billing and administration for your loan (find out your servicer on the National Student Loan Data System).  You can get in touch with your school’s financial aid office.  Some of my favorite sites include:

  • (terrific site especially for borrowers struggling financially)
  • (comprehensive information and some really spiffy calculators)
  • GLAdvisor (student loan management and financial advice for hire; I do some consulting for them)
  • (My site!  Loads of info on Public Service Loan Forgiveness and more)


About the Author

Heather Jarvis

Former capital defense attorney and long-time public service advocate Heather Jarvis dedicates herself to helping students make informed decisions about their student loans.

Since 2005, Heather has helped more than an estimated 25,000 students understand and overcome college debt through in-person and online trainings and resources.

Want to learn more about Public Service Loan Forgiveness?  Heather provides free tools and information for student loan borrowers and the people who love them at

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Attending an Idealist Graduate School Fair? Here’s what you need to know

Connect with programs and friends at an Idealist Grad Fair (Photo Credit: Joanna/Staff)

One of the most important aspects of applying to graduate school is selecting the programs that are best suited towards your career goals and needs as a student. To help you narrow down which programs are best for you, we’re hosting 17 Graduate School Fairs around the country, starting this week in New York City.

However, we know that attending a fair and connecting with hundreds of people and potential programs can be a bit overwhelming. To cut through the confusion, we’ve outlined how to make the most out of attending an Idealist Grad Fair:

Do your homework

Before the fair, identify which attending programs and graduate schools you’re most interested in and scout them out. Review graduate school websites and other resources, like Idealist’s Grad Fair Resource Center, to give you a better sense of what the schools and programs are like, and which ones may interest you more. Doing your research will help you identify the schools you’ll want to speak with and get more information from on the day of the fair.

Prepare questions to ask representatives. Asking questions can help determine if a program fits your interests and goals. For example, you may want to know how the admission process works, what courses the program offers, or what the student life is like.

And, don’t forget to RSVP! This ensures you’ll get the most out of a fair by allowing representatives to have enough informational materials for all attendees. If you’re interested in attending an Grad Fair you can click here to RSVP today.

The big day

Now that you’re prepared and ready to find yourself a school remember these few tips on the day of the grad fair:

  • Dress casually, but appropriately. Remember, you still want to make a good first impression.
  • Arrival early to give yourself plenty of time. Take a moment to check out your surroundings and pick up a map if available. If you’ve done your research and know which schools you’re interested in head toward those first.
  • Be prepared to answer questions. Representatives might be curious to why you’re thinking about graduate school, what degree you are looking to pursue, or when you plan on attending.
  • Network. Use this as an opportunity to get representatives direct contact information. This gives you the ability to ask follow up questions or get in contact with someone from that school in the future.
  • Take advantage of the free workshops or informational sessions, like the Q & A sessions that are held at Idealist Grad Fairs every year. These can range from guest speakers to a panel of experts who are there with the best intentions to help you.

After you’ve attended remember to follow up with any additional contacts, and if you have further questions get a hold of one of the many representatives you spoke with at the fair. Good luck on your graduate school hunting, and we hope to see you at one of our 17 Idealist Grad Fairs across the country this fall!

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Are you thinking about grad school? Idealist can help!

With a new school year just around the corner (so long, summer!), now is the perfect time to start thinking about if graduate school is the right next step for you.  Idealist is here to help by hosting a series of Grad Fairs throughout the fall.

Talk to admissions representatives from graduate schools from around the country. (Photo Credit: Staff Photo/Julia Smith)

Starting in September, we’ll visit 17 cities across the United States so you can meet with representatives from hundreds of colleges and universities.  At a Grad Fair, you’ll learn about the admissions process, financial aid, and degree programs in nonprofit management, public health, public policy, social work, education, international affairs, and many other fields.  This is the perfect opportunity to explore how graduate school might help you strengthen your skill set, grow your network, and advance your career in social change.

Grad Fairs are free and open to the public.

To RSVP for a Grad Fair near you, click a city below:

Thursday, September 13 – New York
Wednesday, September 19 – Boston
Thursday, September 20 – Providence
Thursday, September 27 – Baltimore
Friday, September 28 – Washington, DC
Monday, October 1 – Philadelphia
Monday, October 3 – Toronto
Monday, October 8 – Denver
Tuesday, October 9 – Minneapolis
Thursday, October 11 – Chicago
Thursday, October 18 – Los Angeles
Friday, October 19 – San Francisco
Tuesday, October 23 – Seattle
Wednesday, October 24 – Portland
Monday, October 29 – Houston
Tuesday, October 30 – New Orleans
Thursday, November 1 – Miami

Have questions about the Grad Fairs? Visit our FAQ page for Graduate School Seekers or leave a comment below! And be sure to check out our tips for Graduate School Seekers to ensure you get the most out of our fairs.

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Considering grad school? Explore your options at an Idealist Grad Fair


A friendly recruiter chats up a prospective student at an Idealist Grad Fair. (Photo: Jung Fitzpatrick)

School may be out (or almost out) for the summer, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on your radar. We’re kicking off the summer with two Idealist Grad Fairs and you’re invited! As always, the fairs are free, open to the public, and geared toward people who want to make a difference through their careers.

Learn more and RSVP:

Why attend our summer fairs?

Come beat the heat in air conditioned spaces – ones that are slightly more intimate than the fairs we host in New York and DC in September, which tend to draw huge crowds. You’ll have a chance to talk one-on-one with admissions folks from about 60 different programs, and mingle with people who are looking to further their education, achieve their career goals, and make a lasting impact on the world.

Bonus: You’ll be a step ahead of your peers by attending a summer fair. That’s three months before the fall Idealist Grad Fair season begins, and gives you lots of time to prepare applications for 2013! The early bird gets the worm, right?

Can’t make it to New York or DC?

Don’t fret if you can’t make it to either of the summer fairs. We have 17 more planned for the fall 2012 Idealist Grad Fair season, from Boston to Denver to Miami. Check out the full lineup and please spread the word to your friends in those cities who may be considering grad school.

Hope to see many of you at the fairs!

Thanks to Kevin Kennedy, our Events and Communications Intern, for this post – and for all of your hard work supporting the Idealist Grad Fairs.

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Grad Fairs in Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Chapel Hill


Friendly admissions professionals want to get to know you in person. (Staff photo/J. Smith)

It’s time for our final four graduate degree fairs of 2011:

All of these events are free and open to the public, so please feel free to spread the word! The better our turnout at these fairs, the more likely we’ll be able to bring these free events back to the South in future years.

What happens at an Idealist Grad Fair? You get to meet admissions representatives from all sorts of programs that can help you further your social impact career – from education and social work to nonprofit administration and public policy to journalism and public interest law. Figure out how to make yourself a competitive candidate and clear up any questions about financial aid.

If you’re in one of these areas, we hope to see you this month!

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Idealist Grad Fairs coming to Denver, West Coast, South!


See you Thursday, Denver. (Photo: Larry Johnson, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Thinking about going to graduate school to further your career and make a social impact?

We’re bringing Idealist Grad Fairs to 18 cities this fall. Here are the next six. Click on a city name for details and to RSVP:

All of the fairs are free, open to the public, and feature a free Q&A panel about admissions and financial aid from 6:00-7:00pm. See the rest of the season lineup at

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