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MBA Admissions: How Much Work Experience Do You Need?

Have you ever wondered how much work experience you need to get into B-school?

How does your work experience measure up to MBA admissions criteria at your top B-schools?

It seems like most B-school graduates have three to five years of work experience on average.

But wait a minute.

There’s a number of business schools looking for applicants with one to three years of work experience.

So how are you supposed to decide how much work experience is enough?

I get asked this question often by business school applicants like yourself.

And I sometimes notice that behind this question is a focus on costs.

mba admissions

The Cost of Too Little Work Experience

Some MBA applicants focus on the opportunity cost of going to B-school earlier rather than later.

A 2012 Bloomberg Businessweek even suggests that the decision to wait and get more work experience costs MBA applicants $112,000.

The article, which refers to a study conducted by Ronald Yeaple, states that MBA applicants lose $112,466 of income by age 30, if they work two years before going to business school.

The better option, according to Mr Yeaple, is to enroll in an MBA program right out of college.

MBA applicants can then avoid the net income loss associated with working for two years before enrolling into a business school program.

A number of business schools agree with Mr Yeaple and are actively courting college graduates into their programs.

Harvard Business School’s 2+2 Program, and other programs like it, are all designed to attract younger MBA applicants with less than three years of work experience.

The Opportunity Cost of Getting an MBA

Some MBA applicants focus on the opportunity cost of going to B-school versus staying in their current job.

They look at the income they’d lose by going to business school, plus their student loans, and it adds up to an even greater opportunity cost.

I understand why applicants focus on the opportunity costs (or the downside) of going to B-school.

That’s how I think too.

I’m always thinking about the costs or what I might lose if I do something.

But any discussion on costs should also include a discussion on return (or  upside).

What’s the return on investment from an MBA?

How does that compare to the cost?

Read my post on how to find out the return on your MBA investment to learn how to answer these questions.

But aside from the issue of cost, there’s an even bigger issue, which many B-school applicants miss.

The Right Amount of Work Experience

Most MBA applicants seem to focus on whether their backgrounds will ‘fit’ what they think business schools are looking for.

The problem with this approach is that you end up looking like everyone else who is applying.

It’s difficult to stand out when your profile looks like everyone else’s in the applicant pool.

In fact, you’re making it mucheasier for the admissions board to say ‘no’ after reading your application.

Work Experience

Whether B-schools are admitting more early career applicants versus applicants with more work experience, the people who get accepted have one thing in common.

Their work experience, or lack of, fits with their story.

In their B-school applications, they told the admissions board why they want to go to B-school. And why they need the MBA. From that particular school.

And their work experience fit with their story.

If they told a story that wasn’t a good fit with their work experience, then how would they get accepted?

So, what does all this mean for you?

Next Steps

I’ve given you some tips about how to think about how much work experience you might need before applying for an MBA.

What do you think? Did you find this article helpful?

Leave a comment on our Facebook page with your thoughts on any challenges you’re facing in this area or any stories you’ve heard about this topic.

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