What you get out of a business graduate program depends largely upon where you are in life and what you’ve accomplished so far. You are right to wonder how important real-world work experience is before you apply. The answer is simple: it’s important.
But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a requirement. If you already have work experience, you might be wondering if it’s worth it to go back to school at all. The answer depends on you, of course, but for many, an MBA degree can be the kick-start needed to switch a career into high gear.
Average Number of Years of Work Experience For MBA Applicants
There’s no getting around it, work experience might be a big plus if you are considering applying to an MBA degree program. Consider the information provided on the FAQ page for the INSEAD MBA Program:
INSEAD does not have an absolute requirement for years of work experience, although at least two years is strongly encouraged. Participants in our current class have an average of 5.5 years work experience, with the range being between two and ten. However, applicants with less experience who demonstrate exceptional maturity and outstanding leadership through their professional and personal experiences will also be considered.[i]
Similarly the Wharton School's MBA program webpage offers this insight into the average number of years of work experience that is typical of their MBA cohort:
The average student has worked for five or six years between graduating from college and entering the MBA program. The program does accept early career candidates with limited or no experience who exhibit strong managerial and professional potential.....[ii]
Why Do Admissions Committees Think that Work Experience is So Important?
The fact is, many professionals believe that you just won’t get as much out of business school if you haven’t gotten your hands dirty (so to speak). Significant time on the job can translate into an important indicator of qualities such as maturity, a dedicated work ethic, clear focus and professionalism. Working allows candidates to make mistakes and overcome them while at the same time seeing others in action. Part of your education as a business grad student comes from the rest of your class. The more real-world experience in the more industries the class has, the better the opportunity for quality learning from each other.
Despite the clear trend toward more work experience among the top business schools, many graduate programs, including online programs, do not have such a requirement and do in fact admit students right out of college or with little post-collegiate work experience. This might work for you. However, be aware that just because your program doesn’t have a work experience requirement, your lack of experience may come back to bite you with recruiters.
Are You Prepared to Apply to an MBA Program?
So what if you already have considerable experience in the business world? You may well be asking: “Should I go to business school at all?” What can you get out of getting an MBA if you are already out in the working world, getting experience and gaining promotions? Well, the most obvious benefit is that you may not be considered for some positions without an MBA as a matter of company policy. Likewise, salary increases may be capped for those without a business degree.
Other reasons for going to graduate school for business include the broad-based education you’ll get in business fundamentals—broader than what you may be able to get in one industry or track. The networking opportunities that come with a business degree are often outstanding as you’ll become a part of a community made up of fellow classmates, professors and alumni of your school. Business school can also give you leadership training that you just may not be able to get in your current job.
On the downside for those with work experience, in some ways, the more time away from college, the bigger the adjustment going back to school. You’ll have to learn to study again. You may have to seriously downsize your lifestyle as well since you may be counting pennies during school, especially if you go full-time. But if pursuing an MBA is right for you, these transitions are generally easily overcome, and well worth it in the end.
Ultimately, deciding when and if to get your MBA depends on you. Don’t ever underestimate what real experience can tell you about what you want to do. You may have ideas about a certain type of career or industry that you’ll find are completely and utterly wrong when you actually work in them.
When thinking about grad school, when is the best time to go is possibly the most important consideration of all. Working versus graduate school for business is not a light decision. Getting your MBA is an investment—make sure you get the most out of it that you can.
[i] mba.insead.edu/faq/AdmissionsRequirementsandSelectionCriteria.cfm#workexperience | [ii] mba.wharton.upenn.edu/admissions/admissions-faqs/