5. MBA Work Experience

MBA Work Experience

The application essays address the type of work experience you have.  Admissions officers also consider the amount.

Most of you know that the average number of years of full-time work experience has risen dramatically at the top B-schools. Schools that only recently averaged two or three years now average five. And that number keeps rising.

You don't want to apply too early. I have many ambitious students in my GMAT classes who insist on taking their shot at the brass ring with only two years of full-time work experience. (And that's by the time they would enter school, not when they plan to apply.) Although some of them are exceptionally bright and do well on the GMAT, very few of them make it into top-tier programs. Most end up "trading down" to a backup school or getting rejected altogether.

I have to admit that I agree with admissions officers who reject inexperienced applicants. The whole objective in assembling a business school class is to put together people who can share unique experiences from their industries. If you have two years in your industry and another applicant has five years in the same business, I'm going to take the more experienced candidate over you, even if his GMAT score is a little lower than yours.

But That Won't Happen to Me!

I know, you're different. You think your 720 GMAT and 3.6 GPA will get you into Wharton. After all, you have almost two years at Salomon. But look at the numbers. Only two percent of last year's class at Wharton had less than two years of full-time work experience. That means 15 people out of 8,300 applicants (one of the highest acceptance rates out there). That gives you a 1-in-553 chance.

Be serious. Wait until you have at least three years (by the time you would enter). I have had a few students who have gotten into top programs (including Wharton) with only two years of experience, but they were the exceptions to the rule. The vast majority of inexperienced applicants get the ax and have to reapply the following year with a lame story about why they were rejected previously.

And, by the way, you don't get to apply from ground zero the year after you have been rejected. At many schools all you are allowed to submit is an updated information form and a single essay explaining what has changed in your life since you last applied.

What if I Changed Jobs?

I hear this question a lot and I've heard a number of admissions officers address it—enough that I'm finally starting to discern a pattern among their answers. The general opinion seems to be that changing jobs isn't a problem, especially if the change involves some kind of promotion. But "job churning" is frowned upon because the admissions people want you to have more than just a surface understanding of your industry. You need to bring a certain amount of expertise to the classroom, and changing jobs every six months will make it difficult to develop an in-depth understanding of a specific industry.

So try to stick with one job (or, at least, one industry) for a year or two. Otherwise you won't have much to offer a school.

Next: (6) MBA Recommendations

The 7 Criteria

You won't be admitted to a top-tier MBA school without a pretty decent GMAT number. The schools' own statistics prove this simple truth.

GMAT Score

It's common for applicants with great essays but only acceptable GMAT scores to beat out candidates with higher numbers.

MBA Essays

When you submit your application can be as important as what you say in it.  At the elite schools, you'd better be in one of the first two rounds.

MBA Application Timeline

Undergrad GPA is not as important as most applicants believe. But there's a caveat: if your math grades suck it will pay to do some work.

MBA Undergrad GPA

This isn't the type of experience you have at work, it's the amount. As applications rise, schools want students with more experience

MBA Work Experience

Recommendations are often a better reflection of the recommender than of the applicant. I think they should be dumped.

MBA Recommendations

Interviews can be very important, but their impact varies widely from school to school—and some schools don't use them at all.

MBA Interviews