Entrepreneurs and the MBA Application Process

Businessman Ready To Chase His Vision

Entrepreneurship is a subject of increasing focus at many business school graduate programs. For instance, the entrepreneurship MBA is growing in popularity, and many MBA entrepreneurship centers are reaching out to more and more students. It’s clear that MBA programs appreciate entrepreneurs once they set foot on campus, but how does this translate to the application process? After all, two years of working experience is a common requirement for most MBA programs. But what if you’ve started your own business, and never worked for others for any significant time?

In general, entrepreneurs may benefit greatly from the networking, business training, and research centers found at many top MBA schools, but the application process may be a little different for them. While not all b-schools require work experience, most MBA programs require at least two years of working experience prior to admission, and defining this type of work may be difficult for students who have taken the path of entrepreneurship. How well does the entrepreneurial experience stack up against more traditional employment, and do entrepreneurs need to take on a more conventional job before applying to business schools?


To learn more about this topic, I reached out to Alex Brown, a business school admissions consultant who has worked for the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, the University of Delaware, and Southwark Consulting. He has also taught for the Graduate Management Admissions Council’s Professional Development Program.

Should entrepreneurs pursue a more traditional job for another organization before applying to graduate school?

The simple answer: no.

“While an MBA experience can be very helpful for an entrepreneur, in order to get a better understanding of business fundamentals and extend a network that can include potential customers and investors, there is no need to gain ‘non entrepreneurial’ experience before an MBA,” said Brown.

He went on to explain that an entrepreneur’s experiences could be very valuable context for the classroom. Entrepreneurs have typically worked directly with other people on their ventures, as well as engaged clients and other constituents. These experiences can add valuable insight to classroom discussions.

Brown added the caveat that entrepreneurs may have an issue with seeking recommendations (which most applicants would get from former supervisors). In this instance, Brown said that turning to clients or investors could be a good option for entrepreneurs seeking recommendations.

Are some MBA programs particularly good for entrepreneurs?

In general, the basic skills taught in any MBA program would benefit an entrepreneur.

“That being said, gaining access to the best MBA program an entrepreneur can will help her bolster her network with outstanding individuals, so I would suggest that getting into the best MBA program that is realistically possible should be the first priority,” said Brown.

Overall, business schools are realizing the importance of preparing entrepreneurs, and Brown noted an uptick in more “entrepreneurial resources” at many MBA programs. He recommends that entrepreneurs research programs to look at what they offer in terms of resources, access to venture funds, and other assets such as incubation centers. Programs at MIT and Berkeley Haas have dedicated entrepreneurship components. But Brown is quick to add that many programs could benefit the entrepreneurial students.

“But if I was an entrepreneur, and I was seeking an MBA, I would simply go to the very best I could gain acceptance,” said Brown.

What advantages may entrepreneurs have when pursuing an MBA program?

Lastly, entrepreneurs’ non-traditional experiences in the workplace may actually give them an advantage when applying to MBA programs.

“In terms of admissions, an entrepreneur has a unique story,” Brown said. “Entrepreneurs have typically faced failure, or the threat of failure, more so than those who chose a more traditional career.”

And this unique story may help out entrepreneurs in the applications process. Because entrepreneurs have had to assume significant leadership early on, as well as face real-world consequences for their business decisions, their experiences may resonate well with applications committees.

“All these experiences translate well to application stories, as well as experiences to bring to the classroom,” Brown said.

Overall, entrepreneurs can use their unique background, with all of its insights and challenges, to stand out in the application process. Their first-hand experience with startups, management, and client relations will likely add a lot of insight to classroom discussions. Entrepreneurs can benefit from refining their knowledge of businesses, and the MBA programs benefit from their unique real-world experiences.


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