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Why MBA Programs Want Work Experience

College classroom

After completing your undergraduate degree, it can be tempting to keep the momentum going and charge straight into an MBA program. However, many schools want you to have a year or two of work experience before applying. Why do so many business schools have this requirement? To learn more about why business schools believe work experience helps students succeed, I spoke with MBA professors and admissions professionals from some top programs.

Enrich Classroom Discussion

“When a student comes into the classroom with work experience, they enrich the discussion and share valuable experiences and perspectives with other students and faculty,” said Ingrid M. Martin, Director of Graduate Programs for the College of Business Administration at California State University.

She further explained that a lot of the learning in an MBA classroom involves the linking of theory and concepts to real-world business problems. Overall, having a classroom of students with diverse work backgrounds benefits everyone.

“Faculty knowledge and experience is enhanced by the experiences that working MBA students bring to the classroom,” said Martin.

Enhance Learning

Furthermore, students can understand MBA classroom materials better when they can draw on real-world examples from their own backgrounds.

“It also enhances the relevance of material discussed and read in class and helps make the connections between problems in different functional area easier to understand,” said Martin. “The MBA degree prepares students to solve business problems and the work experiences and issues that students bring to the class discussion frame the problems and create an opportunity to apply theories to real world challenges.”

Aid Admissions Process

In addition, work experience can help MBA admissions teams assemble each new class.

“The admissions committee at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Austin will evaluate applications relative to the entire applicant pool in a holistic manner,” said Rodrigo Malta, Director of Admission for the Texas MBA Program at the University of Texas at Austin. “Regarding work experience specifically, we strongly recommend that MBA applicants have a minimum of two years full-time, post-baccalaureate work experience. The admissions committee is especially interested in the quality of professional skills as shown by responsibility, leadership, supervision, and teamwork. The committee also considers the relevance of these skills to your intended course of study and your career goals.”

Increase Direction and Focus

Malta also added that work experience might help students have a better sense of direction in their studies.

“We believe the work experience between undergrad and an MBA helps students introspect on their aspirations and better identify gaps on their knowledge and professional development,” said Malta. “Students that have gone through this introspection process with a few years’ work experience under their belt will have a more defined direction and focus during their MBA studies leading to their academic and professional success in the program.”

Increase Confidence

Additionally, students who have experience in the working world may be more inclined to contribute to classroom discussions with valuable insight.

“What we have observed at McCombs is that students with high-quality work experience are more confident in sharing their opinions during class discussions and able to provide real-life examples, leading to a richer learning environment,” Malta said.

Enhance Collaboration

When a classroom is filled with students from diverse backgrounds, the interactions with your peers may be as insightful as your studies.

“For us at London Business School, work experience is not just an admissions requirement, it is an essential part of what makes our MBA experience great” said David Simpson, Admissions Director for MBA and Masters in Finance at London Business School.

“The quality of a candidate’s work experience is the most crucial element of any applicant’s profile. The learning experience at London Business School is highly collaborative. Students learn from their experienced peers alongside the outstanding faculty.” The students he oversees have an average of five years’ working experience.

“This is enough for them to bring in examples at a managerial level, so they can discuss the impact of decisions they have made, whether as a consultant at McKinsey, a banker at Goldman Sachs, or as a cardiac surgeon or an officer in the military,” said Simpson.

Bring Business to Life

Lastly, class work experience is a crucial resource for faculty who are attempting to generate a lively, informative classroom environment.

“We are looking for individuals who also have the confidence, self-awareness and desire to share their experiences with classmates,” said Simpson. “Our faculty know precisely who is in the class and what experience they have. They draw on this experience for a rich discussion that brings business to life.”

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About the Author


Lindsay Mack

Staff writer covering feature articles on higher management education issues and the MBA space in particular for MetroMBA.

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