The Chronicle of Higher Education’s article "Business Schools Take More Students Straight Out of College" explores the changing world of MBA admissions for younger applicants. It isn’t revolutionary, but an evolutionary change. Since The Chronicle is a subscription only site, I am going to summarize and highlight elements in the story and then provide my thoughts.
The article focuses on several schools, including Rochester, Tepper, Harvard, Stanford, and UT Austin that have been encouraging applications from early career applicants, generally defined as those with two or less years of full-time work experience. The proponents of early career applicants in business school feel that by encouraging these potential applicants business schools will:
- Increase the percentage of women and under-represented minorities in the MBA classroom.
- Attract the ambitious, directed college grads who don’t want to wait to finish their education.
Not all schools have joined the youth movement. For example, Kellogg’s Director of Admissions, Beth Flye, is quoted in the article as saying that Kellogg prefers applicants "with significant work experience."
There is no question that more younger applicants are applying, or at least taking the GMAT earlier. GMAC reports "The under-24 group represented 17% of test takers in 2004-5 and had climbed to 27% two years later."
Let’s keep this trend in perspective. On one hand Stanford GSB has doubled or tripled the percentage of applicants with less than two years of experience in its class from roughly 1-2% to 5%. But that’s still only 5% of its entire class. HBS earlier indicated that it intends for its 2+2 program to comprise in the future roughly 10% of its class. That means that its 2+2 participants will have two years of experience and still be no more than 10% of the class.
Furthermore, the article expresses concern about inexperienced applicants being able to contribute to projects and classroom discussions with 32-year-olds who might have ten years of full-time work experience. Finally, the younger MBA students themselves admit to difficulty getting jobs. Serdar Sikca, a 24-year-old first-year MBA student at Vanderbilt, is also the founder of the YoungMBA blog. He started b-school straight from college, and he advises younger applicants "to do their own networking for internships and jobs, because campus career centers are often geared toward traditional students who are 28 and have four years of work experience."
As if to prove his point, Brooks, another author on YoungMBA writes, in today’s post:
"To sum up, try to have an idea of what field you would like to get into after earning your MBA. If you find out that these jobs require work experience, then go work for a few years after finishing up college. Reflecting back on my personal experience, if I had known (in college) that I would be pursuing Investment Banking during b-school, then I probably would have gotten a few years of work experience before going to b-school; however I wasn’t even considering a career in finance until my first week at Owen."
Excellent advice. Having at least a couple of years of full-time work experience will enable most students to benefit more from their MBA studies. Having prior full-time work experience will also probably make you more appealing to potential employers.
So if you are a college junior or senior chomping at the bit to apply to b-school, take a good, hard look at your qualifications and options. Do you have excellent grades and test scores? Have you had work experience — either part-time jobs or internships? Do you really know what you want to do after you earn your MBA? Is your target profession open to MBA’s with little or no full-time work experience? If you can answer "yes" to all these questions, maybe you are one of those who should start b-school with less than two years of work experience. If not, I recommend you work first and then apply.