Timing Your MBA: Work Five First or Dive Right In?

Although many people contemplating an MBA have the standard minimum of five years of work under their belt,  more and more applicants are considering B-school earlier in their careers””in some cases, without any work experience at all, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

For some, pursuing an MBA straight out of undergrad is a no-brainer, as it avoids putting one’s life on hold for two years, and forgoing a potentially significant salary to do so.  In fact, the Graduate Management Admission Council says applicants under 24 are the fastest-growing group among those who take the GMAT.

GMAC reports that from 2004 to 2009, this group of test-takers grew an average of 24% a year. In 2010, roughly 40% of applicants to full-time MBA programs had less than three years of work experience, the council says.

Business schools have also jumped on board the youth train, with specific programs geared toward college juniors, such as Harvard Business School‘s 2+2 Program, or the deferment program offered by Stanford Graduate School of Business, where students can apply for admission during their senior year of college and choose a start date of one to three years after they graduate.

Derrick Bolton, director of admissions at Stanford GSB, tells WSJ the reason for the deferred program is that “Fundamentally, we are in a market for talent. When you see really talented people, you want to lock them in.”

Meanwhile, Dipak Jain, former dean of Kellogg School of Management and soon to be dean of INSEAD, tells WSJ younger MBAs add a different perspective to the classroom and appeal to employers tired of the outrageous salary or position expectations of B-school graduates over 30.

Jain also tells WSJ that more women and international students would go to business school if earlier admit ages were the norm.  Women are less likely to pursue an MBA after they’ve had children, and international students are reluctant to leave families behind to study abroad and can’t afford to bring them along.

Not everyone is convinced that younger is the way to go, however. Tuck School of Business professor Chris Trimble tells WSJ that says students’ real-world perspectives are a big part of the learning process. “What I’ve seen is that students with work experience make better contributions to classroom discussions,” he says.

For more on the pros and cons of starting an MBA straight out of undergrad, read the Wall Street Journal’s original piece, No Experience Necessary.

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