This post originally appeared on Stacy’s ‘Strictly Business’ MBA blog on U.S. News
Prospective business school applicants always want to know when it’s best to pursue an MBA, but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
In the past, business schools required applicants to have a standard four to six years of job experience prior to applying. Now, many programs welcome candidates straight out of college, and the trend is definitely moving toward the lower end of the work experience spectrum.
If you have fewer than three years of work experience under your belt after college, you may find yourself questioning whether now is the right time to pursue an MBA. Early career prospective students should ask themselves these three questions before applying to business school.
1. Do I bring enough work and life experiences to the table? This is perhaps the most critical question from the admissions perspective when weighing admit decisions.
Focus on the quality of your experiences, not quantity. There’s a reason why the class of 2018 profiles of many elite business schools include students who are skydivers, fashion bloggers, synchronized swimmers, volcano climbers and pie-eating contest winners. Can you imagine the classroom and group discussions among such a diverse and intriguing cohort?
Complete an unflinching assessment of your professional and life experiences and ask yourself whether you bring enough to the table to actively contribute and enhance the learning environment that will include more experienced and accomplished peers.
Can you step into the MBA classroom with a solid understanding of how businesses and organizations work? Has your professional experience been sufficient to help you crystalize your career goals and understand what you want to do with the rest of your life?
If you can answer yes to all of the above, use your MBA application essays to demonstrate those key lessons you’ve learned and show how, despite the short time frame, you’ve progressed in both knowledge and management experience.
2. Will more time on the job benefit me or my MBA candidacy? To answer this question, you’ll need to decide first whether another year or more of work experience will significantly strengthen your profile and make you a more competitive candidate.
Second, you will need to determine whether the costs associated with delaying a full-time MBA program create a larger opportunity cost, not only in foregone salary but also in lost career momentum, especially for those coming from fast-moving high-tech industries.
Maybe you’ve maxed out at your current level and are ready for a career boost that only business school can facilitate. Or perhaps you could benefit from another year in the workforce, taking on more responsibilities, earning promotions and using the time to further bolster other aspects of your candidacy.
When it comes to impressing MBA admissions committees, candidates need to show off their leadership abilities, exhibit their comfort in team-based environments and demonstrate career progression. Make sure you can compete on solid footing in each of these areas with the rest of the applicant pool.
3. Can I clearly demonstrate how an MBA will help me reach my career goals? As an early career candidate, you’ll need to convince the admissions committee on why the timing of entering the MBA program makes sense for your career and life plans.
A desire to pivot to a new career is what sets many applicants on their MBA journey. However, younger applicants often haven’t yet landed on a firm path, so those with limited professional experience must clearly articulate their short- and long-term professional goals and convince the admissions committee that an MBA is critical to helping them reach those goals.
Think about what you want to gain from an MBA program and also what you can contribute. You may be 23 years old but have highly focused career goals and ample insight to share, both of which would give you an advantage over an unfocused 28-year-old who is pursuing an MBA to pass the time.
Though younger candidates may not have the years of formal work experience under their belts, many have gained valuable skills through internships, community service, entrepreneurial ventures or extracurricular activities. Early career candidates who are motivated, talented and have a proven track record of leadership have a great chance of admission into a top MBA program.
The bottom line on timing your MBA plans is that you should only go for the degree when the timing feels right for you.