MBA after 2-3 years of work experience

I've heard MBA programs are taking students with less work experience now- is that true? Specifically, will 3 years of international IB experience (basically analyst stint, which are usually 3 years where I live) be good enough work-experience wise to go directly into a US MBA program?

MBA Required Work Experience

While there are always rumors of the top MBA programs accepting candidates with less work experience, our users are skeptical that just 3 years of work experience will result in acceptance to a top 25 or M7 program.

Bullet-Tooth Tony - Investment Banking Vice President:

It depends on the MBA program you are applying to. If you go to a Top 25-75, you can get in with that level of work experience. It is possible to get into the Top 25 programs with only 2 years, but it will be much more difficult b/c they take into account the length and depth of your experience.

So, if you can, I would try to get into PE/HF for a year or two and then go back. Should help your M7 chances.

LBJ's hair:

The top B-schools admit in buckets. If you're applying in the "banker bucket" with less experience than other applicants and no PE, you'll need a something else to make them overlook it. Whether that's extracurrics, unusual career aspirations, minority status, a recommendation from Joe Perella, whatever.

User @Betsy Massar shared that the amount of work experience has not been dramatically falling:

Betsy Massar:

There are always rumors that business schools are taking younger applicants. I've been hearing it for years, but if you look at the averages, you will see that they have been remaining steady for a while now, at about 4.5 years or so. The info is pretty handily available in the class profile page of the school you are looking at.

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Comments (77)

Oct 14, 2013

It depends on the MBA program you are applying to. If you go to a Top 25-75, you can get in with that level of work experience. It is possible to get into the Top 25 programs with only 2 years, but it will be much more difficult b/c they take into account the length and depth of your experience.

Harvard, for instance, took someone with 2 years UBS IB analyst, 1-2 years PE pre-MBA associate and a large MM.

So, if you can, I would try to get into PE/HF for a year or two and then go back. Should help your M7 chances.

Oct 14, 2013

Tough but not impossible, all I needed to know. Thanks. I have reasons for wanting to go after 3 years that have only a little bit to do with my career.

Oct 14, 2013

Nothing wrong with that. Good luck.

Oct 14, 2013

The top B-schools admit in buckets. If you're applying in the "banker bucket" with less experience than other applicants and no PE, you'll need a something else to make them overlook it. Whether that's extracurrics, unusual career aspirations, minority status, a recommendation from Joe Perella, whatever.

I'd imagine that the further you move down the M7, the less this matters.

Oct 14, 2013

Thanks. I'm aware that my application will be similar to so many others on paper- great GMAT, grades, recs, top school etc- but I'm hoping that my international experience (best university in my country and one of the best in the S. hemisphere, IB in a country outside the US, and extended volunteer work in S.America) will set me apart from otherwise similar applicants.

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Oct 14, 2013
notthehospitalER:

Thanks. I'm aware that my application will be similar to so many others on paper- great GMAT, grades, recs, top school etc- but I'm hoping that my international experience (best university in my country and one of the best in the S. hemisphere, IB in a country outside the US, and extended volunteer work in S.America) will set me apart from otherwise similar applicants.

That should do it.

Oct 22, 2013

That would be great if you do your MBA with having a work experience as you would be considered an experienced candidate in the market, and depends where you have worked earlier at what position having a experience with a MBA degree would help you earn a good salary package plus with added advantages of increased position.

Oct 23, 2013

there are always rumors that business schools are taking younger applicants. I've been hearing it for years, but if you look at the averages, you will see that they have been remaining steady for a while now, at about 4.5 years or so. The info is pretty handily available in the class profile page of the school you are looking at.
The deal is, if you are ready, you are ready.

I had a long talk with a candidate the other night who only had 1+ year of work experience, but would have 2 years by the time she would matriculate. I personally think she should wait a year, but she was so convinced that now was the time, that she convinced me, and that says something. Admissions people are looking to see if you've had enough experience, and enough failures and managerial challenges to add to a class of very demanding mba students. That is, they are demanding a lot from YOU. Can you contribute to their education? if you think that the answer is a resounding yes, then 3, 4, 5, or 7 years probably doesn't matter. it gets dicey after 6 years, but then that's not your question.

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

Oct 14, 2013

Thanks, appreciate the advice. What kinds of things can you do in your career to make you more attractive as a b-school candidate with 3 years or so of work experience? In terms of taking on more responsibility, is all extra responsibility created equal? Or, and I imagine this is more accurate, are some things better than others? If so, what kinds of things are they?

Oct 23, 2013

That's a hard question to answer on a forum. But if I can be really general, it's like significantly influencing the outcome of a deal, or changing the way an organization is run. I know that sounds like a tall order, but "leaders" can make change from every level, but there's no real formula. You probably know people who are real stars at work, and you might be among them. That's one differentiator.
So no, all extra responsibility is not created equal. Not by a long shot. There are visible, political, projects, and then there's just more work. If you have a sponsor in the organization, that is, someone who is looking out for you, then that person will possibly help you navigate.
If you are naturally initiating new things, that should also indicate a measure of leadership.

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

Oct 23, 2013

You are not that different tbh. Interviewed a candidate recently who did 2+2 IB/PE in a LatAm country in a reputable bank and have classmates with similar backgrounds. And I'm not even at HSW.

Oct 14, 2013

Thanks for the info- wasn't claiming I'm different, was just wondering if 2-3 years of work exp. is enough.

Oct 23, 2013

I thought some people went in with 0 work experience.

Oct 14, 2013

I don't know about them.

Oct 23, 2013

Almost never. That's why they have deferred admit programs.

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

Oct 24, 2013

There's no reason why you can't get in with 2-3 years of IB experience. As others have mentioned, there will probably be others in the same bucket as you that have more/better experience, but that doesn't mean you won't get in. It will put you at a disadvantage at the very top schools, but that's okay.

You haven't mentioned your story, so it's pretty hard to know. Everyone here that's pointing to how much better two years of PE would be on top of the IB, but I don't necessarily think that's the case if your story makes sense and points you in another direction. 90% of people with prior PE experience probably have goals to go back into PE, so if you're cut from a different mold, you may be fine.

As Betsy said, with less experience, it'll be your job to convince them not only that you need business school after less experience than others (easier part), but also that you'll be able to contribute as much as someone with more experience than you because of X, Y and Z. I know a few people that went to M7 schools (not GSB or HBS) with 2-3 years of experience at one firm, both consulting and IBD.

Oct 14, 2013

Yeah, I'm slightly different. Undecided as to my PE interest. Something that I hope sets me apart slightly is I have international experience- I'm from and go to school outside the US, but have volunteer trips in emerging countries, student exchanges in the US etc- well traveled. Currently my story (true story) revolves around wanting to find a way to go from IB---> investment management (in emerging countries- I want to develop skills that allow me to invest in developing countries in a way that promotes growth/improvement). All this can be discussed in my essays based on my experiences in some emerging countries.

Oct 24, 2013

I've heard that analysts that came from much stronger undergrads with exceptional achievements can make the jump to a top MBA with only 2 years work experience (i guess it's the same idea as an exceptional student jumping directly into a top MBA program out from his/her undergrad).

Oct 24, 2013

i think its safe to say both are rare, but not impossible.

Oct 24, 2013

Tough tough tough, but I've known it to be done.

Oct 24, 2013

Thanks for the replies! Ok, it's clear that college -> 2yrsBBIBD -> Top MBA is a possible but rare thing. So, what's in between? Peace corps kind of stuff? Own business? Jobs in the industry? Hope anyone can shed some light on this..

Oct 24, 2013

^One person I know who's currently at Stanford for his MBA went like this: undergrad>6 years @ ibank> MBA. So I guess you can work at an ibank for quite a bit w/o an MBA.

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Oct 24, 2013

bumpity bump

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Oct 24, 2013

Some IBers go straight to B-school, some take jobs in PE. The extra experience will help your admissions chances, but doing well on the GMAT and writing awesome essays would be time better spent. Also, MBA's exit opportunities are very similar regarless of their pre-MBA experience so the earlier you go the better. The one exception to that seems to be finance, but you don't need an MBA to do finance.

Oct 24, 2013

if you get into PE, then DEFINITELY do it for a year or two. PE or HF experience will GREATLY increase your chances at a top school, as it is a difficult and lucrative field to get into. A significant % of HBS and Stanford have PE experience.

Oct 24, 2013

at the same time i've heard that its not a guarantee into HBS or Stanford...i think when it comes to getting into a top bschool its more of a crapshoot than anything

Oct 24, 2013

Personally, I wouldn't go to business school until I REALLY felt ready, or felt I NEEDED it to advance my career. Isn't that how things are supposed to work?

If you have the opportunity to get into "PE/other areas" without the MBA, I'd go for it.

Oct 24, 2013
bigbadbanker1:

I'm graduating in May and will be starting as an analyst this summer. While I am not sure what the future holds (who is?) after my two or three-years, I thought it would be a good idea to take the GMAT this spring while I still have time and am in school-mode. I was wondering - Do a large percentage of analysts eventually get their MBA's down the road? I always thought of the MBA primarily as an option for someone outside of banking to get in as an associate, but I'm sure that I am generalizing. Also, if I have an undergraduate degree in finance and accounting, is it necessary to have a MBA in order advance in banking, PE, or a HF? Finally, when do most people choose to go (especially curious about this since I only have five years to go from the spring of my senior year)? From browsing the forum, it seems like most people don't go to a top 10 MBA school after a 2-3 year analyst program unless they are in the absolute top of their class. But even then, someone who's in the top of their class isn't likely to bypass a lucrative PE or HF job.

Any answers to my question from current bankers would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your assistance and have a great New Year!

Happy New Year to you too.

//www.wallstreetoasis.com/node/4630

Oct 24, 2013

You don't need to be in the top of your class to go to a M7. Step back from the minute world view of finance and think about how impressive it would be to have Morgan Stanley Investment Banking Analyst on your resume when applying to business school. That work experience alone puts you in pretty selective company.

Genghis's post covers the MBA issue pretty clearly vis-a-vis ibanking but if you ever want to do anything out of finance (which isn't impossible) that MBA is your ticket out.

Oct 24, 2013

It depends on the market. When things are going well, nobody wants to go back to school. Applications drop, and for an analyst getting into a top program after 2-3 years isn't that hard (when Bob Alig ran admissions at Wharton, he once told me that they consider 2 years in banking to be equivalent to 4 years in another job).

However, if the market turns down hard, and everyone tries to go back to school to hide out - then the average age for admitted applicants climbs pretty quickly.

The truth of the matter is that no one is ever a sure shot for any particular school, but one of the benefits of being a former analyst is that it does more or less assure you of admission into a top business school after 3-4 years. The state of the market will determine whether 2 years is practical or not.

Oct 24, 2013

... as if there were a hard and fast rule.

Oct 24, 2013

I would suggest you at least wait to pursue an MBA until your grammar is up to a third-grade level.

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Oct 24, 2013

It is definitely not too soon. If you've got a strong GMAT, some interesting experiences (for the essays), recs ready and a somewhat well-rounded application (since bankers are often given a bit of slack for not having much EC after undergrad), you can definitely apply after 2 years. If you don't end up getting in, hope for a 3rd year offer and then reapply for after your 3rd.

Good luck.

Oct 24, 2013

You have been working for 2 years and want to do an MBA already? I would put a little more time in the work force first. An MBA might not be necessary which would save you a lot of time and money.

Oct 24, 2013

bump

Oct 24, 2013

OP, I was in a similar position (2 years miltary, 2 years work exp, currently in one of the schools you mentioned above).

I would emphasize your 2 years of military experience, most business schools view it favourably and treat it as equivalent to working experience (so you're actually applying with 4.5, not 2.5).

Oct 24, 2013

Thanks London-Monkey for the reply.

Which military unit were you in though? Though I served my time, I actually have a pre-existing condition that prevents me from doing "sexier" roles in military; not sure if it is wise of me to bring it up in the MBA interview though...

Oct 24, 2013

Bump for more feedback

Oct 24, 2013

OP - Is your username an allusion to Ben Afleck's job interview monologue in Good Will Hunting?

Oct 24, 2013

No... it means i just want to keep my head down and keep working hard.

Wanted to make it an acronym (but it looks literally like "not GS"),which sounds rather wanna-be so i decided against it.

Oct 24, 2013

Retainnnnnnner... retainer

    • 1
Oct 24, 2013

Another bump... anyone with an insight on this?

Oct 24, 2013

In Band of Brothers, Richard Winters said to the radioman who lost his radio "if you were in my company, I would tell you that you were a rifleman first and a radioman second".

So just say you are a rifleman or spin your experience in a way that makes it sound impressive. Even medics have to go through basic military training and learn how to shoot a rifle.

Silver banana?

    • 1
Oct 24, 2013

Thanks London-Monkey, sb-ed.

If you were in the MBA program after 2 years, it means that you applied at the end of your 1st year?

Will send you a PM for more information.

Oct 24, 2013

Will you be a straight engineer or in a more management type role? Honestly, it'd probably worth sticking around to year 3-4 to get a management role. MBA programs do love engineers though and it'll give your undergrad GPA a boost.

Robert Clayton Dean: What is happening?
Brill: I blew up the building.
Robert Clayton Dean: Why?
Brill: Because you made a phone call.

Oct 24, 2013

The answer is yes. I met a girl at the Wharton group interview this year, she's 22, 2 years exp at matriculation, a top energy company and a top engineering school as undergrad. She is very bright.

Oct 24, 2013

There are many factors that adcoms take into account, and length of work experience is just one of them. Honestly, it is difficult to give a straight yes or no answer to you. Most who go to b-school after just 2 years of full-time work are from consulting or investment banking, where an MBA is often required to move up and an additional year wouldn't significantly impact the experience of the applicant. This differs from other industries where another year or two could leave room for a promotion or the ability to lateral to a more desirable position before applying for an MBA. Lastly, there is a difference between top 20 schools. While your application now may get you in to Goizeuta, perhaps you could gain admission to Fuqua or Darden with a few more years of work experience.

So even if the answer is 'yes', there is another question: would it be better to wait another year or two? Anecdotally, many find that they gain more when they matriculate at a later age. I've heard and read comments that many are glad they waited till they were 25/26/27 to attend due to additional maturity, experience, and sharper career objectives. There are also plenty who are glad they went a few years out of undergrad, but that is an aspect you have to factor in your candidacy.

Oct 24, 2013

As @Blueapple said, the answer is, it depends. Plenty of people get in with ~2 years of experience, but that's definitely the lower end of the spectrum for a reason. It's not just that business schools want 40 months of experience, it's more that they want quality experience. Depending on your job, it can be quite difficult to do anything all that impactful in your first two years out of college. If you have, both professionaly and extra-curricularly, then go ahead and apply - you should be in good shape.

Really, a great way to answer this quetsion for yourself is go pull a few essays from your target schools. Write a few bullets for what you'd write about for each one. Then, go to Clear Admit and pull up some of the interview questions that they have on there. Do you have enough stories to answer those? If so, then there's a good chance you're ready. If you're reaching for stuff, or finding that you have one or two impactful experiences, but are struggling as you get to the third essay for some schools, then I'd wait longer.

    • 1
Oct 24, 2013
FMoney:

Hi,

I was thinking about preparing myself for MBA applications later this year. By that time I would have 2 years experience as an engineer. Would that give me a decent shot at getting into a top 20 school (if I had a good GMAT)?

- Or would my chances be slim to none? We are only counting work experience after graduation correct? (I had an engineering internship before graduation, didn't end up working for that employer either).

Thanks.

As others have said here, there are folks at these top b-schools with just 2 years, but they tend to be blue chip Ivy/equivalent alums who worked at top tier consulting (M/B/B) or exclusive IB/PE firms. There are certainly engineers, lawyers, and others with only 2 years, but those with only 2 years tend to be quite uncommon.

The sweet spot traditionally for engineers is around 4-6 years. If you really want to roll the dice and apply with 2 years, no one is going to stop you, but just know that your odds are likely long.

While obviously it varies from one individual to the next, for the most part, I find that the ideal time to go back to b-school full-time is with around 3-5 years (when you're in b-school in your mid- to late- 20s). It's not about whether you have a shot at getting in with only 2 years, but for many folks whether b-school is worth it or not is the experience itself, and with more experience you are likely removed enough from college life to be able to experience school in a fresh way that you couldn't do if you are only 1-2 years removed from college.

Think of going to b-school like a really expensive sabbatical from your career. You want to make sure that you're sufficiently burnt out from work and removed enough from your college self to make the huge expense of going to b-school worth it. For some folks that certainly may happen within 2 years, but for many (including those in consulting or finance) it may still be only after 3+ years.

Oct 24, 2013

In terms of experience, most (all?) schools post the average (or range of) FT experience for their current student body on their admissions page. 2-3 years is considered by many to be a minimum requirement, but most top schools do offer admission to less-experienced candidates, albeit on a very limited basis. By the time you apply, your internships may not even be on your resume, unless you did something really unique and outstanding.

In terms of skills or certifications, you haven't really given us much to go on. It depends on what your're passionate about and what you want to do after MBA (you may not even know yet, that's fine).

Oct 24, 2013

First of all, do some searches on WSO. There are dozens of posts about this exact topic with some really good insight from posters. I have probably posted in more detail in those, but I'll give some insight here as well.

1. As above poster said, ~2-3 years is the general minimum, ignoring exceptions (you likely won't be an exception). However, I've said this a hundred times, but just because you have the minimum does not mean you're a good candidate. In two years of work, it's unlikely that you'll have led much of anything. Moreover, you likely won't have as clear of a future direction as someone iwth 4-5 years of experience (the average across top schools). While you'd certainly be eligible with 2.5 years, you likely won't be as strong as someone with more experience. Many of the people going with less work experience are from blue chip jobs, like MBB, where applicants tend to skew younger. As someone in the credit risk department of a BB, you're work experience is decent, but you don't fit into this population either

2. To address your second question about what else you can do, and also to potentially make up for shortcomings in your profile if you do apply early, you need to get involved outside of work. I don't think anyone in a business school admissions department cares about your ability to do excel macros, and the CFA looks nice, but won't add to your profile much at all. They'll already think you understand finance based on your work experience. Only thing the CFA can do is make up for academic shortcomings if you have any (e.g. low quant scores on GMAT/classes, etc.). There's another post right next to yours right now about what to do extra curricularly that I just responded to, and again, there's many all over WSO. If you're going to have a shot at getting into an M7 school, you will have to have significant leadership success outside of work, where you'll likely have less.

The bottom line is that while you have a chance after two years, it's just harder to get in. I know that in my case, I considered applying with ~3.5 years of experience, but decided to wait another year to do so for some personal reasons. I would say that 80% of my essay and interview material came from my last year of experience, because I finally took on some meaningful leadership roles, both at work and outside of work.

    • 1
Oct 24, 2013

Good overview by BGP.

The accomplishments and achievements you stack up are more import than the total time you are working. You need to be able to point to multiple stories of leadership and significant, quantifiable accomplishments on a CV, in essays, and interviews. If you have several of those of 2-3 years you should be ok.

If employer structure limits your ability to drive new projects than use outside activities to show how much you can move the needle for an organization.

The other factor is knowing what you want to do with your life. Can you show adcom that you need a MBA at the moment of application? And likely an MBA will be your last time in full-time school and a big opportunity to pivot - there is no need to rush to it unless you not having an MBA is immediately stopping you from reaching your goal.

Oct 23, 2013

I am leaving after 4 years, but 3 years might have been better. In most cases you will get promoted after 2 years and the next step is 3 years away. So you are sort of wasting a year by staying back for the 4th year which doesn't result in any significant career progress, especially if you come back and join in the same level.

Oct 24, 2013

I definitely have seen it done. I know a girl who went to non-target, did a 2yr rotation in GE's CLP program and currently in MIT's mba program, but she has the advantages of being a woman, a minority, and having exceptional ppl skills.

Oct 24, 2013

I have a friend that did this. Graduated from a state school, had average/below average work experience for 2 yrs, and is now at a 10-15 school. As you could guess, he is a URM and granted this is for 10-15 ranked schools and im not sure if you were referring to M7.

Curious as why not just work another year and have some more time to work on your apps and save some cash? Not sure what the rush is.

Oct 24, 2013

There are way more people in my section who are 3 years out of undergrad than 2 years out. Four years ago, I was in your shoes, rushing to go to B-school after 2 years. Not getting in then was one of the better things that has happened to my career, I have learned a ton since then about what I like, where I want to go long-term, and how I'm going to use the MBA to help. On a personal level, I'm a little older / more settled than a lot of people in my section which can be tough sometimes, but I still think waiting a few more years outweighs that.

Oct 24, 2013

You should be fine...MBB all recruit and hire from the top ~15schools, not just HBS.....i know several people at mccombs joining those firms. The difference being they might take 6-8 from here, and 20+ from HBS....but we have a much smaller student body as well.

Oct 24, 2013

Going to a top 10/15 school will give you a good chance at MBB. 2 years of work experience certainly wont help your cause but you can make up for it in different ways (high GMAT, great at case's, networking, etc). Just be aware that 60-100 of your classmates will be gunning for those jobs as well.

Oct 24, 2013

What region do you want to work in? Southeast, Mid Atlantic or Northeast?

Oct 24, 2013
petergibbons:

What region do you want to work in? Southeast, Mid Atlantic or Northeast?

Northeast, NYC or Boston, I m from the Northeast.

Oct 24, 2013

There are Duke and Yale recruits in my incoming post-MBA consultant class for a Northeast region MBB office. I ran in to a Darden recruit during my interviews as well. I would say that any of those schools would provide a good opportunity to get into an MBB post-MBA.

Oct 24, 2013

I know two Darden people at MBB. I don't know if they do better than Duke or Yale, but if you're at the top of your class there you can do well.

Oct 24, 2013
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Oct 24, 2013