Getting In: The Best of Jon Fuller (The Sequel)



How Much Work Experience Should I Have Before Applying to Business School?

“There isn’t a hard-and-fast number of years of work experience that equates to when it’s best to apply. Your competitiveness is going to be significantly influenced by the quality of your experience rather than just whether you’ve worked for two, four, or six years. That said, the sweet spot for many candidates is 4 – 6 years of full-time work experience as that’s often how long it takes for candidates to be able to demonstrate a robust impact on their firm/clients, develop some leadership/managerial skills, etc. Some candidates can do this in a shorter period of time, it takes a little longer for others. A benefit of waiting a few years to apply is that you’ll likely get more out the MBA itself as you’ll have a better idea as to what you want to get out of the experience and what direction you want your post-MBA life to go in.”

Is Two Years Enough Work Experience?

“I am concerned about the quantity of the experience you’ve had to-date…While you might have had some good experiences during that time, it may be challenging for you to show that they’re substantive enough to be competitive relative to the pool. Wharton in particular still puts heavy emphasis on work experience and especially values international professional exposure.”

“In general, a two-year timeline is aggressive for top MBA programs. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to be competitive, but more often, you’re only going to be a better candidate if you wait a bit longer – 4 – 6 years is the typical sweet spot for most. The other element is that you’ll probably get more out of the actual MBA experience itself if you build up your professional foundation more prior to enrolling.”

Can I Start My MBA Right Out of College?

“Most top programs state that they’re willing to consider applicants directly out of college who have no work experience, but that doesn’t mean that they frequently accept those candidates. For instance, Columbia states that 99% of its most recent class has at least one year of work experience, and my educated guess is that the 1% is predominantly comprised of dual degree students in law or medicine.

Applying to start right after college is a very, very competitive path to take in an already very competitive application process. All top programs really put a premium on robust, impactful work experience, so while I understand your desire to continue straight through, it’s not likely to pan out for you and it’d be much more realistic for you to chart a path that involves working for a few years and/or starting your own business. As noted in one of my other recent exchanges on this page, Yale does have its Silver Scholars program and NYU has its Berkley Scholars program, so you could do some more research along those lines.”

How Important Is Your Employer’s Brand to a Decision-Maker?

“…Being affiliated with a name-brand anything is typically going to help an applicant in the process, mostly since that affiliation tells the adcom something about you (generally positive) without them even having to look at the bullets on your resume. In an experience where first impressions are important, working for a top organization or having attended a top school can help ensure that you’ll get your foot in the door. Some schools, most notably HBS, focus on this sort of thing more than others.

That’s not to diminish the importance of what you’ve actually done in those experiences. I always, always say that you can do great things in average environments, but your great things might be playing catch-up if the adcom hasn’t ever heard of your organization and is busy trying to get a handle on that first. And again, some MBA programs are more likely to try to do that than others. So if you have name-brand AND great things, that’s obviously a win-win.”

Does 2 Years of Founding and Managing a Startup as an Undergrad Count as Experience?

“…fundamentally, the answer to your first question depends a little bit on which school is doing the asking. For instance, the HBS application asks “How many months of post-college full-time work experience will you have upon enrolling?” so you’d have to enter a zero in response to that question. However, that’s just considering the quantity of your full-time work experience. It sounds like you’ve had some quality experiences to speak of, though, that would likely be of interest to an adcom.

It’s still a significant upward climb, though, for you to convince an adcom that you’re ready for a traditional MBA program and that you have sufficient experiences to offer to your classmates, prospective employers, etc. Columbia’s class profile helps to illustrate how hard it can be for someone with little to no post-undergraduate work experience. Schools will pretty much always publish the average about of work experience for their most recent class (usually about 5 years), and CBS takes it a step further by stating how many of their students have at least one year of post-undergraduate work experience – it’s 99%. Overall, my experience tells me that you’d be better off continuing to grow your startup for a few years and then applying.”

Do I Need a Degree to Get Into Business School?

“…Many traditional MBA programs are very much on the record saying that they want a four-year degree or equivalent, but in this case, “equivalent” is usually directed towards three-year degrees such as those commonly found in India and some other international locales…That said, it can’t hurt to ask the programs you’re interested to see if your app would be summarily dismissed or whether they’d really entertain it.

You’ll occasionally see more flexibility with EMBA programs (usually to keep the door open for entrepreneur types who didn’t need a college degree to find a high degree of professional success). For instance, Booth’s EMBA program states that the formal requirements are that applicants should have a bachelor’s degree, but they’ve made exceptions based on personal/professional track record. Kellogg says that most have an undergrad degree, but those who don’t are required to take the GMAT.”

How Much Impact Will My College Internships (and Extracurriculars) Have?

“…Typically, post-undergraduate roles get the most focus when an adcom assesses the quality of a candidate’s work experience, and post-undergraduate positions are pretty much exclusively used when calculating the quantity of work experience that a candidate possesses. Particularly notable internship experiences are often OK to list on an MBA application resume and on online application forms, but your post-undergraduate role(s) will get the most attention.”

“…adcoms don’t really pay a ton of attention to those specific undergrad internships and/or extracurriculars themselves. As a result, with internships, I’d think less about how an internship itself will appear to the adcom and focus more on how that experience will to help you get the best post-undergrad opportunities possible. With extracurriculars, simply be involved, take on leadership roles, and if you’re going to be strategic about what you get involved with, try to have a few things that you’ll be able to continue after you graduate. Your continuity and long-term engagement with those activities can make them more robust.”

Before I Apply, Do I Need Experience in the Field I Want to Get Into?

“…the MBA is commonly used as a means to facilitate a career switch from one industry/sector to another, and frequently that switch can be rather significant. Adcoms are comfortable with all that, so from an admissions perspective, I don’t really think it’s necessary for you to find a consulting/IB role prior to applying. In addition, consulting companies and IB firms are generally open to considering people who come from a wide variety of pre-MBA backgrounds, so they are unlikely to take issue with it, either.

Whether it be for the MBA application context or for your eventual internship/FT recruiting experience, a key for you will be to have an understanding of how your current skills and experiences are relevant/transferrable to a career in consulting or IB (pick one or the other so that you present yourself as being focused). You also want to show self-awareness of your skill gaps and how the MBA will help to bridge those gaps, all to ensure that you’ll be successful in achieving your goals.”