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What MBA Experts Have To Say About Work Experience

You have the stellar grades. The top-notch exam scores. And the right recs.

But having the right work experience is becoming ever more important in MBA admissions. Business school officials say having the right kind of work experience is crucial to making an application stand out.

Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at US News, recently discussed what kind of work experience admissions officers look for and how much work experience is enough.


MBA admissions officers understand that MBA applicants are still at the early leg of their careers. The point of an MBA, for many, is to level up in their industry. Thus, it isn’t so important to have high-level executive positions on your resume.

“You are starting as a junior and you might have limited supervisory roles, but you are probably working in a specialized area, and you are trying to either advance in that area or gather other skills,” Nikhil Varaiya, director of graduate programs at the San Diego State University’s Fowler College of Business, tells US News.

Varaiya suggests applicants have anywhere from three to five years of work experience under their belt when applying.

“In general, I say that because I think that if they have worked for three to five years, they have a better sense of what a graduate degree is going to do for them, so they would be better prepared,” he says.


Having stellar work experience can help to compensate for low GRE or GMAT scores. Especially if that work experience is in a field related to your studies.

Amada Karr is executive director of student enrollment services at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.

Karr tells US News that business-related work experience in industries like finance or tech tend to impress admissions officers. Having experience in quantitative analysis is also a plus, she says.

While working for a big-name company is likely to help your application, it isn’t the deciding factor, experts say.

“For top business schools such as Wharton and Harvard, students working for big names such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group or Google stand out in an already competitive pool,” according to Top MBA. “Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that working for less-well-known companies isn’t valuable; all work experience will strengthen an MBA application.”

April Klimkiewicz is a career coach and owner of Bliss Evolution. She tells US News that what’s most important is gaining managerial experience – regardless if at a big company or small.

“Experience managing is a plus,” she tells US News. “If you’ve managed a coffee shop, or even informally managed a team or project, you are displaying the ability to manage.”

Sources: US News, Top MBA