Early career MBA: Is it for you?

An early career MBA is the generally accepted trend in India. Complete your graduation, crack the Indian MBA entrance exams and target the good MBA colleges in India. For GMAT MBA schools, work experience is a pretty important piece of the jigsaw puzzle. The average work experience in USA is around 5 years at the start of the program.

However many Indians aren’t ready to wait for so long. The reasons are many, ranging from ‘I want to complete all my education in one shot and then think about my job’ to ‘If I stay in India, my parents will force me to get married’. Not to mention the occasional, ‘Our param pujya Baba Bhootnath Bangali has warned that I’d never be able to complete my MBA if I don’t do it in the next 2-3 years.

In most of our articles and forum posts, we’ve been harping on why work experience is so important for MBA colleges. The intention of this post isn’t to judge the relevance or criticality or logic of the decision.

For this post, we’ll put our views and biases behind us and assume you have a real good reason for pursuing an MBA with very less experience.

If that’s where you are, what options do you have? When the average experience in the class for most of the top MBA universities in the world hovers around 5 years, would any of the elite programs even accept your application?
 

What is an early career MBA?

In international B-school Adcom terminology, candidates with less than 2 years of full-time work experience are generally referred to as ‘early career MBA’ applicants. Some stretch that number to 3 years.

There are some reputed MBA courses that accept applicants from recent graduates with zero experience (‘freshers’, in Indian lingo) – like Harvard 2+2, Silver Scholars (Yale), ISB YLP (Young Leaders Program).

These catch ‘em young options work in a different way. There’s generally a break between the application phase and the program start. The sandwich approach is a good way of increasing the applicant pool and locking in high potential applicants!

In this post we are talking about the regular, traditional MBA programs, not their variations. Programs that are listed in the top global b-school rankings by Financial Times, Businessweek, etc.
 

How an early career MBA can help

The big advantage of attending a top MBA college as an early career candidate is that you’d be spending time with folks who have much more experience than you do.

Unlike 2-year MBA programs in India where early career applications are the norm and everyone in the class would be in the same boat (with limited corporate exposure), in an international MBA your peer group will be relatively mature.

Your learning curve can be much better as you soak in the experiences and knowledge from your peer group.

The other advantage is the network you’d develop. Again, most of the recent graduates would already be in good positions in leading companies.

As they are already ahead of you in the story, you’d get a better idea of how your career path could pan out if your join the firm, not just after joining but after 3-5 years when you’d be in their situation managing more responsibilities.

As a younger student, you are less averse to calculated risks. When you aren’t racing against the sand in the hourglass, you’d be willing to take on more challenges. You could explore opportunities that your mature classmates would be less willing to try out.
 

Pitfalls of early career MBA

Unclear career goals – When you haven’t spent enough time in a job, it’ll be difficult to know where you really want to go after your MBA. And if you’ve read Beyond The MBA Hype, you’d realise why a Bschool won’t solve that problem for you.

Fitting into the class – Though the takeaways from your peers would be high, you may not be able to balance out the give-and-take relation due to your limited exposure to the business world. In group assignments and other team activities, your classmates may feel you are piggy-backing on their experience.

Prematurely using your trump card – For many of your classmates, the MBA would be a platform to trigger a career change. Their professional life can get a new lease of life after having realised that the current path (of 5 years) isn’t what they want to continue on.

In contrast, for you the utility of the degree is to get the primary career started. You may not get a second shot if you choose the wrong post-MBA career path.
 

B-schools accepting early career MBA applications in USA

Some MBA schools that encourage early career MBA applications.

Chicago Booth treats those with less than 3 years of work experience as early career candidates provided you can demonstrate that you have ‘personal maturity’ and ‘intellectual curiosity’. The school may waive the application fee if you are still a student in the final year. Here’s more.

The Wharton MBA (UPenn) accepts early career applications from those with 0 to 3 years experience. It’ll help if you can show a strong quantitative background as you’d be able to tackle courses like accounting, statistics, finance, economics. Read more.

UCLA Anderson categorises candidates with less than 2 years experience in the early career bracket. But you’d need to present evidence of leadership work ‘during and after college, within and outside the workplace’ to convince the Adcom. More here.

In the non-top tier range, you’d find universities like Colorado State University that offer an Early Career MBA (details here) or Boston University which offers a dual degree (MS-MBA) that you can complete in 2 years.

There are many more that don’t specifically make this categorisation, but accept candidates with less experience. If you are aware of any, post them in the comments section and earn some good karma from your fellow applicants.

The admission process at these schools is exactly the same as it is for regular candidates.

You’d need to have a competitive undergrad grades (GPA, percentage, CGPA etc), a good GMAT score (higher than the average for your pool is better), description of extra curricular involvement, letters of recommendation, excellent MBA essays with a clear rationale for pursuing an MBA early in the career.
 

How early career MBA applicants can improve their admission chances

The biggest drawback among the early career MBA applicant pool is the low quantum of real world experience. In a corporate setting or in an entrepreneurial venture, you’d have already been exposed to conditions, challenges and issues that you’d cover in the MBA classroom.

Without this experience, it’s tough for the MBA admissions officer to get an insight of how you’d behave in the class and outside (after completing the MBA course). How can you tell the application reviewer that you deserve the seat more than other experienced applicants?

This is where your extracurricular and volunteering activities can help, especially those that involved leadership roles. Though this isn’t as good as direct work experience, what you’ve done in an informal setting (as college student or in personal life) can still give an idea of your potential to Admission committees.

If you have done an internship, definitely talk about it. Treat it like a mini-employment where you had a clear role and a set of responsibilities. Explain what you were able to achieve in the limiated period of 10 weeks / 3 months (or whatever your internship duration was).

The other aspect you can highlight is the uniqueness of your background. Bschools are always trying to maximise the diversity in the class. Think about what helps you stand out of the crowd.

  • Was it your upbringing in an army family with frequent postings across the country?
  • Were you part of a business family where commerce and business was part of the day-to-day discussions at home?
  • Were you involved in anything that required creativity, innovation, problem solving?
  • Is it your non-traditional background (performing arts, sports, social initiatives)?
  • Are you directly related to Santa Claus but hate receiving and giving gifts?

There are so many things that can make you unique. Knock out those (like that last one) that may not have much of an overlap with the academic degree you are trying to pursue.

All these can happen outside the confines of a regular office. If you’ve decided to apply as an early career MBA applicant, keep in mind that your competition is still with folks who’ll bring in more experience.

You don’t have to immerse yourself into past life regression therapy to unearth dark secrets of how you fought and won wars and how you bring those skills, memories and knowledge with you into bschool.

But do dig deeper into your profile and you are sure to come up with interesting things you’ve done in your current life that Adcoms would find valuable.

Read these related posts:
Is the HBS Harvard 2+2 program right for me?
ISB YLP Young Leaders Program


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MBA Crystal Ball provides professional Admissions Consulting services. Hire us to improve your chances of getting into the top international universities. Email: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat

Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here’s more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

21 Comments

  1. Shital says:

    Hi,

    Can you suggest me which collage is best for Doing MBA in Gujarat ? i want to take admission in Gujarat so searching for best collage in Gujarat.

  2. Maninder Singh says:

    Like most Indians, I want to finish my education first and then start working. I was searching for MBA universities that accept freshers. But there is very little information about it. Thank you for writing on this.

  3. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Shital and @Maninder: Nice attempt at spamming, but on the wrong site! Deleted all the links in your comments.

  4. Purvi says:

    Thanks for the article. I found it very useful and relevant to me. I have gone through the site and I am quiet impressed. My story is that I have completed my B.E. 2 months back and I hope to do my MBA soon but the big question is from where! The top Indian B schools are an option. However, the competition to get into them is a daunting challenge and the results can be unpredictable. MBA abroad requires around 5 years of work experience or a very stellar profile for the ones who do take people with less work experience. As a result some of my friends are opting for courses like masters in management etc. as an alternative. Is that a good idea? Could you guide me as to what I should do? My only criteria for MBA is a college which helps me learn a lot and provides a global exposure.I do not want to ‘settle’ for anything.

  5. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Purvi: If you have the patience, I’d suggest getting some experience in India before considering any international MBA or MiM degree.

    Real world skills are your best safety net when things go wrong (due to economy, competition etc).

  6. Ashwini says:

    Like always, love your writing style, Sameer. It has always been a conflicting topic for us Indians to leave the MBA well enough alone till we gather enough stuffing to contribute to the Degree. We just cannot digest “going back to school” once we’ve dived headlong into our career.

    I, for instance am preparing for my GMAT as we speak. I worked for IBM for about a year as an engineer. And switched to an Event Coordinator position at the JW Marriott only to leave it after 02 months. It was supposed to hone my management skills (which it did) but was eating into my study time too much. I did a Summer Internship at General Electric and am a member of Greenpeace’s Junglistan Movement.

    Despite all this, I am made to feel like a clueless bum (which I probably am) by my family and relatives. How do I transform my nevertheless unique experience into a coherent and useful career?

    Feeling lost,
    Ashwini Chandrashekhar

  7. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Ashwini: Society rewards consistency. It’s difficult for parents, relatives, friends and in fact new employers to understand why you made frequent switches.

    If you have a real good reason to pursue the MBA, go for it. If not, it is more likely to be perceived as another knee-jerk reaction.

  8. shruti says:

    Hi,

    I am Shruti and apparently fall in the category of early MBA aspirant. This post is highly helpful. I had done my engineering from IIT(BHU), Varanasi and have completed one year with Morgan Stanley as IT-Associate. Considering the cost of US program I applied to Europe and got an interview call from ESADE too but considering the job conditions post-mba, i am reconsidering my decision. Can you please tell the top US university which is more generous in providing scholarship or I should apply for masters this year?

  9. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Shruti: You’ll find many Indian MBA students sharing their MBA scholarship in USA on our blog.

  10. Komal says:

    Hi Sameer,
    thanks for the article. Just wanted to check if I’m allowed to be a little hopeful after reading it :(
    I have done my bachelors and masters in biotechnology. Although I do not have a formal work ex. But I do have internships, research project, community service and extracurriculars (professional dancing).After my MBA I want to be working in the pharma/biotechnology sector itself. Keeping this in mind do you think I have a shot as an early applicant in US universities.

  11. Chaitali says:

    Hi Sameer,
    Indeed a great article here, Thank you!

    What is your opinion on the Singapore Management University?
    Looks like they too accept at a low work experience?

  12. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Komal: If you already have a Masters degree in Biotechnology and you want to continue in the field, why would you need another degree?

    @Chaitali: No first hand experience about SMU. Sorry.

    • Komal says:

      hey sameer
      I want an MBA to get into the management side of biotechnology. I have no intention of collecting degrees as such. Just want to make the shift from research to management

      • Sameer Kamat says:

        That’s a reasonable expectation to have after completing an MBA, Komal.

        Trying to jump too early into the management cadre isn’t generally encouraged by most companies.

        Not sure how it works specifically in the biotech space, but I’d assume it’s not too different. They’d want you to earn your stripes in technical roles first. They’ve want you to prove your mettle before you can take on managerial roles and guide technical staff.

      • Aditya says:

        Hi Komal,
        I’m doing my Bachelors in Biotechnology
        Just wanted to know if you finally ended up joining MBA or not?
        Because I was actually thinking about going along the same lines as you
        and I won’t have any work experience too,just internships and projects and community service
        Would be really grateful if you could help me out a bit

  13. Karthik says:

    Hi Sameer,
    The post was especially motivating for me. Thank you very much. By the way, I have one year of experience in IT industry as a developer and I am giving my GMAT as I am still in good condition to give exams. May be I wont be this fit 2 years later.
    I have got an excellent resume and good academic track record (founder of a startup firm, founder of an NGO, got a patent in electrical engineering, funding from govt. to establish a firm, lead a team of 40) but just 1 year of work experience.
    I want an exponential career growth but I feel I am getting stagnated in IT sector.I thought of doing an MBA in a good global B-School through GMAT. Can you please tell me what chances I have ? As almost all schools take people with 3-5 years of work experience.

  14. Sameer Kamat says:

    Karthik,

    If you’ve spent some time on our site, you’d know why we don’t talk about chances based on limited data that applicants share. It can hurt more than it helps to give out quick answers.

  15. Nidhi says:

    Hi Sameer,
    I have almost worked for two years with my father in his restaurant business and have handled the the transformation of the restaurant post renovation as a new entity altogether, like the change in style and menu and handling an entirely new customer base, alongside my father and i guess i have considerable work experience. However, my dad wants to retire and wants to hand over the business to me for which he wants me to finish my MBA ASAP. Getting into good B Schools in India however is a daunting challenge when you are expected to work almost 12 – 13 hours a day.
    Please advice if my candidature would be ideal for a fairly good B School in US or Canada in such a scenario.

  16. Nischal says:

    Hi Sameer. I have been reading a lot of posts on mbacrystal.com and most of them were really helpful. Loved the above article. I am a mechanical
    Engineer working as a Design Engineer for a construction equipment company. I have been in this field for 4 years. I bought your book “Beyond the MBA hype” as I’m planning to pursue my MBA in a good B-school. I have developed a keen interest in online Business and its marketing. As per your advice in your book, I read the class of 2015 student profile and placement brochure of two B schools (IIM-A & IIM-B). Reading all those profiles, about their experiences and exposures they’ve had in a span of 6 to 10 years makes me feel overwhelmed. Even though I have 4 years of experience, it’s limited only to technical and design. I have no other experience like team leading and managing. I now feel that my quality of work experience in not enough to pursue my MBA in a good B-school. But I have a lot of interest in Online Business and Marketing. Although I have seen that in the past, ISB has taken in students with less than 3 years of experience for their 1 year MBA program. Is MBA right for me now? If not, is it possible for me to make a complete career change into a completely different domain or industry like Marketing and other management jobs. That way I can have a strong profile and also a clear overview and experience in those fields before going for an MBA. Please help. I need guidance.

  17. Anuj says:

    Hi,

    I have been working with a Big 4 in India from last 29 months. I am planning to apply for Masters this year in US and UK. One of the programs which i am interested in LSE’s Msc Management and Strategy. Other than this I plan to apply for few MBA programs in US and UK. I have done my graduation in BBA. Could you suggest me some MBA programs where i can have a good chance of getting through?

  18. Sindhu says:

    Hi,
    I completed my engineering 2 monthes back and currently iam preparing for CAT and I want to attempt gmat too…And I dnt have work experience…is there any possibility of getting an admission abroad for MBA..

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