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MBA applications: FAQ regarding voluntary career breaks

Two questions that we get often get from aspiring MBA applicants regarding taking a career-break for completing their MBA application. As opposed to forced career breaks (lay-offs, redundancies, down-sizing), here candidates are talking about a voluntary break from their hectic jobs.

1) “I want to produce a high quality application as I am targeting some of the top tier schools. I need some time off to concentrate on my GMAT preparation and MBA applications. After that I would have to manage MBA essays, recommendations, prepare for interviews for multiple schools which would also be quite demanding. If I’m able to take a break (of around four months) from work I’m sure I’ll do a good job with my MBA application. Or if my managers and the HR team don’t agree, I don’t mind leaving my job to focus full-time on GMAT preparation and MBA applications. Would this break be justified?”

The period before your MBA application is quite precious as your fellow competitors might be toiling hard to get the maximum mileage from their current job so that all these achievements can add diversity and value to their profile. There may be others trying their luck at an overseas assignment or trying to take up leadership positions so that all this figures in their application and improves their chances of getting into the best possible school. The admissions committee (adcom) may wonder whether you willingly took the break or whether you were forced to. Either ways they’d want a justification. So you would have a tough time trying to explain the need for this break to the adcom.

An MBA program is quite a vigorous one, especially the time-management part being very tricky. This is more pronounced for a one-year program which tends to be more intense and requires juggling to meet multiple project (both individual as well as group projects) deadlines, attend social networking events (these events could be lead-generation venues for your future jobs or internship), attend lectures, seminars…in short you really ought to be efficient and maximise your output in the available period.

If you‘re feeling over-burdened about handling your MBA application along with your current job, this can raise doubts about your capacity to survive in a competitive b-school environment. Even though your application would be in perfect shape because of your devoted efforts, this career-break could be a setback for your application.

2) “But I have a high pressure job. I need to travel quite often. How will I get enough time for my GMAT prep and essays both of which need a concentrated effort? I would like to apply to my top priority schools in the first round itself as I would hold the maximum chances of getting in; so I would have multiple applications to manage. Doesn’t taking a break at this point sound logical?”

It is pretty common for Indian students to take a break while preparing for important targets (IAS, IIT, Miss World etc). But when it comes to international MBA applications, this practice would seem a little unusual for Adcoms that get strong profiles from across the world without this Indian tadka of career-breaks.

If you ask us, we’d recommend that you resist this temptation of taking this break. There are better ways to manage it. You can follow some of the ‘best practices’ (can’t help it, corporate buzzwords are omnipresent!) like beginning your B-school research early.

We have come across candidates who sort out their school-related queries on forums and are regular readers more than two years before their scheduled MBA plans. You can spend time on school websites and various MBA forums gathering information. You can set aside some time each day or maybe some devoted time on the weekends for the same.  

As far as your GMAT preparation goes, you can get hold of some good GMAT books. Browse through them to get a feel of the kind of questions asked. If you think you can manage it on your own, that’s the best way forward. In case you wish to get some GMAT mentors, you can go in for coaching or one-on-one tutoring. Online coaching has made it possible to access study material even when you’re travelling.

Your GMAT scores are applicable for up to five years so once you’re done with that, you can focus solely on the essays. Take it one at a time and though the process might take slightly longer, you’ll be able to come up with a good quality application.

Once you’re convinced about being able to multi-task, go ahead with the time-frame allocation for each component, set milestones and focus towards achieving it. All the best with your efforts!

We have come across genuine cases where it would’ve been almost impossible to focus seriously on MBA related activities. But these are rare. In most cases, better planning can resolve the issues without having to resort to extreme measures like leaving your job.

Also read, How to explain frequent job switching in MBA admissions and this student experience of an Executive MBA in Australia after resume gap of 6 years.

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

47 thoughts on “MBA applications: FAQ regarding voluntary career breaks”

  1. Dear Sameer,
    I work with the Inst.equities arm of an MNC & have been laid-off due to the current scenario in the equities market, so if it takes next couple of months for me to get back to work(Bcos i am not interested to get into any other namesake jobs)will the break be taken as a negative point for Bschool Admission.The reason for my layoff is due to the restructuring process initiated in our Asia-Pac Head Office & not due to non performance.Seek your view

    • Mani sir,

      Business cycles can be cruel and in these phases corporates that ‘value their people the most’ can be more cruel. They can show little sympathy before getting the axe down even on their best performing employees. Ironic are the ways of the corporate world.

      The silver lining there is that Adcoms know how it works. More so in the US than anywhere else, where the hire-and-fire policies can be quite brutal.

      My advice to you – Let your pre-layoff accomplishments do the talking in your apps. Over the coming months, after from waiting for the tide to turn, see what else you can do for self-improvement. You’ve been given a break from the mad rush of the dog-eat-dog world. Use it as an opportunity to introspect and live life a little more than usual.

      P.S. For others trying to establish a connection between the post (where we talk about voluntary breaks) and Mani’s query, there isn’t any.

  2. I am an engineering graduate..passed out in 2012. Joined a reputed firm as a software engineer in oct last year . Unfortunately after completing my training i had an accident .. Treatment for which required complete bed rest. Bt my managers aftr 3 weeks of leave forced me to resign as the company was already cutting down itsbwork force. Despite trying hard i had to resign in feb. Now it will still take me afew months to recover. Which i want to.utilize by preparing fr mba exams. Kindly guide me if some good b school will provide me admission or will this career break affect me adversely ???

  3. @Neha: Hope you are recovering well. Seems like you are going through a pretty rough phase. Accident & Layoff happening at the same time is quite challenging.

    If you are looking at international bschools, your overall experience is quite low. So when you recover fully, start looking at getting your career back on track. Hopefully in 2-3 years you’d know where you want to take your career. That’s when you can bring the MBA option back to consider.

  4. Hi Sameer,
    I’m a Sr.DBA holding 5 Years of work experience in IT Industry.My Academic Scores are in decreasing order(x’th-70%,x12’th – 62%,B.Tech – 57%). Now that I want to switch my career from IT to Management. Kindly suggest me a way where I have to start with. Basic thing what I have in mind and came to know from others is I have to take GMAT with good score and then apply to B-Schools(In India). Apart from this I really don’t have any idea regarding essays, recommendation letters etc and where do I have to get ’em. Only thing I knew and want is to pursue MBA in one of the top 10 B-Schools in India and get my career shifted. I was searching for your mail id and where/how do I contact you, to get proper guidance from you.


  5. Hi,

    I have completed B Sc Physics in 2011. I worked at Infosys for 18 months as Testing Executive. I took a voluntary career break for 1 yr to prepare for my mba exams. Missed xlri cut off by 3 marks. I got calls from tiss and other colleges. But I couldn convert any top institute. I didn apply to any of the other colleges apart from xlri , tiss and IIMs. I missed applying spjain and ximb. Now my problem is I am thinkin of giving gmat and all mba exams. But I could not afford one more year break but i have no other go than going for another year break. I do work at mad on weekends. Its volunteering. Please tell me sir what to do..i do try for another job to fill this yr. But in case if i do not get any opportunity i have to go for a yr break again. So this would show in my resume a break of two yrs with only volunteering on weekends. Please suggest any other plans to fill this career gap. How does this going to affect my mba applications..?

  6. Hi Sameer
    I currently work with TCS and I have 2 years and 5 months work experience.
    I am preparing for GMAT and want to get into a top B school in US.
    I am resigning from my job next week to join my family business for few months which is different from my field of study, but since they need a helping hand I have no other option but to leave my job.
    Can this break from job and shifting to business for sometime become a setback in my MBA Application next year.

    Please reply ASAP as I have to decide on my resignation.


    Sudesh patodiya

  7. @Banu: The best way to avoid extending the gap is to take up a job. It isn’t common for GMAT MBA aspirants to leave everything and just prepare for the test and applications.

    @Sudesh: If you don’t have a choice but to join, then you shouldn’t be asking others for opinions, bro. You have to have your priorities clear – family or career. I’d say go for family. Careers can always be managed later when things stabilise on the personal front.

  8. Hi,

    I have a 3.5 years of IT experience. I left my job in 2013 July. Its been 8 months now and i will be appearing for GMAT in coming couple of months. Will this career break affect me adversely in admission process? As I have a career break, will I be asked to produce a recommendation letter?

    Thank you,

  9. Hey Sameer,
    I just recently moved back to India after being in the US for 6 years (4 years of studying + 2 years of working) for personal reasons, and have a 3 month gap in employment. I did, however, take an online course through Coursera and kept myself somewhat busy.

    I’m going to start a job soon, and I plan to apply to MBA colleges (like Booth, ISB, NUS, etc.) this year and the next. Do you think the Coursera course can help with explaining the gap in employment?


  10. Hey Sameer,

    I have 5 years of work ex in IT.2 months back I moved to another city with my husband and now looking for a job here. Not sure when will I get a job here but I am using the time to prepare for GMAT which was already in plan.Please suggest if this will affect my application and what measures I can take to fill this gap.


  11. @Akshay: The recommendation letters would be needed not for the break but to speak about your 3.5 yrs of experience.

    @Sudesh: Good luck!

    @db: Coursera wasn’t a full-time course, right. So there may still be questions about what else you did.

    @Palak: Get involved in anything that has a structured role. Doesn’t have to be a paid job.

  12. Hi,
    I’m currently working in a manufacturing company which doesn’t leave me ample time to prepare for CAT.
    Since I have no interest in continuing in the same sector , I was contemplating on quitting my job (since I was denied leave without pay for 3 months time period) and focussing on my MBA preparations.
    I’m aware of the chaos a career gap can create , so inorder to justify I was planning to state that I was working alongside my father who runs a hotelling business.
    Its not that I would just be stating it since I’ve grown up discussing hotelling matters with my dad……….
    Now all I want to know is if this would serve the purpose and justify my career gap……………………..
    Please reply asap since I planning to quit very soon…………………..

  13. Hey Sameer,

    I had a quick query regarding the number of attempts for the GMAT.
    I’ve already taken the exam thrice, however I’m still not satisfied with my score. I was wanting to check on what would be the number of attempts that may lead the adcoms to raise eyebrows and question my capacity to handle an MBA program. Also I would beg restful if you could provide some guidance on a what we can call a safe number of GMAT attempts.
    Many thanks.

  14. @Yashica: Working with your dad might fill the gap, but also ask yourself – does that new experience take you anywhere closer to your post-MBA goals? If yes, then it’ll save you a lot of justification effort.

    @Kohli: I’ve known folks who’ve taken the test 5 times. One of them topped his class and is working for McKinsey now. As long as you are making progress with the attempts, it’s fine. Don’t spend too much time on it though.

  15. Hi Sameer,

    I have already done my MBA from a reputed institute in India and have been working with couple of multinational companies with a total work experience close to 5.5 Years (pre and post MBA). I had to quit my job as I am shifting out of the country with my husband moving out of the country. I a contemplating on taking my 2nd MBA (1 yr program) for a global perspective and prepare for leadership role. I would be living as an Expat and got no option to figure out another job immediately. Will this break hamper my chances?

  16. @Priya: You have a valid reason for the break. If you 5.5 year career has been eventful with good accomplishments, go ahead and apply. You can always use the option essay to explain why you had to take the break.

  17. Hi,

    I have been working for last 4 years now, out of which last 2.5 years have been with world’s most admired company in the retail sector. I am perfectly happy working with my company. My conundrum is not whether I should leave my job to brace myself for Gmat but it’s whether I should look towards MBA as an option at all. Lately I have been rated among top performing employees amongst my team-mates. I have good chances of getting selected for a bigger role in the future (may be another 2 years). However, I find myself often at a status quo in my current role and have an urge of doing something different (may be I am bored?). The puzzle thats bothering me is shall I take the leap of faith and work towards my MBA goals and later join better jobs or do my labor and earn the rewards of my current job in years to come. If I choose to stick with my company, will looking towards a management degree in a later stage of my life seem feasible? (considering if I’m married and stuck with whole lot of other commitments). I hope my situation is clear to you and may be you can help me with this.



  18. Hi Sameer,
    i quit my job last month after 3 years of work experience as a project manager in a reputed multinational company. I’m going to volunteer in Ghana till september 2015. I would like to know whether applying in round 2 next year would hamper my chances of getting into a good bschool, as I would mostly be treated as an unemployed MBA applicant when I’m back next year. Is there any way of covering it up while searching for jobs. And, if I do get a job, would it be ethical to join knowing that I would eventually leave if i get into a good school?

  19. @Jasmeet: If you are happy with the way your career is going, why slam the brakes now? You can always target one year in India or UK or elsewhere after a few years if you get the feeling of stagnation.

    @Puja: You could apply this year itself, so that you can come back next year from Ghana in time for the classes to begin. And there’s nothing unethical in taking up a job, when there are no guarantees about getting an admit from top bschools.

  20. Dear Sameer,

    I am an MBA aspirant getting prepared for GMAT, I’m having a work Experience of 5.5 years, and i am married from May 2014, I am having my exam in the month of March 2015, and unfortunately i am going to go through a family crisis where i need to spend time taking care of my in laws for which i may have to take off from work for three months, and I am being positive and trying utilize that time for preparing for my MBA applications too. Will this gap in my career will lead to any problem during my admission procedures? Please suggest me.

  21. Hi Sameer,

    I am planning to take a short career break from my current company due to family medical reasons, since my company is refusing to relocate me even temporarily. Taking care of my dad is a priority but will this be bad for my application? I am planning to start work after about 3 months time and also give my Gmat in the meantime. please help me out with your suggestions.

  22. @Vijayashree: The break is being triggered by circumstances that aren’t in your control. You can justify it in your optional essay. Focus on the GMAT and write strong essays to convince the Admissions committees that your 5.5 years of work experience has been impressive. Good luck!

    @Pollux: The previous response (just above this) is relevant for you as well.

  23. Hi, I am a 8+ years of experienced IT professional in Mainframe application development and as a consultant and Business analyst role for US govt healthcare. I’m originally from India though currently is working in US as a BA and by now have consecutive 5+ years of US working experience. I have one year of gap in 2012 due to birth of my kids. However , I am returning to India in the next few months as my work Visa is expiring.
    I have a dilemma now,I have wanted to pursue an MBA degree for long, though I must say I don’t have any specifics yet such as the school or the specific stream but I know the GMAT exam process .I need to gather more info on Admission and GMAT essays and interviews as well. What should be the correct approach for me , I have to leave my current job at USA before returning to India,so I am at the crossroads where I should start looking for another job(kind of challenging and tough 5 years out of touch of Indian job market and requirements) /Or should I start taking prep for GMAT seriously and utilize this break for getting admission through a decent school and complete my MBA??
    I’m not really sure what would be a good path to choose to? Any advice, suggestions are very welcome.Thanks in advance.

  24. @Madhu: Take up a job in India and prepare for the GMAT in parallel. Ideally, you should’ve got the GMAT out of the way several months earlier, so you could target this years deadlines. Now you’d be aiming for the next MBA application season.

  25. Hi Sameer, i am an IT professional and i am looking at MBA in a while. I would like to get into some kind of job that will be of relevance to my MBA application. Can you please give me some advice on this or direct me to a place where i can get these information.

  26. Sridhar: If you scroll up to the menu option on this site, you’ll find many popular post-MBA career options listed under career guidance. Browse through it and see if anything interests you.

  27. Hi Sameer,i worked in TCS for 2 years and then i resigned 8 months back this year due to family issues but unfortunately it also took my time to prepare and study for MBA entrance exams 2014,as i planned at the time of resigning.I want admission in best university and for that the only option left is to prepare for MBA entrance exams 2015.This is surely would take 1.5 year and would extend my career break to 2 years.Will it cost me after MBA completion at the interview time.How can i best utilize my time now.Also i have applied to many jobs in IT to cover this gap period but didn’t get any interview call yet,maybe because of career gap.Please suggest.

  28. Hi Sameer ,

    I am a 29 years old and working for an IT company since 5 years . Recently when deployed to a new project I saw all MBA guys sitting on top of me and directing me to develop an application . One thing that they are doing is just talking .
    I realized that its high time I should quit my job and prepare for GRE/GMAT at least in order to gain a higher degree . Would like to join some college next year . Is it advisable to leave the job ? (Have tried a lot in the past to prepare with the job but in vain).


  29. Hello Sameer,

    First and foremost I would like to applaud you for your great counseling job here.

    I am a Mechanical Engineer by academic records & currently working fro past 1 and half years in field of Sales & Projects for a Manufacturing based firm.I graduated in the year 2013.

    I am also pursuing Master of Engineering in Manufacturing System and having completed first year exams successfully, currently completing my final year dedicated thesis.

    I took up ME Manufacturing with aim of applying for Global Manufacturing course at ISB Mohali.

    Can you guide me in brief about the tentative time I should apply to get the best of my experience & academics.I am yet to give GMAT.

    Thanks & Warmest regards.

  30. Hi Sir,

    I have 2.5 years of experience working with a captive organizations as (domestic) recruiter after my graduation. I hear from lot of people of not taking a career brake and prepare while working, which looks more of a limitation as my concentration goes on my work and given 1 hour every day, doesn’t think will suffice for preparation.

    Please suggest a way out.

    Aditya Sharma

  31. @Sachin and Aditya: Try not to leave your job to prepare for the GMAT exam. You’ll end up having to make more justifications.

    @Kaustubh: You can apply when you have 3-4 yrs of experience.


  32. Hi Sameer,

    I have around 4.5 years of work experience ( till jan 15) , into retail banking as a Wealth Manager At present i am working as Independent Portfolio Advisor/Financial Advisor to a group of clients. I am Planning to take my GMAT exam in the month of June . Please let me know since i am not associated with any organization at present and working independently ,would this will have a negative impact on my profile in mba selection process.

    My Career Synopsis.

    Graduation – BBA from BIT Mesra Yr 2007.

    Post Graduate Diploma in Banking .Manipal University. Yr 2008 (Company Sponsored)

    Joined Private Bank in Nov 2008 as Probationary officer, grew to the level of Wealth Manager. (till March 2011).

    March 2011 to Jan 13 – Did my SAS certification , Worked in few outsourced projects. Was not successful in finding any Job in data analytics.

    Feb 2013 – Joined a Bank , Worked as a Senior Relationship Manager. (till Jan 2015)

    Feb 2015 till date – Currently Working as Independent Portfolio Advisor/Financial Advisor to group of clients.



  33. Hi Sameer..i am a graduate from india and have an experience of around 11 yrs in sales(8 yrs post grad).Currently i am working as the Manager with a reputed MNC and have 4 formal recognition’s and two back to back promotions.But my profile dosent allow me to take out time for studies as i travel a lot.So i was thinking of taking a break and preparing for my GMAT and applications.Should i leave the current job and do the preparations full time Or if should i take a short term course along with my preparations to fill that gap. I am targeting Singapore / Canadian b schools. Please suggest.

  34. Hi Sameer,
    I am an agricultural engineer working as a Customer care manager in d best tractor company of the country. I got here through campus placements in the year 2013.
    My job requires travelling fr around 25 days a month. I seriously try to take out time for my prep but there is no continnum.
    I appeared for CAT last year but could not score well attributing to no proper study pattern. I want to take a break so that I can focus on one thing that I really want to do.
    Plz suggest

  35. Hello sameer sir,
    I am a chemical engineer by profession with 4years, of experiance in manufacturing industry as an process engineer . I am preparing for gmat and targetting admission fr 2016.but i have developed some kind of allergy to few chemical substance leading to respiratory problem.i am thinking of quiting job next month. My marriage is also slated in nov ds year and after that i have to move out with my husband to its almost a gap of one year if i leave now or even i dont its going to b atleast six months afterward.i want to know how much it is going to affect my chances of getting a good b school with a career break like this?is it okay to leave job now or after six months and how much preffrernce is given to non-it engineers to these programmes?

  36. Hello Sameeer,
    I am 32 years old with 5 years of job experience in the banking sector, presently I am working as a branch manager with a regional rural bank. I have a gap of 2 years after completion of senior secondary school (leave to prepare for medical entrance exams), also I have a gap of one year between my jobs, although no gap since since last 3 years. I have a good academic record till senior secondary but have performed poorly in graduation .I am serious about pursuing a one year MBA (not executive MBA !!) in India .what would you suggest??? Am I too old ,or not sufficient work experience compared to my age ??? too many breaks or Gaps???
    Your advice will be of great help.

  37. Hi Sameer,

    Does changing companies frequently affect MBA application ?
    I have 7+ years of experience in IT industry., currently working in 4th company. But unfortunately my current company is not doing good., they have already laid of few employees. So i have to change my company once again before my number comes up. I had plans to apply for MBA in early 2016.,preferably in Europe. But now considering my situation., not very sure whether it will be good to apply in 2016 or wait for one more year and then apply in 2017.
    Also i would like to mention, i have average grades in my BE. Please suggest.

  38. hi sameer
    i was working as assistant professor in an engineering college and college was not paying our salary and many of us resigned our jobs. still iam in search of job and ia have 3 years of experience in that field and am 31 now!!. is it possible for me to take up cat/xat exams and persue MBA in B schools?? i have thought for Ph.D in technical field but the engineering colleges have low job market, its difficult for surviving !!! so i hope you will provide me a good solution

  39. Hi Sameer,
    I am currently working as a software engineer in an international bank, I have around 4.1 years of experience. Due to the large and widespread business I have gained good exposure in my job. I want to start preparing for may GMAT exam but 6 months down the line I have to move to a different location with my husband. I see many people have been advised to not leave their job for GMAT preparation, so I have to look for a new job first when I shift, since a lot of preparation is required for a software developer to shift to a new company, now I will have to study first to switch a job and then for GMAT, this will ultimately further delay my GMAT preparation. Is there any other option I can avail when I quit my job next year. I wish to change my domain so I see studying for IT will be just to avoid gaps in career and not out of interest. Please advice.

  40. Hi Sameer,

    I have 3 years of experience in one of the top consulting company. I got admission in top Indian B School and classes will start next mid year. I was thinking to take a break now from my job and start preparing for the B school so that I can head start when i join the classes. My question is:
    – Whether it is advisable to take break from job
    – If yes whether it will impact my placement after my MBA and company’s might ask why I took a break.

    Please advice.

  41. Hi Sameer,

    I have 8 years of fulltime experience in IT services for Financial firms. I graduated from an ivy league Indian Engineering college with a GPA of 3.2/4 .I have worked as a java consultant in NYC’s top financial firms for the last 4 years. However , due to lack of proper childcare in US i was forced to take a break to take care of my kid . Now i am planning to apply for Top 10 B-Schools.

    1. How will my break affect my chances of getting into a 2 year MBA program or part time program from Top schools?
    2. Should i be in a job while applying for B-Schools? (Should i consider going back to work and then apply for MBA programs?)


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