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, Yale Silver Scholars, 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.
Read Deferred (Pre-Admit) MBA Programs in USA, India and Europe
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.