You’ve just successfully completed an exhausting admission process: you’ve aced your GMAT and TOEFL, selected your choice MBA schools, sent the applications, attended the interviews, and finally received your admit card to your favorite school. You’ve some precious time on your hands before you arrive at the b-school campus. And then someone suggests that you better think of attending a training program, a “pre-MBA internship,” at a company just before you go to school.
Some other ways in which you could use this valuable time profitably make great sense. You can still attend office at your current job for a few more weeks and continue to earn your salary—this money will come in particularly handy since you are about to go two years without pay while paying a king’s ransom of a tuition at your b-school. You can use the time to tie up the loose ends of your financial planning or prepare for the shift to a new country in a few weeks/months. You can spend some more precious time with your family before you board that flight, since god knows when you’re going to see them again.
But these alternatives are not what a few “rising MBAs” opt for before they go to b-school. A survey conducted a few years ago found that nearly 20 percent of prospective MBA students holding admit cards to their schools attended formal “pre-MBA internship” programs in preparation for their MBA experience. An additional 14 percent of soon-to-be MBA students went to informal programs.
So what is pre-MBA internship? It is a program organized at major companies for professionals who are heading to b-schools to join full-time MBA programs. Firms in the sectors of banking, private equity, venture capital, consulting, and marketing, and even nonprofits, arrange pre-MBA internships to provide participants a glimpse at how their industry and firm functions and what roles MBA play in them. Pre-MBA internships can last from four to six weeks.
There are also intensive programs, or “camps,” that are much shorter, lasting only a few days or a week. Pre-MBA is, of course, different from a summer internship program for MBAs, which is a structural part of MBA programs and which could provide you with a job offer at the end.
The Wharton website, in its FAQs, explains that established companies offer structured experiences that may lead to summer internships, acceptance of which may be obligatory. Unstructured pre-MBA internships are typically secured through networking, and participants focus on gaining industry or functional experience with no expectation or obligation of a summer internship position.
Online sources suggest that top multinational giants select candidates for pre-MBA internship only from lists of selected students at the top schools. Although pre-MBA internship is not at all a requirement at schools, your performance during your internship may sent signals to the companies to keep an eye on you as a possible candidate for their summer internships or permanent positions later.
However, candidates who fail to do a pre-MBA internship at a top company needn’t despair. They can still offer their time to start-ups and other small organizations and manage a useful but unstructured and informal “internship.”
Cold-calling or emailing to companies is a good way to get your foot in. LinkedIn may be a good avenue. This exercise of finding a company for internship may provide you with some useful experience at networking. However, there may be no salary.
Should you attend a pre-MBA internship program? If you’re planning on switching careers after your graduation (about one-third of all MBA applications plan to do just that), a pre-MBA internship is very much advised, since you will get to know the new industry or role and be able to decide whether you’re going to fit in and whether you are likely to achieve your career goals in the new industry.
Mind you, this pre-MBA program may give you only a quick preview, and might probably tell you whether you should come back to the same company or industry for the more serious summer internship after your first year at b-school. It may not give you very much more.
Another benefit of attending a pre-MBA internship is that you would be indicating your interest in a company or sector, improving your chances of being considered a good candidate when you apply for a summer internship in the same organization. You will have much more to show the company than your case studies or lectures attended during your first year at b-school. Even if you ignore all of the above, there’s the great experience you will have earned even before setting foot on b-campus soil. (For first-person accounts, see link.)
In any case, a fifth of your prospective school fellows are attending a program to prepare themselves for the b-school experience and they can’t be far wrong, can they? Remember, pre-MBA programs offer a peek at industries, give you an indication about the academic preparations that will be required, and provide tips for professional development. Many programs offer focused internship for women and minorities.
If you are joining a one-year MBA program, a pre-MBA internship would make very good sense. Your program is going to last only ten or 12 months, and you could get some extra experience even before you start your MBA courses. If you can manage a pre-MBA internship in the country or city where your b-school is located, then that will also help you settle down quickly and start focusing on studies from day one.
Now how to find a useful pre-MBA internship? You can create a list of organizations where you wish to take up a job after b-school graduation. Many top companies offer formal pre-MBA internship along with other pre-MBA events, including boot camps. Your prospective classmates or school alumni can also give you tips on which companies have such programs.
If you are looking for single-company-sponsored programs, JP Morgan MBA Early Advantage/Insight Program, McKinsey Emerging MBA Scholars Program, and P&G Marketing/Brand Management MBA Summer Camp are among your choices.
Among academic prep programs are Practice MBA Summer Forum, travel-based programs including Booth “Random Walk” trips, Columbia Pre-MBA World Tour (organized by students), and Kellogg Worldwide Experience and Service Trips. Self-guided online tutorials such as Khan Academy and Coursera are also available. Additionally, Bain & Co. and Goldman Sachs offer hybrid diversity pre-MBA programs. Many companies arrange pre-MBA boot camps to identify likely MBA summer internship candidates.
Companies invite prospective students who hold MBA admit cards to apply for their pre-MBA internship online. McKinsey, for example, receives applications by mid-May and announces the list of selected candidates in July. The company only accepts candidates about to join the top b-schools. BCG has in place the “BCG MBA Fellows Scholarship” program, with a similar application process as McKinsey.
Is it a good idea to forget about it? Yes, for at least some candidates. Suppose you’re yet to tie up your financial aid plans for paying your tuition, or you’re still only planning your housing or other basic requirements in the new country, then your pre-MBA time might be better spent in taking care of those concerns.
Talking about the financial aspect, if you need to keep earning for a few more weeks, considering that you won’t be taking home a salary for the next couple of years and you will be facing a stiff tuition and other expenses in a new country, you should probably go to work till as late as possible to ease your financial burden to an extent.
Another reason to give up on the idea of a pre-MBA internship is if you feel you could use a break before the Big Grind. You may already have had a difficult schedule at your current job and now you are getting ready for a breathless two years. If so, it is time to pack you backpack and travel or do something else that can completely relax you. Getting rid of work pressure and getting ready with a fresh state of mind may prove to be more important than a quick company/industry preview. You already hold the admit card, and a stint with a company may not much to further impress your prospective b-school.
If you indeed have some time to spare, you could get a hold of MBA academic course materials and MBA core course textbooks in advance and have a look.
The Wharton website clarifies in its FAQs that individuals should not feel that it is necessary to attend a pre-MBA internship program in order to secure a summer internship or full-time position.
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