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Will too much or too little work experience hurt your MBA admission chances?

Too old for MBA?

We have all heard the tale of a statistician who drowned while crossing a river that was, on average, only three feet deep. That, as they say, is the fallacy of averages.

More often than not though, in the MBA admissions area, we tend to look at the averages.

As the more mathematically inclined would say, averages do serve a pretty useful purpose, especially if the deviation in the group under consideration is not too high.

In the past, we’ve looked at the average age and experience at top MBA schools which tell us that the proverbial sweet spot is in the 4-5 years range.

So, does that mean you should not apply if you aren’t in that range?

The answer, instead of ‘it depends’ in this case, is a maybe. And that’s what we will analyse in this article.

Is too little or too much work experience bad for MBA applications?

We have, in the past, also established why work experience is needed to begin with for an MBA. So, we are not going to go over that again.

Let’s look at what happens to those on either side of the average in four separate buckets thus steering as clear as possible of the fallacy of averages.

After all, someone with no experience is bound to be different than say someone with 2 years of experience, right?

Without much ado, here are the four buckets we see frequently, categorized per the years of experience at the time of matriculation (read, starting the MBA program).

[P.S. The names are just for some fun, so don’t read between the lines.]

Early Seekers aka Fresh graduates

This one should be easy if you’ve followed along the article (including the links we’ve shared) so far.

If you subscribe to the need and value of work experience, by definition, it is almost always not a great idea to pursue a GMAT based MBA dream right after graduation.

There are hardly ever any exceptions to this and if there is, it should be self-evident whereby, you are eons ahead of everyone in your peer group. And by that, we don’t just mean your college, but perhaps among the larger graduating population across your country/region.

Some in this space can explore the MiM degree route, while some others can get in the race for deferred MBA programs – the latter ideally not an option for those who have graduated actually and thus require fair amount of pre-planning.

Young achievers aka Over 3 years of experience

This is where the situation starts getting interesting (and tricky?) as we approach the boundary condition zone.

Just one more year – what difference is that gonna make really, you say? Well, it could make quite some difference actually. Let’s see how.

If you read the table provided on the average experience link closely, you’d know that the average is closer (and in many cases higher) to 5 and not 4.

Which means that at 3 years, you are actually coming in a good 2 years short for most programs – that does make it out of the boundary condition purely from a number speak.

Beyond the numbers too, it should be pretty obvious that one can accomplish a lot in two years – ask those with 2 years of experience who we have coolly ignored after all!

And if you don’t think you’d do much in the 2 years, then boy, it’s time for a change. Use the time to build your MBA application profile and don’t just dwell in the status quo.

Push your boundaries, not just with your work, but everything in the profile that matters.

Mind you that at this range, you will still be within what many would say the median 80% range for many schools.

In the bschool admissions arena, that still means you have to help the admissions committee (adcom) understand why should they overlook the fact that you are not in the average range.

One way to determine is to look around – see if there are others from your company/similar profile who have made it; check basically if your employer has been a feeder to top schools, for candidates in your age/experience range.

Even if not, look for ways through which you’d be able to convince the adcom about why they should consider you and not someone, with 2 more years of experience (and likely your senior) from your company.

If you have an unequivocal and quantified answer to that question, then my friend, you may just be able to make a run for it.

Top MBA in USA and UK with 2 years of work experience

Late Bloomers aka 5-8 years of experience

Why this range? Well, because a little birdie (such as industry knowledge, expert insights, informal conversations, past experience) told us that this is still being within the median 80% range that we dealt with just a while ago.

The issues if you fall in this bracket are though not the same one as those faced by Young Achievers above. Not tough to see why.

You have the years behind you and you are just a bit away from the average; so, what gives?

Well, the issue is exactly that – you have more experience and that year count should come with not just another number, but a lot more than that.

Meaning, you should have achievements to boot and a lot more than someone in the sweet spot range.

By taking you, adcoms want to enrich the class and not take someone who takes more years/time to achieve what their average class does faster.

They are not looking to slow down the class but rather, gain from maturity and perspective.

This also usually means even better clarity on career aspirations and a better research on fit with the school.

In fact, in many cases, such as at several European programs, you’d be right up their alley – another reason to choose the schools more wisely rather than blindly going for the rankings game.

In short, for this group, it is usually a bit easier than the previous one, provided you’ve earned those greying hair.

The Execus(e)ors aka Over 8 years of experience

My bad, for the slightly confusing name there – that’s essentially those with an excuse.

For that’s what it is at first glance for most adcoms (barring a few exceptions of course) – that there has to be a reason (read excuse) that you are trying to catch the bus so late in life.

They’d be wary of you having some sort of identity/existential mid-life crisis and trying to think of an expensive MBA degree as a way out.

Why you may ask – because recruiters and the entire school machinery is not well geared to service someone at your age/experience.

You’d have to convince everyone at each stage, not just during admissions, to make exceptions and look at your application differently.

If you’ve mustered the courage and the story for that, only then should you go ahead.

In case you are way over the line, you can explore some specialized Fellows programs.

Here, more than anywhere, the top concern on your adcom’s mind would be employability and the ‘excuse’ for you at being late in the game. Make sure you address those aspects well throughout the application journey.
If any of that was confusing, here’s the summary.

The further you go from the class average, the trickier it gets.

The flavour of the trickier part of course varies, but trickier it does become.

If you fall in any of the buckets above, or anything in between, think objectively and assess your story well before you take the plunge.

At MBA Crystal Ball, we’ve worked with numerous MBA applicants with low and high work experience, and know what it takes to convincingly convey such stories.

If you want some professional help with your MBA applications, drop us an email: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com
Also read:
Calculating your odds of success in MBA admissions
MBA after 30: Am I too old for an MBA degree?
What type of work experience is required for MBA abroad?
Does company size and brand of pre-MBA work experience matter in MBA admissions?
Can a high GMAT score compensate for less work experience?
Why is work experience important for international MBA applications?
Average Age and Work Experience at the Top MBA Programs
Product company vs Service company work experience for MBA applications

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Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Linkedin, Facebook or Email: mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

14 thoughts on “Will too much or too little work experience hurt your MBA admission chances?”

  1. Hi i m Sourav .i m only 22 year old .i have just completed my graduation..i want to do MBA program but my family’s financial condition is so bad .. I have so much interest on doing MBA program since my childhood . So wht can i do . please provide me a good suggestion .

  2. I am a graduate from University of Delhi and I have done post graduation/ MA from Himalayan university in physical education.
    I wish to study in Canada, and find a job on the basis of my educational background.
    I am a national level Skeet shooter in team India and I love Mother Nature, if there is anything I could study further and do something for the environment while earn a suitable income.
    Please suggest
    Thanks and Regards: Payal Babbar

  3. one of the best thing i have read today. perfect points and its really exact matching with the reality. i just wanted to thanks. coming to the point- what you can help me in deciding whether its good idea to do the Post graduation in job specific course where i have the experience. it would chance to grow my career scope as well as stability and compensation. but another option is also very confusing. current salary is above industry standard and i have the tools available to learn by my own space, i am saturated with the study writing exam and doing the theoretical study. so i feel that the monthly salary help me to reduce my frustration and depression which i would be have if am not able to grab the same level of job after PG. i am expecting one to one chat or discussion with you. can you please have a time. i dont find your email ID sir. i am giving my in the email section.

    • Hi Sandip, your note is not very clear as to what are the options you are struggling with. The choice of education or not should depend on your career priorities and preferences. You can reach out to us on mcb (at) mbacrystalball (dot) com

  4. Hi sir very informative article. Sir my CGPA is 6.59/10 in M.Sc Biotech. sir I got above 7 SGPA in 3 semester but due to some reason I got 5.4 SGPA in my 1st semester that cause my overall CGPA to 6.59/10. I have research experience over 2 years and also published 4 papers one is in 2 impact journal along with one patent. But I am not confident that I will get phd with this CGPA. kindly please tell me should I apply for Phd in abroad. Also if you can share the sop so that can get some idea how to write it. thank you sir

  5. Hi Manish,
    I have 2 years of work experience in investment banking from a European country and am looking to get a MBA in the US to move to the US and also change industry. I already have a Masters in Finance and like most European students have had three 6-month internships as part of my studies (1 in audit, 2 in investment banking). All in all, I’m turning 27 this year so despite my 2 yoe, I wouldn’t be much younger than the avantage American student. Would AdCom still consider me like a younger US banker with 2 yoe when assessing my profile?

    • Your age and experience, both matter when applying. As a second master’s candidate, the expectation would be that you’d be more mature and seasoned. In that regard, the 2 years is likely to be a handicap.

      Do reach out to us on mcb (at) mbacrystalball (dot) com with a resume and further profile details and we can delve deeper into this.


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