The average work experience for ivy league MBA programs is 5 years at matriculation. Which means most applicants apply with 4 years of experience.
That puts younger folks with lesser experience at a serious disadvantage. More so at European schools like the London Business School, where the average age and experience is even higher. [read Will too much or too little work experience hurt your MBA admission chances?]
Armaan (name changed) was applying with 2 years of work experience. And he was in no mood to cut corners in terms of the MBA ranking and bschool prestige.
We generally don’t recommend doing that, given the low chances of getting in. But his unique profile, career plans and the stories he shared with us gave us the confidence that he’d have a fighting shot.
He shares his application experience and how he managed a waitlist to get what he ultimately wanted. Not without some anxious moments though!
How I got into top MBA programs with 2 years of work experience
As a young student, I was curious to know more about the world through multiple lenses of international affairs, sports, and travel.
While studying Sciences at a higher level in a Mumbai-based IB school, I was drawn-in by the theater of Model United Nations as my primary extracurricular passion.
It was a growing interest and competence in debating world issues – seeing problems from both sides – that got me hooked to the idea of pursuing an undergraduate education in International Politics.
I visualized college, aided by a liberal arts education, as a journey of self-discovery, building life skills, and developing an open global mindset; the right job opportunity would follow as a by-product.
With encouragement from family and friends, I applied confidently with a decent ACT score and rising grades.
Along with other admits across North America and Europe, I was accepted by one of the leading schools in the US for international affairs, thereby avoiding a more common path for Indian college students abroad.
The university had one of the best faculty and resources to deep-dive in diverse interest areas. Over the 4 years, I keenly studied Asia, Comparative Politics Systems across capitalist and communist leaning societies, and US politics.
I also got a chance to travel solo to far-off lands such as South America and East Asia. Entering my junior year, surrounded by bright minds captivated by similar interests, I was conflicted between a career in foreign service/law and business.
It was at this time, I took the GRE over summer break as a requirement for either career (knowing that business schools were more accepting of GRE now).
I prepared with great effort for 3 months with a balanced focus on Verbal and Quant, solving over a dozen timed practice exams and revising weaker topic areas.
I received a score of 331/340 (V 166, Q 165), which was a solid and balanced representation of my abilities.
The summer also gave me time to reflect that while international politics was a passion (and remains even today), I was more inclined to understand the world of business for a career choice as a strategy consultant.
Based out of Mumbai, I worked at a top non-MBB strategy house across problem statements, industries, and geographies.
The incredible pace of learning and ownership of responsibilities with significant client relationship-building compelled me to seriously consider pursuing an MBA from a Top-10 MBA program to further up-skill.
I was in a position, wherein waiting another year to apply when I would likely already be at a post-MBA role, could have been counterproductive, especially since I wished to remain in the same industry after my MBA.
Also, complementing my professional career with CFA L1 preparation, I truly felt prepared for the MBA experience and challenges.
Lastly, my GRE score was expiring soon!
So, with lofty goals I was determined to apply to 8 top schools, but with awareness of bold obstacles –
- Young applicant with only 2 years work-experience while applying (3 year upon matriculation).
- Good but ‘non-stellar’ standardized test score for target schools given my over-represented pool.
- Restricting myself to only M7 schools + Tuck + LBS.
I trusted my ability to self-reflect and express articulately, but knew I needed a top admissions consultant to mentor me through the process and sharpen my ideas.
It took me an entire month to research various options before I chose to work with Manish from MBA Crystal Ball for a 6-school engagement.
While he too, like other consultants voiced concerns about the risk, I found him to be the most direct, patient, and empathetic.
Manish also acknowledged my determination, hence willing to support me through ups and downs of the year-long process.
The experience of working with him was friendly, candid, and intellectually stimulating. I learned a lot about my strengths and blind spots over invigorating brainstorming sessions.
I found a coach who trusted my ideas and words, but adeptly streamlined the thinking and helped me improve my expression.
The entire process required a lot of effort, time, and constant communication – but was great fun!
I submitted all 8 applications in Round 1. In the following months, despite what seemed like a successful interview at one of the M7 business schools, I was rejected along with 4 other schools in a row.
Thereafter, I interviewed for LBS and Kellogg in Dubai since I was on a project in the region; the LBS interviewer maintained a poker-face throughout so there was not much to gauge, while the Kellogg interview experience was very positive.
I interviewed for Tuck on Skype – another very warm and positive interaction. Ultimately, after multiple rejections, I was absolutely relieved upon my acceptance to LBS in November!
But, I was waitlisted at Kellogg and Tuck in December.
While LBS is a great program, my heart was set on the U.S. for strong personal and professional reasons.
So, I took the waitlist results in my stride and optimistically charted a path to update adcom on developments regularly (without overburdening) for the next few months.
Along with updates on MOOC courses, alum interactions, career developments, travel, and restating genuine passion for the schools (both similar), I naturally developed a bond with few adcom members.
Eventually, on a clear sky night in March while on holiday, I received the phone call from Hanover –
Armaan, welcome to Tuck!
I was over-the-moon and incredibly excited for what had just happened.
I gave myself the next month to deliberate between the two acceptances, while persisting on the waitlist for a bit before dropping out to make way for my journey to the school where I saw myself ‘fit’ the best with its warm and collaborative culture.
Differentiators for my application success
- Unique undergraduate education from a highly recognized US institution
- Extensive global exposure through academics, extracurriculars, and travel
- Steep learning curve and high-impact responsibilities as a young consultant
- Intense research for schools (networking with 25 alums and multiple MBA guide books)
- Preparation a year in advance (with clearly articulated short-term and long-term goals)
Finally, what worked for me most was that I could preempt a roller-coaster experience given my handicaps that I was aware of, and so was resilient through all the uncertainties without second-guessing the strength of my candidacy once.
I also cannot discount the role of plain luck!
– Can a high GMAT score compensate for less work experience?
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– What type of work experience is required for MBA abroad?
– How I got into London Business School: MBA in UK after MS in USA