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MBA After Graduation vs Work Experience: Which is Better? And why IIMA plans to kill its 2-year MBA

Here’s another frequently asked question that we keep getting every single year from thousands of students who’re interested in management careers.

Which is better after graduation – MBA or work experience?

In one sentence, if you’re really confused whether to go for an MBA straight after graduation or get some work experience, do the latter.

Getting some work experience on your resume is always helpful whether you want to pursue an MBA or not.

This of course does not mean that this is the right course of action for everyone. Here are some exceptions.

  • Many people are clear that they want to do an MBA right after graduation.
  • Many people are clear that they do not want to continue in the field of their graduation.
  • Many people want to join the family businesses and see no point in working for someone else.

In all such cases, heading straight to B-school right after graduation might be an option.

But as always, the devil is in the details, and below we catch the devil by its tail and give it a good shake to get you a detailed low-down on the pros and cons of each approach.

Advantages of heading straight to B-School for an MBA after graduation

Many MBA aspirants who reach out to us, share these reasons and benefits of heading straight into an MBA after graduation.

1. The learning mindset

Newton’s first law of motion states that objects at rest continue to remain at rest unless an external force is applied to them.

It’s the same with our brains.

Context switching is hard for the human brain. If you’ve just finished graduation, you are still in the learning mode. This makes it easier for you to pick up concepts taught in the MBA program.

On the other hand, someone coming to B-school after 5 years at work will have to rewire their brain to function in an academic setting.

From boardroom to classroom is not always a smooth transition, and several people struggle to make the switch.

It is inertia; simple physics.

2. Easier to switch lanes

If you do not wish to pursue a career in the field you graduated in, going straight for an MBA after graduation is the best way for you to successfully switch lanes.

An MBA is like the sea – no matter what the color of the river that flows into it, once it joins the sea, it becomes the sea.

The poets, the quants and everybody else in between finds their forever home after joining a B-school.

Like the Statue of Liberty, an MBA calls out across the tempest-ridden shores to the “tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of the teeming shores”, shining its flaming torch and promising a new future.

Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but you get the point.

Looking to switch into a different field? It’s easier to start from the ground up with entry level jobs.

There’s no clock to reset and you may not feel as guilty about having spent a few years in a career you never liked. Jumping right into an MBA after graduation may work in this case.

3. Time saver

This follows directly from the previous point. If your ultimate career goal is to become a business manager, you save time by diving into a MBA right after graduation, rather than spending a couple of years working a job that may or may not add valuable work experience to your resume.

4. Fewer responsibilities to bog you down

The biological clock is ticking for us all, and as much as we would like to delude ourselves, the fact is that once we cross into the second half of our twenties, each passing year only adds to the burden of responsibilities on our heads.

It’s a time when our parents are retiring from their jobs, and our friends are getting married left, right, and center. We’ve taken out car loans, home loans, or personal loans, and have monthly installments biting into our bank accounts come the 1st of every month.

To make things worse, we begin to see the first wisps of gray colonizing our thick, proud mane like the unruly vines of money plants our parents so carefully nurtured in Old Monk bottles in our homes that, with time, colonized every empty nook in our balconies.

In other words, wait 5 years after graduation for an MBA and you’ll very likely enter B-school smack in the middle of a blazing quarter-life crisis.

If, on the other hand, you do your MBA right after graduation, you’ll find yourself under a lot less pressure, and thus be able to focus better on your academics.

Advantages of getting work experience after graduation

What are the benefits of getting work experience after graduation? Let’s look at a few.

1. Better prospects of making it to your dream B-school

Having work experience makes your B-school application stronger. Simple as that.

It is a bit of a poorly kept secret in MBA admission circles that B-schools have an unspoken preference for profiles with a healthy work experience.

At Wharton for instance, the average incoming student has a work experience of between 5-6 years. In almost all good MBA programs, the number of students with work experience will usually outnumber those who came in right after graduation.

Read this to learn about the average work experience for the top MBA programs.

This of course does not mean that B-schools don’t admit freshers at all. We wouldn’t be having this discussion if they didn’t. There may be a few in the class who have no formal work experience to talk of.

It does mean however, that having at least 3 years of high-quality work experience on your CV gives you a distinct edge when applying for your dream B-school.

2. Learning by doing

Learning to manage a business is like learning to ride a bicycle. You can do as many courses on it as you want, but unless you get your bum on the saddle and your foot on the pedal, have a great many falls and get back up on the bike after each fall, you are never going to learn how to do it.

In short, you become a better manager by becoming a manager.

What an MBA does is provide you the tools and the knowledge that help to bring out your best managerial qualities.

You get better by applying those tools and knowledge to the job at hand. Which means the more you work, the better you get.

Think of an MBA as the steadying hand of an elder holding on to the back of your bike.

You’ll still have your fair share of falls, but having someone hold you while you take your first unsteady steps makes the process a whole lot easier, and certainly far less painful.

At the end of the day though, you’ll become a better cyclist only by riding your cycle more often. It’s the same with being a business manager.

3. Learn to earn first

From kindergarten to 12th grade, you spent 14 years of your life at school. You then spent another 3-4 years studying in a college.

You’re now 21-22 years old and all you’ve done your entire life is sit in classrooms, memorise lessons, and clear exams.

All of this so you can stand on your feet and earn a respectable living.

Working a few years after graduation allows you to get a feel of the one thing you’ve been preparing for your entire life – to earn a living.

Most people in our parents’ generation entered the first job they got right after college and patiently worked their way to the top, retiring 50 years later from the same firm.

Making a career out of the first job you landed right out of college was the norm in their time. They never thought of doing a postgrad, leave alone an MBA.

Of course this is unthinkable to us today, but there’s a lesson here. The lesson is in the importance of learning to like your work early on.

MBA or no MBA, at the end of the day, we all have to put in the work and make our way to the top slowly. Sooner we get used to it, the smoother the transition becomes.

4. Focus and direction

You’ll be able to extract more out of your MBA if you’ve had prior work experience.

This is because being part of an organization allows you to experience first hand how things work, and to assess your own place in the larger scheme of things.

You’ll start not only unravelling your interests, but also discovering what you don’t like working on. Getting that experience is a big step towards defining your short-term and long-term career goals.

You’ll have a clearer vision of what you want out of your career, and how you want to go about it. Entering an MBA forearmed with this knowledge will give you better direction.

5. Better placement prospects

If you’re a true-blooded MBA aspirant, you’ve probably spent countless moonless nights drooling over the lip-smacking post-MBA salary packages of all the B-schools in your dream list.

There’s a bit of a catch in those fantabulous salary figures though. In almost all cases, the highest post-MBA salary packages are claimed by candidates with plenty of prior and relevant work experience.

The reasoning behind it is simple. Compensation is a direct function of your responsibilities, and responsibilities are a direct function of your experience.

You don’t hand over the controls of a million-dollar, state-of-the-art flying machine to a rookie pilot fresh out of the flying academy.

It’s the same with businesses.

Someone without any work experience is most likely to land an entry level role right out of B-school.

On the other hand, someone who’s had 3-4 years of relevant work experience will likely be given a mid-level role with higher compensation.

So, which is better after graduation – MBA or work experience?

Time for the final verdict.

Here’s a news update that may help you decide.

Errol D’Souza, the Director of IIM Ahmedabad (IIMA), announced recently that India’s most respected business school might kill its flagship 2-year MBA over the next few years.

MBA After Graduation vs Work Experience: Which is Better?

Shocked? We were too.

Why is IIMA planning to kill its 2-year MBA?

Quite a few reasons cited by D’Souza overlap with what we’ve shared in this article – relating to the importance of having work experience.

He said, this move is aligned with what the advanced markets have been doing and the expectations of hiring companies. MBA recruiters are looking for grads with considerable work experience, he adds.

In fact, D’Souza extolled the virtues of a shorter format MBA, which is the norm in Europe. He says “Given the rapid pace of change, spending two years in an educational institute learning management seems like a waste of time.”

IIMA offers a 1-year MBA (PGPX) that ranks quite high in the world rankings. In contrast, it’s PGP program is considered to be equivalent to the Masters in Management (MiM) and isn’t included in the mainstream MBA rankings.

These views emphasise what we’ve always been recommending to MBA aspirants. Get some experience before you get the degree.

However, there are certain situations where it’s better to jump right into an MBA. Do a comprehensive and objective analysis on your situation and decide what is best for you.

Our team helps experienced professionals get into the top MBA programs in the world. If that’s what you’re targetting, drop us an email for professional help with profile building and MBA application reviews: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com
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Image credit: Business Today

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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

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