Graduating from college is the proverbial crossroads for many future MBAs: some are eager to dive into the workforce and gain experience or hone their skills while others want to capitalize on their momentum and continue their education right away.
There are many reasons for waiting to attend business school, from tending to your professional and personal growth to tackling your student loans. Still, if you’re intent on applying to b-school fresh out of undergrad, you’ll need to package your candidacy and make a compelling case to admissions committees that you’ll be a contributing member of your class.
First, you’ll need to do an honest self-assessment of your qualifications. Parts of your application that would take a backseat if you had several years of work experience under your belt become that much more important if you’re applying directly after your undergraduate degree. If your GPA and on-campus involvement don’t stand out, admissions officers will have a difficult time gauging your academic and leadership potential. You’ll be judged on your most recent accomplishments, and your undergraduate career will be the focal point, for better or worse. You’ll also be expected to perform better of the GMAT, since you would have had more recent experience with regular testing.
Ultimately, you don’t just want to look good on paper, you want to be able to contribute your experience to class discussions.
Next, think about your motivations. Among the wrong reasons to jump into b-school right away, and into b-school in general, are a difficult job search or a desire to avoid the “real world.” More importantly, business school isn’t the place to “find yourself.” You should have a clearly articulated vision for your post-MBA plans. Since you’ll be spending considerable time and money on pursuing a graduate degree, you need to understand how it will support and advance your career goals. And, beyond just self-awareness, having the answer for “why now” will help you craft a convincing application essay.
Now that you’ve assessed your skills and desire to go, you’ll need to get to work on packaging the work and leadership experience you do have in order to be competitive. Remember that at most MBA programs, 3-5 years of work experience is standard. You’ll want to dig into internships and co-ops you’ve done, and don’t forget to take into account volunteer experience and unpaid work. Be sure to highlight the opportunities you’ve had to lead a team, take on extra responsibilities, or otherwise exceed expectations. Ultimately, you don’t just want to look good on paper, you want to be able to contribute your experience to class discussions.
If you’d like a guaranteed spot in business school before graduation with the added benefit of structured work experience, look into MBA programs that offer a 2+2 program, or deferred admissions programs. Both Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business allow you to explore career paths before committing to an MBA. Alternatively, look for schools that recruit new graduates specifically. Several will offer “bootcamps” or “immersions” to familiarize you with business, marketing, and finance concepts before delving into the meat of the program.
Here you’ll want to strike a delicate balance between standing out and fitting in. In this case, standing out from the typical b-school applicant may not play in your favor. You’ll want to spend more time showing admissions officers how the experience you do have makes you a natural fit for the program’s goals.
Lastly, spend some time thinking about the industry you’d like to pursue post-MBA. Some careers and employers, such as private equity, management consulting, and biotechnology firms will want you to have had at least some work experience in the field, or a very specialized knowledge, to be considered. So, while it may be tempting to front-load your education before entering the job market, you want to make sure it makes sense for your career. In addition to this, business schools are ranked and judged by their graduates’ employment statistics and starting salaries. You’ll want to show the admissions committee that you’ll be a successful student, as well as a successful graduate.
Will you be applying to business schools as an undergrad? Share your thoughts with us below.