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Why Do Online MBA Applicants Need Work Experience?

Having some professional work experience on your resume is every bit as important as having high GMAT scores or a good undergraduate GPA. Why? Because when business schools are deciding who to admit to a program and putting together cohorts, they want those individuals to be able to share a depth of experiences from their professional life and bring a certain amount of expertise in a specific industry to the classroom. In fact, it’s not uncommon for an applicant to an online MBA program to be rejected due to insufficient work experience. Many schools require applicants to have a minimum of two years of professional work experience. At elite MBA schools, applicants average five years of work experience before being admitted into an MBA program.

The idea behind requiring work experience is that students will be able to build on the foundation of experience they already have, rather than starting from scratch. Students are able to directly apply their firsthand workplace knowledge to the theoretical concepts they learn about in their lectures and textbooks. Keep in mind that a good portion of most MBA courses involves analyzing case studies, i.e., real workplace situations. It helps to have been through a few similar situations yourself so you can compare your past behavior to the new best practices you will be learning.

The type of work experience that admissions staff look for is full-time, post-undergraduate work experience. It’s best if this work experience is at the same place of employment or at least in the same industry. Admissions staff at business schools take special notice of applicants who held one position at a company and were later promoted to a higher position at a company, as this shows that the applicant’s employer has taken notice of his or her leadership capabilities. However, applicants who jump around from job to job do not present as well in resumes, as they did not have the time to get in-depth experience at any one job, rather, they have surface-level experience at a number of different jobs. Business schools realize that the MBA experience is richer for those who have in-depth professional experience to draw from while moving through the program.

Another reason work experience is so important is because MBA students work together on teams for numerous projects. Prior work experience helps ensure students are a valuable asset to their teams, and that students will have the confidence to make meaningful contributions. Finally, let’s not forget that for traditional students who complete their bachelor’s degree by age 22 or 23, a lot of growing up takes place in the two or more years of full-time work. Those selected for MBA programs tend to be more mature and responsible due to the work experience under their belts.