Over the past decade, business schools have become increasingly open to admitting younger applicants, realizing that such candidates can make significant contributions to the classroom dynamic despite their lack of post-college professional experience.
It’s important to understand, though, that such candidates must demonstrate a high level of talent, academic strength and promise if they hope to persuade a top-tier MBA program to take a chance on them.
If you’re a college junior or senior wondering whether pursuing an MBA degree straight after college is the right move, you need to do some serious introspection. You must convince the MBA admissions committees that you don’t need those two-plus years in the workforce first. You’ll have to show that you come to the program armed with the knowledge, maturity and experience that most people take those extra years to acquire.
[Consider going directly from college to an MBA program.]
Also, know that some schools – such as Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of California—Berkeley Haas School of Business, among others – have fairly firm work experience preferences, so make sure to check with the schools that interest you before making your decision.
Here are three key qualities you will need to demonstrate to admissions committees as a young business school applicant.
• Maturity: A key way to demonstrate maturity in your applications is to show that you have experience handling adult issues and problems and that you’re not intimidated by older, more senior professionals. Your letters of recommendation can speak to your level of maturity and focus, particularly how you compare to other people your age.
Choose recommenders such as a summer employer, internship supervisor or other individuals who can objectively assess your professional promise and comment on your managerial abilities. Some MBA programs, such as Columbia University’s Columbia Business School, will accept a second recommendation letter from a professor.
Remember, maturity isn’t a matter of growing older – it’s a matter of growing wiser. Since you can’t focus on how long you’ve been doing something, instead demonstrate how you’ve grown, from your values to your view of the world.
This should go without saying, but make sure your MBA application process doesn’t include active participation from your parents. At this critical career crossroads, the admissions committee wants to see applicants who have demonstrated leadership and wisdom, both of which are hard to convey with parents chiming in at every step.
[Submit a business school application with limited work experience.]
• Leadership: This requirement is always daunting for younger applicants, but take comfort in the fact that leadership doesn’t necessarily have to happen in a workplace context.
Can you show that you launched initiatives, programs or ventures of some kind? Were you a teaching assistant? Perhaps you started a small business while in school, led a nonprofit, founded and led a club or spearheaded a major fundraiser.
To stand out in the eyes of the admissions committee, you need to provide hard proof that you made a difference. But it’s not about the scale of your achievements – rather, it’s the fact that you made your mark.
Also, don’t neglect to mention teamwork. Your leadership experience may arise from an extracurricular activity, and sensitivity to teamwork and collaboration in any leadership story demonstrates maturity and people skills.
Make sure the admissions committee can see that you have lots of interesting experiences and insights that would allow you to actively participate in class discussions with stories that will benefit fellow students.
[Showcase these five key qualities in your MBA application.]
• Confidence: It’s fine to be ready for business school, but are you truly going to benefit from skipping those two years of work experience? Is b-school just a solution to the question of what to do after college, or is it truly a logical next step for your career?
Maybe you’re at a pivotal point in the company you started but desperately need to learn the general management tools to make it succeed. Or perhaps someone wants to recruit you sooner rather than later.
You’ll need to convince the admissions committee that you are ready for an MBA and that you have crystallized professional goals. Show how your background to date has given you a true taste of what you want to do with your career and that you’re confident that this is the best next step for you.
Your job as a younger MBA applicant is to search internally for what you have to offer. Think about what you want to gain from and what you can contribute to an MBA program.
If you can demonstrate maturity, highly focused career goals, leadership skills and enough life experience to contribute to an incoming class, your age or thin amount of work experience becomes far less important to admissions committees.