When applying to graduate school, work experience is not typically a primary criterion for acceptance. For law and medical school applications, the focus seems to be on GPA and entrance exam scores, along with volunteer experience and personal accomplishments.
With MBAs, however, work experience is up there with your GMAT scores and undergrad GPA in terms of importance for entrance requirements. Without the required full-time work experience, some schools will not even consider the application.
First, I’m going to look at things from the business school perspective
The rule of thumb for MBA work experience requirements is two years of full-time work experience. The rationale behind this requirement is that students bring their prior experience and knowledge to the classroom to share with their peers. Since MBA classes are typically case-based, this type of learning requires students to combine experience with education to demonstrate their abilities.
Additionally, schools want students to demonstrate that they really want to pursue a career in business, which is why good grades only get you so far in the application process. Overall, business schools recommend and often require experience for the benefit of the student, with the reasoning that they want their graduates to take away the most they possibly can from their MBA.
From the student perspective, work experience is definitely an asset
Class discussions are often based on students’ “real world” experience and perspective. When working in groups, as with any team activity, diversity in experience and opinions lead to greater results.
When examining MBA schools admissions requirements, the two-year rule still applies, with some schools even preferring three to five years of experience.
However, when digging a little deeper, it appears as though schools are recognizing the back to school trend by making exceptions and admitting students without the required experience, typically those without the full-time two years of experience but who still possess applicable experience.
In short, an MBA is what you make it
Experienced or not, it is still a formal education and professors recognize that students come from different backgrounds and skill levels. In my time as a student, I’ve noticed that students excelling in the program do not necessarily have tremendous work experience, but they do express commitment to the program, willingness to learn and the desire to succeed.
I agree work experience is an asset and understand its importance, but I believe the willingness to learn often overrides experience. If you definitely want to pursue an MBA and do not possess the required work experience, contact the admissions department for your school(s) of choice to discuss admissions criteria to see what your options are.