Having work experience or volunteer experience can improve your chances of getting into top MBA programs, though not all require experience. Most will expect students to have practical experience in addition to undergraduate business classes so that they have a greater understanding of the context of the business topics they study. Students may also sometimes fulfill work requirements through internship programs during their undergraduate courses of study. Some MBA programs will require you to have this business experience if you apply.
Experience on the job
The best experience to have going into an MBA program is acquired after college. Some programs will only treat full-time work experience after college as valid for their work experience requirements, as the work you do after receiving your degree is considerably different from undergraduate internships or volunteer work.
Programs vary in the amount of experience they expect, though most typically want at least 2 years of full-time work before students return to school for the MBA. Often, MBA programs do not require specific minimum work experience for students but rather outline the typical work history of applicants as a means of demonstrating the expectations of the program. If you feel you offer something distinctive to a program but do not have as many years of work experience, you should still apply.
Executive or accelerated MBA programs, designed for professionals who have less time to study on weekdays, often draw students with higher than average work experience than conventional MBA programs. As the names suggest, most students are executives, vice presidents or others in top strategic and management positions who feel they would improve their performance by studying for another degree. These students usually have more than 5 years of work experience.
Traditional MBA programs are a better choice for students who have only recently started their careers. These programs generally expect at least 1 to 2 years of work experience, making them a better fit for these students than executive MBA programs. These programs also provide additional resources such as career support, internships and access to campus clubs, which can help these MBA students choose a career direction for after they complete their program. If you are considering an MBA to overcome a perceived ceiling in your career advancement, these programs are for you.
Experience gained through internships
Internships during your undergraduate business program can help you improve your MBA application, but some MBA programs do not count them toward your work experience requirements. Your responsibilities are very different as an intern than in a full-time business career, and as such, these positions are not often seen as the sort of experience that programs are looking for. They can, however, illustrate your commitment to business education.
You may also be able to find internships during your MBA program. These internships can supplement your knowledge with professional development and networking opportunities that will help you find jobs with major companies after you receive your MBA degree. If you study for your MBA full time, an internship can help you continue to network and increase your work experience while studying. These internships can also lead to jobs with the company after the completion of your MBA program.
Though MBA programs primarily look at your full-time work experience, you should consider mentioning any volunteer work you have done if you have only 1 or 2 years of experience. While volunteer work does not teach you the same lessons that a full-time business career will, it shows that you have the drive to succeed and demonstrates that you have a well-rounded background of activities.
If you have volunteered in a business capacity, such as helping a nonprofit organization with marketing initiatives, you should mention this in your application. Though it is not paid experience, this still demonstrates that you have the ability to apply business concepts in a real-world setting.