Business school is perhaps the most unique of all graduate education opportunities, in part because it is the only one which requires substantial work experience to qualify. Think about it—law school, medical school, and every Master’s degree you can pursue, all take students directly out of their undergraduate experience, essentially offering a chance to continue your education without ever working in the “real world.” Business schools on the other hand, rarely (if ever anymore) take students directly out of undergrad, and look instead for applicants who have taken a lap or two around the proverbial block.
For this reason, there is a tremendous amount of gray area when it comes to deciding the right time to return to business school. Certainly the admissions statistics can provide guidance, and the average number of years of full time, professional, post-undergraduate career experience is now surpassing five years in many cases.
Of course working for five years does not necessarily mean you are ready for business school, but at the very least, it means the opportunity was likely there for you to have experienced something of value in a business context. Of course the reason schools like to see this is, much of what you get out of business school is from the collective wisdom of your classmates. This is why one of the ways you can decide when the time is right for you to go back to business school, is to simply ask yourself, “what do I have to offer?”
This question, simple as it is, provides powerful insight into how the admissions committees will view your application. Business schools are looking for mature, insightful, creative leaders and the best way to demonstrate you possess these qualities is to have an independent, objective group (read: employer) vouch for you—both via resume fodder and with recommendations.
Have you spent your time at work seeking progressively responsible and complex challenges? Did you find yourself rising to the top of your training class or consistently outperforming your peers? If so, the time may be right for you to apply to school. On the other hand, if you feel you have faltered some, or otherwise not realized your full potential yet, you might consider taking another year to do so.
It’s also not just about what you achieve at work. Business schools, particularly those in the top tier, are notorious for rejecting applicants with perfectly acceptable work experience, but who lack community engagement or other experiences which round out the “whole person.” As you progress in your career, it’s often much too easy to rest on your success at work and neglect opportunities to lead and serve in areas you are passionate about outside the office. I say this is much too easy because employers don’t generally value these extracurricular activities until you get much farther down the road in a career. This is why your boss is likely on the local board of a community organization—because his boss is perhaps encouraging him to do so.
As a young go-getter, employers mostly try to maximize their return from you. If you happen to work for a firm which emphasizes community service amongst the entry-level set, take full advantage, and consider yourself among the lucky ones. In short, if you feel you have truly maximized your opportunities at work, and feel you have interesting insight to share with others, it just may be the right time to go back.
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Scott Bryant has over 25 years of professional post undergraduate experience in the entertainment industry as well as on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs. He served on the admissions committee at the Fuqua School of Business where he received his MBA and now works part time in retirement for a top tier business school. He has been consulting with Veritas Prep clients for the past six admissions seasons.