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Admissions Tip: Applying to Business School as a Younger Applicant

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As many of our readers know, it has become increasingly common for younger individuals to apply to MBA programs.  Whereas the average age and years of work experience at the leading business schools has traditionally hovered at around 28 and five respectively, many programs are now carefully considering the more youthful end of the applicant pool.  Of course, the fact that admissions officers are taking a closer look at younger applicants does not mean that getting accepted to a top program is easy for this group.  In fact, it may be difficult for younger applicants to present themselves as fully prepared to contribute to an MBA program because they often lack leadership experience and extended business exposure.  This is especially true as they will be compared to their fellow applicants who have more years in the working world (often translating to more leadership experience and professional accomplishments).  With this in mind, we’d like to offer a few tips that will help younger MBA candidates leverage the strengths of their candidacies and become increasingly competitive applicants at their choice schools.

Note: For the purposes of this article, we’ll define “younger applicants” as ranging from zero to two years of experience (i.e., undergraduate seniors and folks who are one to two years removed from their college graduation).

1) Have an exceptional academic profile. Ideally all MBA candidates will be able to present stellar GPA and GMAT scores, but for younger candidates this is especially crucial.  If younger candidates are likely to fall short in the “work experience” category, then their academic profiles are all the more important to show that they are prepared for the rigors of an MBA classroom.  Therefore it’s better if your scores (GMAT and GPA) are above than the published averages for schools’ incoming classes.  In addition, it will be to your benefit if you have received undergraduate scholarships and awards or graduated at the top of your class, as this indicates that you excelled relative to your peers.

2) Demonstrate your leadership experience and potential. Younger applicants may have only limited full-time professional experience.  Without much time in the working world, there is often less opportunity to move up and gain the responsibilities that lead to management and leadership experiences.  Despite this fact, one way to demonstrate your responsibility and management experience is through your participation in and leadership of extracurricular and undergraduate activities.  In short, as a younger applicant, it is important for you to use whatever experiences you have had thus far (internships, collegiate activities, part-time work, community service, etc.) to demonstrate your leadership and responsibility, displaying your experience as well as your potential for personal growth and ability to benefit your target MBA programs.

3) Have clear goals. Presenting a clear vision for the future is always a good strategy, as the majority of MBA programs are hesitant to accept students who they feel will get lost in the program’s available choices once they arrive.  For younger applicants this is even more crucial, as your relative lack of professional work experience could cause some concern about your ability to pinpoint your short- and long-term goals.  It is therefore important that you provide details about your planned career path, as well as demonstrate confidence that you will stick to this plan.  Applicants who have more years in the working world can draw on their experiences as proof that they understand their interests and work habits; as a younger applicant, you must demonstrate that you are able to do the same despite your relative inexperience.

4) Be able to explain why you are seeking an MBA now as opposed to later. It’s necessary for younger applicants to describe how the timing of their applications relates to their academic or work experiences to date as well as their future goals.  Your challenge will be to convince your target MBA programs that you are able to make a valuable contribution to their schools without further work experience.  In order to do this, you will need to demonstrate that continuing at your current job is not conducive to your future goals at this juncture.  You might also suggest that there is some degree of urgency related to the pursuit of yours goals, due to applicable circumstances such as a closing market opportunity, taking advantage of an industry trend, or making a transition in your career.    Having clear goals and a detailed career plan will help you explain why you must pursue a formal business education now in order to achieve your objectives.

5) Demonstrate your maturity. It’s important that younger applicants don’t let the adcom mistake their youth for immaturity.  One of the ways you can demonstrate your maturity is by showcasing your ability to analyze your actions, accept blame, and grow and learn from mistakes and failures, as these are trademarks of a reflective and mature individual.  An easy opportunity to do this is in essays that ask you to detail a failure, mistake, or setback.  In these essays, it is crucial that you do not appear petty, arrogant, or unable to accept or grow from criticism, as this would only further emphasize your youth.  Another way you can demonstrate your maturity is by focusing on your more recent work experiences and accomplishments.  Some of these might be from college, as you may not have had time to prove yourself in the working world, however, it’s generally best to try and use the most recent experiences possible, as these will provide a clearer picture of who you are today.  You may be tempted to use high school or grade school experiences as examples of leadership, challenges, and accomplishments, but because pre-undergraduate activities will make you appear younger than you are, they should ideally not be discussed in depth.