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How Work Experience Helps Open MBA Doors

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With so many factors to consider when approaching business school, some candidates may not be fully prepared to address the question of work experience. Sure, GMAT scores and GPAs are key, but what’s so important about a résumé? Applying to business school isn’t the same as applying for a job. Or is it?

According to Katelyn Stephenson, assistant dean for admissions at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, the two are more similar than we might think. That’s because admission committees often assess both the quantity and quality of an applicant’s work experience in some of the same ways that a post-MBA employer would.

“Along with their applications and résumés, our admissions committee will review candidates’ professional goals as articulated through their written essays and personal interview,” explains Stephenson. “We’re trying to assess how focused they are professionally, what resources they may need for successful job placement post-MBA and what insight they can add to the classroom discussions based on their experiences. Our duty is partly about crafting a diverse and competitive MBA class, but it’s also about setting students up for success and helping them get to where they want to go professionally.”

“Employers want to see focused, motivated, ambitious people,” she says. “They are looking for evidence of leadership potential, and work experience is one indication of that. Even if candidates have the same academic credentials—their professional background is one way to really differentiate themselves. Additionally, depending on the industry, some employers also look to recruit candidates that already had four to six years of work experience prior to starting business school.”

An MBA seeker also may wonder how his or her unique undergraduate and professional background factors into the admissions process, especially if they don’t happen to be in a business-related field. Stephenson assures prospective students that Georgetown McDonough, like many highly selective business schools, looks for diverse candidates with a balance of clearly defined goals and the ability to achieve them.