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The Value of Work Experience for MBA Students

21 Jun

If you've been in the workforce for some time and are currently contemplating returning to school for an MBA, you may find yourself experiencing a bit of trepidation about the amount of time you've been away from the classroom. You likely spent 16 or so years mastering the art of success inside the classroom, and you may suspect that skills you used to use to thrive in an educational environment have gotten a bit rusty.

There's no reason to worry, though. Returning to school for your MBA after some time away from academic settings is quite common, and professional work experience for MBA applications is often either required or preferred these days. And this need not be just a line on your resume as you apply for your MBA; work experience can imbue you with some important skills and perspectives that are essential for success in business school. You may not need work experience for MBA success, but as you'll see below, it can certainly help.

Demonstrate Your Upward Trajectory

One of the main reasons that business schools want to see work experience on your MBA application is to get a window into where you have come from and where you might be headed. If a university prefers to see two or more years of work experience on your MBA resume, they likely are looking for evidence that you have advanced at least somewhat from your initial role during your period of employment.1

This can be particularly important in fields of business like banking and consulting that feature clear, regimented promotion tracks.2 But even if you work at a company with a more flat organizational structure or in a nontraditional role or field, your MBA admissions committee will still look to your resume to see evidence of expanding responsibilities or any other indication that you are growing as a professional and that you should continue to do so.

Make an Informed Concentration Choice

Many top MBA programs offer multiple concentrations or focus areas in fields such as finance, marketing or leadership, and work experience can be key to helping you make an informed choice about which, if any, concentration you will choose. In particular, members of MBA admissions committees note that professionals who have spent time in rotation programs early in their careers often have experienced enough facets of a successful business to choose one for which they would like to deepen their knowledge.1

Even if you haven't gone through a rotation program, your work experience can still inform the choices you make in business school, particularly in an online MBA program that allows you to continue to work while you complete your degree. In fact, your experiences at work and in your MBA coursework can benefit one another, as more recent professional developments can lead you to select certain electives over others as you progress through your classes, and your new skills and knowledge can simultaneously sharpen your effectiveness on the job.

Master the Art of Collaboration

One of the most important skills for MBA students is one that you may not necessarily have developed in your undergraduate classroom. Successful collaboration with diverse teams of individuals is a hallmark of successful and efficient work both in a professional setting and in a graduate business program, and work experience for MBA students is a great way of indicating that you will be able to work well with others throughout your coursework.2

This is true even in online MBA programs where you will not spend time interacting face to face with your peers and classmates. Collaboration in an online MBA program is typically enabled through a convenient learning management system (LMS) and/or mobile app, and can take the form of interacting on discussion boards, working together to complete challenging group assignments or simply building the relationships that will strengthen your professional network upon your graduation from the program.

Manage Your Time Wisely

It may sound obvious, but perhaps the most significant thing you will learn through professional experience is how to do work. You likely have numerous overlapping responsibilities at your place of work, with multiple deadlines to meet alongside other demands on your time like meetings and training. Motivated professionals will master strategies for time management early in their careers, strategies that are just as essential to success in an MBA program as they are in the workplace.

Your MBA program will likely not replace any of the things you currently need to get done on a daily basis, it will augment them with new demands on your time. Readings to complete, assignments to finish and exams to prepare for will compete with your existing personal and professional responsibilities for your attention. If you know how to prioritize, set goals, manage your stress and personal health, and stay organized, you are ready to hit the ground running in any MBA program.3

Contribute to Your Classmates' Experience

Your work experience is not only an asset for yourself in an MBA program. It can also greatly enhance the quality of your classmates' educational experience by providing you with a valuable, informed perspective to bring to your class discussions. If you have encountered professional challenges that your classmates have not, if you have developed creative solutions to them or even if you have just worked in a different role or type of organization than the peers you meet in your program, you will be able to contribute productively to their MBA education.

Your work experience can also help you take part in the process of networking that is so crucial to the MBA experience. Particularly if you have held jobs in several organizations or multiple industries in your career before business school, you will constitute a crucial node in your classmates' network. MBA programs are at their best when they enable their students to help each other grow and thrive professionally.

Join the Online MBA Experience at KU

The University of Kansas School of Business is proud to offer an online MBA program that is perfect for working professionals, with all coursework and content easily accessible on the go through our KU Connect LMS and mobile app. If you're ready to put your professional experience to work in a new setting, check out our tips for acing the GMAT and strategies for securing financial aid, including from your employer.