Accepting the offer from the small niche-consulting firm after college over the offer from the big name consulting company proved to be a smart decision. In spite of the lower starting salary, in less than two years you are managing projects and staff, bringing in new business, and influencing the direction of the company. In addition, the experience has shaped and clarified your goal: joining a company in the fledgling bioinformatics industry and over time helping both the company and the industry dramatically improve healthcare delivery. It's time to move toward that goal, but you need a thorough business foundation and in-depth knowledge of finance and strategy, which neither your undergrad education nor your experience to date has provided. You need an MBA.
Should you apply now? You are a perfect candidate
for a top program, except that you only have 1.5 years of work experience. That's less than the average at most MBA
programs, even though there has been increasing openness among top programs in
the past few years to applicants with one to three years of experience . The
answer would have been yes even before this new openness, and is more
emphatically so now - if you target
the right schools and vividly demonstrate the following five factors in
your application essays
(primarily) and your resume.
Ideally, your recommendations
also will reflect these factors.
The economy is shaky; prospects for growth in your
company or industry have diminished - so you might as well pursue an MBA now,
instead of waiting to gain more experience. No! Especially if you are younger
than average, your reasons for applying now must be affirmative, not reactive
-- based on positive plans and opportunities, not lack of plans or scant
opportunities. Equally important, those reasons must be practical, i.e., based
on concrete goals. In essence, your goals should "drive" your
rationale for applying now. A slowing learning curve on your current job isn't
sufficient; it is essential to delineate in your goals essay how your
goals make it necessary for you to obtain an MBA education now. It may be that
the market or industry is just ripening and you want to get in early. It may be
that your skill set is particularly valuable to a changing sector, industry, or
niche. It may be that your company has placed you on a "fast track"
and to effectively shoulder the management responsibilities of the next
promotion, you need formal business training. Whatever the case, "work
back" from your goals to zero in on the reason you must earn your MBA now.
Your relatively short professional experience
should reflect outstanding growth if you are to be a viable MBA candidate.
While the same burden applies to more experienced applicants, you have an
advantage in one sense: if you can show that you pack into one or two years the
quality that most other applicants stretch out over four, it can make a very
exciting impression - you want the adcom to conclude, "If she can do this
in one year, imagine what she can do in four!" What constitutes quality
experience? Hands-on participation in a broad range of functions. Managing
staff. Promotions that skip levels. Leading projects for major clients.
Assignments that are typically given to MBAs. When you discuss such growth in
your essays, be sure to clarify its unusual nature (i.e., don't just say you
were quickly promoted to marketing manager; add that no one before you has ever
been given that position without first serving as marketing coordinator).
Reinforce this factor in your resume, and ask your recommenders to do so as
If you are applying to MBA programs right out of
college or as a recent graduate, look to your jobs, internships, and volunteer
activities during college for outstanding professional-level growth or responsibility.
For example, you were waiting tables and were asked to manage the restaurant in
the owner's absence. Or you were interning at an investment firm over the
summer and were asked to oversee and coordinate communications for a complex
The more impact, leadership, and achievement any MBA applicant shows, the better. But if you are a younger applicant, exceptional impact, leadership, and achievement carry even more weight, in part because you are young: they seem more inherently a part of who you are. "Exceptional" means beyond what would typically be expected of an actively involved college student or a good-to-excellent performer on the job. If you are applying to top MBA programs especially, most applicants will be in the "good to excellent performer" category, and will have had more time in which to demonstrate this excellence. To be competitive, you must at least equal them in impact, leadership, and/or achievement, but in less time, whether on the job or in your college activities.
When you discuss leadership, impact, and
achievement in your essays,
don't just cite them as flat facts. Describe them in context -
tell a story. If you
do, they will not only be impressive; they will be memorable.
Adcoms look for personal maturity in all
applicants, but will look especially closely at younger applicants. Thus, it is
important for younger applicants to demonstrate personal maturity in three
areas: (1) skill in handling interpersonal communications and interactions; (2)
sound judgment; (3) ability to self-reflect and self-critique. Your essays and your recommendations are the
key vehicles for conveying your maturity in these areas. In each case, use
examples and anecdotes to illustrate the point, and detail your actions and
The above four factors show the adcom that
pursuing an MBA is the right step for you to take now, and that you are capable
of productively utilizing the resources of its program. In evaluating your
application, the adcom also will weigh whether, and to what extent, you will
benefit its program socially and academically. Admissions committees seek
applicants who will be vital members of their communities, during the two-year period
of study and subsequently as alumni. Thus, it is imperative to demonstrate that
your relative youth does not shortchange your ability to contribute. You must
show you can contribute at a level equal to that of "average age"
applicants at least. There are two key areas of potential contribution, and you
should show how you will add value in both: (1) in the classroom and (2) in the
social milieu. Your resume,
essays, and recommendations all
should convey this contribution, though the latter two will do so more
specifically and in more depth.
Your application strategy has another key element:
the list of schools to which you apply. Seek schools that will meet your
learning needs and that welcome relatively young applicants. Luckily for you,
this list is growing - and now includes almost all top programs, though in
varying degrees. If you have less than
one year of experience, check the latest admissions profiles for the schools in
question, as some still want at least a year.
As a younger than average MBA applicant, you can
outpace your older competitors by creating a compelling portrayal of your
ability to achieve, contribute, and learn so much in a short time. Indeed, you
may make the older applicants appear rather sluggish!
If you would like the guidance and support of experienced editors as
you devise your strategy to apply as a younger applicant, Accepted.com is here
to help. We offer a range of services that can
be tailored exactly to your needs. Our singular goal is to help you gain
admittance to the MBA program of your choice!
By Cindy Tokumitsu,
Accepted.com Senior Editor
For information on how Accepted.com can help you, please see our
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