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GMAT Vs. Work Experience In MBA Admissions

Kofi Kankam

Time to time, we receive questions from prospective MBA candidates about the trade-off between GMAT scores and work experience.

A sample conversation would look something like this:

Applicant: What would be the ideal experience in years that B-schools would consider for lower GMAT scores?

Admit.me: Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. It depends, depends, DEPENDS! Sorry, my friend…

Fortunately, I’m kidding. I wouldn't be able to hold up my title as an admissions expert if I had given such an answer. Although it’s true that the extent of the trade-off depends on many factors, my job here is to give some clarifications on how to navigate this uncertainty in the application process.

If you had to take away one thing from this article, it would be this: 
there needs to be balance between quantity and quality in your application.

First, let’s think in terms of the balance between scores and work experience. In general, applicants who come in with less work experience, the GMAT and GPA become more important factors; for those that come in with more work experience, the GPA and GMAT become less important.

The average work experience for top business schools is around 4 to 5 years. For people who are coming in less than that, they will be well served to score better on their GMAT and have a stronger GPA.

Remember that for most schools, the GMAT is simply a proxy for how a candidate will be able to do given the rigors of business school. A 770 is not necessarily all that much better than a 730 (although it doesn’t hurt) - both are indications that you will be able to do the work.

Let us now move onto the discussion of the balance between quantity and quality of work experience. Having more years of work experience doesn’t necessarily put you at the top of the list among other applicants.

Obviously, the quality of work experience makes a huge difference in your application. For example, 3 years in a start-up with a major role may be more powerful than 5 years in a corporate experience to an admissions officer who are looking for future leaders who have the ability to not only impact their classmates but also be more prepared to take on leadership roles in their post-MBA career.  

Generally, the quantity and quality of the work experience can be thought as a trade-off. The less number of years you have under your belt, the more responsibility and leadership you want to have and highlight in your work experience.

Think of this like a plane taking off: 
The less runway you have, the more acceleration you need to take off by the end of the runway. 
Your applications are the same - the less years of experience you have, you want to have more impact, leadership, and responsibility during those years to have your application soar when you apply.

My takeaway point on work experience in business school applications: don’t just pay attention to length of time you worked. Focus on the impact you made, the responsibilities you owned, and the leadership that you performed during your experience and highlight those aspects in your application.

The art of business school applications, like many things in life, are a great balancing act.

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Kofi Kankam


Kofi Kankam

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