MBA Work Experience
The majority of MBA programs doesn’t have a minimum requirement for years of pre MBA work experience. Some business schools like Kellogg or Haas strongly recommend to have at least 2 years of full-time post undergraduate work experience. The average is around 4-5 years (Harvard and Stanford tend to attract students with a little less pre MBA work experience while Kellogg, Haas, Wharton or MIT students for example have a bit more). Internships or part-time work do not qualify as full-time pre MBA work experience. In general, the average years of work experience also correlates with the average age at a program.
Average months of full-time work experience (class of 2009) of selected programs:
No matter how long you’ve worked for, what counts is what you’ve accomplished during this time (and more so during college if you have very little pre MBA work experience). It's all about quality, not quantity. Over the course of your career development business schools look for an increase in responsibilities and leadership opportunities. Regardless of the years of pre MBA work experience under your belt, you should feel that you’re ready for an MBA. This means that you have the ability to contribute to class discussions. Your peers expect to learn from you – the same way you would like to learn from them. If you have any significant gaps in your employment history (e.g. more than 3 months) then use the optional essay to explain this (unless you are already asked this somewhere else in the application). Hopefully, aside from searching for a new job (or maybe you just took some time off) you did something interesting to write about.
There has been a trend recently among MBA programs to admit students directly out of college (up to 5% of the incoming class for some business schools). Note that these are exceptional individuals who usually were highly involved in extracurricular activities and accomplished great things while being in college (e.g. starting a small business, working part-time at a firm or non-profit, etc.). Some argue that these exceptional individuals are ready, while others feel that they can’t contribute as much and that business schools are not doing them a favor. This is because when it comes to recruiting they sometimes have difficulties finding a job due to their lack of work experience.
Harvard Business School has been actively promoting attracting younger students with its 2 + 2 program which offers exceptional college Juniors a place in its MBA program after working for 2 years post undergrad.
The trend towards younger MBA applicants with less pre MBA work experience can also be seen when looking at statistics published by GMAC (the company making all the money off your GMATs). From 2004-2005 to 2006-2007, there was a 71% increase of GMAT test takers under the age of 24, compared to a flat trend for the age group of 24-30 and even a decline for 31-39 year olds.
Continue to MBA recommendation letters.