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MBA Preparation

   »Do I need to have taken business classes as an undergraduate?
   »Do I need work experience?
   »Do internships and part-time work count?
   »What are business schools looking for?
   »The GMAT
   »Choosing the right school
   »Doing research


Do I need to have taken business classes as an undergraduate?

No. You can apply to MBA programs with any major; majoring in business provides no particular advantage. Students with any major can gain admission to and excel in MBA programs. MBA programs look for students with a variety of backgrounds. Generally there are no specific course pre-requisites for business school, but many schools will expect you to be able demonstrate that you have some, not necessarily exceptional, math skills.

It is a great idea to explore courses that will help you decide which of the many areas of business might suit you, as, like MA and Ph.D. programs, each MBA program has something different to offer, and you'll want to identify a few that seem to be a good fit for you and in which you will hopefully thrive. It's nice to be able to demonstrate that you have good communication skills, that you are interested in exploring human behavior, and that you have some ability with math. But don't feel pressured to take classes you aren't interested in for the sake of your MBA application; the important thing is that you are a well-rounded, intellectually curious person, not that you've taken any specific kind of class.

Do I need work experience?

In general, yes. On average, applicants have four to five years of full-time, professional work experience, so you can apply with more or fewer. Some schools require a minimum number of years of full-time experience (the Marshall school expects that you have at least two, for example). There are exceptions; some schools will accept students with no work experience. Even in those cases, though, you should consider how marketable you will be once you complete your degree. Employers will probably prefer to see a job candidate who has experience as well as an MBA. Again, these requirements vary by program, so do your research.

You will communicate the value of your work experience through your resumé and in more depth in your admissions essay. Evidence of leadership skills will be impressive; it would be nice to show how you have successfully shouldered responsibility with specific examples of results. Teamwork, problem-solving, and communication skills are also very important. The length of your work experience is not everything; two years of interesting, varied, challenging work might well be more impressive than five years of sitting in a cubicle, although if you have changed jobs frequently, you may want to explain why. In addition to corporate work, experience working for non-profit groups or the government can also be perfectly good preparation for business school.

Do internships and part-time work count?

Usually not towards any minimum number of years of full-time experience. Nevertheless, it is a terrific idea to do internships to gain experience and explore possible careers, and if they demonstrate some of your strengths, you can write about internship experiences in your admissions essay, especially if they are relevant to the area of business you are interested in pursuing.

What are business schools looking for?

Short answer: interesting and focused students. More specifically, they will be interested in your academic record, your GMAT scores, and in the quality of your work experience.

The GMAT
The Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, is designed to measure your quantitative, verbal, and analytical writing skills, not your knowledge of business. It is a computer-based test offered year-round, and scores can be reported for up to five years, so you should consider taking it before or just after you graduate, while you're still in school mode. You can find out more about the test by visiting http://www.mba.com. This site also offers invaluable, free advice about, for example, deciding whether or not to do an MBA and what makes a good candidate.

Choosing the right school for you
As with MA and Ph.D. programs, MBA programs will be looking for a good fit. It also helps if your work experience matches up well with what you say your career goals are so that there is some evidence that you are serious about those goals and therefore likely to stay the course.

Do your research
Business schools will expect applicants to have a good idea about what field of business they want to pursue, although you don't have to be too specific. Applicants should have made sure that the school to which they are applying to does indeed provide what they expect to get out of graduate school. In any event, since business school represents a major investment of time, money, and energy, it only makes sense for you to consider carefully when, where, and if you need to go. It helps to talk to people in careers you're interested in pursuing to get their stories and advice; internships and other forms of work experience will also be helpful. The Career Planning and Placement Center will be very useful in this regard. See http://careers.usc.edu.