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Early Career MBA & JD-MBA Applicants

I recently came across an email from a reader who’s looking into JD-MBA programs. She’s currently beginning her senior year in college, and she asked me to provide her with some general advice for applying to JD-MBA programs. So I wanted to take a few moments to share “some” of my answer here and also discuss the idea of early career MBA applicants, which definitely has been getting a lot of buzz the last few years.

Good afternoon,

My name is (removed). I am currently going into my senior at (Removed) University. I have always showed a strong liking for law and legal studies and have always favored business due to the fact that it’s forever changing, and there is always something new to learn regardless of which direction one may choose. As my senior year approaches I am looking into continuing my studies rather than taking time off, working and then jumping back into them. As I was doing some research, I came across your blogs and found them quite informational. It seems that you have accepted your offering into the JD/MBA program at Northwestern and as someone about to embark on the journey of applying to various business schools and law schools I would like to know your thoughts of the process. I have looked into Northwestern’s JD/MBA program and it is one of my top two schools since I have found only four/five that I genuinely feel are perfect matches for me. Since you were once in my position can you give me any advice that will be helpful to me as I begin my application process?

I look forward to your insights. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Hi (Removed)

Thanks so much for writing and for checking out my blog. I’m glad you find the information useful and that you’re interested in JD-MBA programs and interested in Northwestern’s dual program.

I’ll try to provide you with a bit of information, though I’ll keep much of it general, given I don’t know many details about your profile, and because you’re still completing your undergraduate degree.

Business schools have traditionally preferred applicants like me (with 4 to 5 years of work experience) over those like you (with less work experience) The idea is that someone who has more professional experiences is better equipped to contribute to class and section discussions, and also can better understand much of the practical business coursework. Having visited a number of schools and sat in on classes at each of them, I think that older students did add more to the classroom dynamic and discussions. But it wasn’t true in every circumstance.

Statistically, this preference has especially been true at Kellogg, where the average years of work experience is closer to five years, and where traditionally very few applicants have ever been taken straight from undergrad. In fact, reportedly a few years back, Kellogg didn’t accept a single student straight from undergrad. That said, although Kellogg has not completely followed the trend of seeking out younger candidates, they have expressed some interest in the idea. According to Beth Flye in 2008 in an online chat, 15-20% are younger candidates (which she defines as 2-3 years of experience) and on the record, she said that Kellogg would like to see more applications from more of these top candidates.

Although I headed back after 4 years out (will be 5 years when I matriculate at Kellogg) I actually considered applying for an MBA two years out of school. Unfortunately, that idea was not in my control and it was  short-lived because the start-up firm I worked for suddenly went out of business. Although I was definitely set on going back to school early, in retrospect, it worked out well. Not only did I gain some interesting experiences afterward, but it’s also pretty clear to me that I’m better prepared to head back now after my additional work and community experiences.

Although this is true for most applicants, MBA programs have still been trending down in terms of preferred years of experience. Today, many of the top schools strongly consider applicants with 0 to 2 years of experience as much as they consider older applicants. Of the elite schools, Stanford, Harvard, and Sloan are taking younger kids in hordes, and they’re doing it even moreso today than they did a few years ago when I thought of applying.

If I had to give advice to younger applicants when applying, first I’d say that stats are likely going to be relatively more important for you to be admitted. Since on average, you have less work experience than older candidates and thus less professional experience to draw from (as I also did when I considered applying), schools will want to see evidence of your intelligence through high grades and stellar GMAT scores.

Additionally, just because you have less professional experience doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for leadership potential. In fact, it’s probably just the reverse. Schools still want to see evidence of your leadership and decision-making in extra-curricular activities and in internships. And because you’re younger, they may even want more specific and more recent examples.

Third, I’d also say that as a younger applicant, it’s possible that admissions may want you to have a higher percentage of quantitative coursework. That’s because you won’t have work experience to serve as a proxy, and because it also might serve as good evidence of how you would fair in the first year of an MBA program.

But after these things, I suspect that you’ll probably be assessed like every other candidate based on your b-school “story,” on your short and long-term goals, on your discussion of why you want/ need an MBA, and your answer of Why now?

That last question, “Why now?” often gets neglected by applicants, which I think is a mistake in applications, especially in competitive years where “now” is really important for some applicants. For you, the difference is that you’re story must answer the question, why now right after school, as opposed to why now, 4 or 5 years out of school?

In comparison to business school, many JD-MBA programs have always welcomed applications from candidates with less work experience. This is because these programs balance the respective profiles of the universities’ business school and law school, where each school really is quite different. While business schools usually prefer a couple of years of experience, law schools have traditionally taken students with little or no work experience. As such, admits at some JD-MBA programs have a pretty low average age, though the actual statistics depends on the school. The Northwestern JD-MBA for instance has a typical average of 4.5 to 5.0 years of experience, which is pretty closely aligned with general MBA population. The four-year program at U-Penn has been pretty similar.  However, I know of 4 or 5 schools off hand that encourage applicants straight from undergrad.

To me, all of these differences emphasize the importance of finding a good fit when applying. Although many applicants hear the word “fit” every time they discuss MBA applications, it is important to ensure you apply to and enroll at a school that is the right fit for your professional and personal aspirations. Once you find that school (or those schools), then my personal opinion is that you should give applying a shot. And to do that,  you need to work on getting your story together, and then on putting together a quality application. Both of those processes can be really rigorous, but when you’re ready to go back, it’s always worth it.

Good luck if you decide to do so this year. And good luck to all those considering JD-MBA programs and early career applications.

  1. Jeremy
    October 20th, 2009 at 01:39 | #1

    @Satpreet–Thanks for your message. It's hard to remember exactly which schools I had in mind, but I can say this…from my experience, I think most schools are open to younger candidates. Northwestern is definitely an exception in that it takes much older candidates. I think Penn also falls into this category. But HBS and Booth were definitely on my list of schools that take younger applicants. I've heard rumors about UCLA as well, but I don't know anything about the program firsthand. I think the best thing you can do is call up the admissions office and actually ask directly. You might even ask the age of the youngest person in the program. I suspect they'd be willing to let you know the information.

  2. Satpreet
    October 16th, 2009 at 19:06 | #2

    "However, I know of 4 or 5 schools off hand that encourage applicants straight from undergrad."

    Hi Jeremy, could you actually list these programs?
    I know of HBS, Chicago/Booth, UCLA/Anderson, (in the top-tier) and Rochester/Simons, Atkinson/Willamette, Crummer/Rollins (in a lower tier)

  3. Jeremy
    August 3rd, 2009 at 21:28 | #3

    @ miglorin–Yes I've definitely heard of the 2+2 program and have a friend who was accepted last year. It's a great program for those who are certain that they want to attend b-school. It guarantees you a spot in school, alleviates the stress of applications when you're busy in the workworld, and it also can facilitate job offers once you've been accepted early senior year. However, in my opinion, HBS actually makes out better than the admit makes out. HBS spends a lot of time and money trying looking to attract the best talent…as do most schools. I think b-schools loose a lot of really smart people to other disciplines and a lot of talented women because applying to b-school in your late 20s means other sacrifices for them. This HBS program takes away some of those issues, allowing admissions to recruit and a wider range of applicants to the program.

  4. miglorin
    August 3rd, 2009 at 16:46 | #4

    Harvard started an interesting program in 2008, it's called "2+2." Undergraduate students apply (with the option to submit a GRE or GMAT), and once accepted, work for 2 years after graduation, then they're automatically enrolled at HBS. What do you think of this?

  5. Jeremy
    August 3rd, 2009 at 15:45 | #5

    @ Law School Podcaster–Thanks for the note and for reading my blog. I'll be sure to check out your show once it's online.

  6. Law School Podcaster
    August 3rd, 2009 at 13:55 | #6

    We are actually going to be doing a show on this topic very soon. Thanks for your insights.

  1. January 26th, 2010 at 21:23 | #1
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