Why Is MBA Work Experience So Important Before Applying?

The path to earning a master of business administration degree is different from the model associated with other master’s degrees. Instead of using a bachelor’s degree as the main prerequisite and encouraging full-time students to move directly from undergraduate education into graduate studies, MBA programs typically target individuals who have not only spent years serving in business roles but are also actively employed while they take classes.

Admissions requirements reflect this focus on individuals with professional experience. MBA programs may mandate years of work in leadership roles, with potential applicants using their history of relevant employment as preparation for the specific curriculum.

Important Questions About MBA Work Experience Requirements

Prospective students may wonder why experience is preferred over more traditional measures of preparation, such as Graduate Management Admission Test scores. Such requirements are largely in place because the MBA does not function in the same way as other majors. An MBA builds upon the foundational skills employees have already begun to build in their chosen fields, helping them reach new levels of professional achievement and satisfaction.

The “why” of experience requirements isn’t the only question associated with MBA admissions. Before applying to become an MBA student, professionals should gain clarity on the expectations universities will have for them. The following answers should give these aspiring students confidence in the process.

How Many Years of Work Experience do Applicants Need?

It typically takes five years of professional experience to enter the online Master of Business Administration program at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. This does not just mean that an individual has been employed for five years. Individuals must spend the five qualifying years in roles on leadership teams, dealing with financial responsibilities and having other employees report directly to them. The MBA program acts as a continuation of this leadership experience, forging a close link between students’ professional and academic duties.

Students should be currently employed, instead of using past experience to apply for MBA admission. The program exists 100 percent online, with schedule flexibility allowing professionals to take courses alongside their work responsibilities. This stands in contrast to a full-time MBA program, which would run more like a four-year on-campus undergraduate program.

Are There Ways to Apply Without Work Experience, and Are Such Students at a Disadvantage?

Professionals approaching the five-year mark in their work experience may apply to the MBA program. Because these applicants don’t have an employment track record as long as those of their peers, they may benefit from including supplemental documentation with their application portfolios. This extra collateral could take the form of official designations or certifications tied to their professional backgrounds, as well as GMAT scores. The D’Amore-McKim School’s online MBA program does not ordinarily require GMAT results.

Who Should Write Students’ Letters of Recommendation?

Letters of recommendation are another important element of the application process. As with experience requirements, these personal endorsements should reflect an individual’s accomplishments and role within the professional sphere. When applying to the D’Amore-McKim School, candidates must provide two of these letters, which cannot come from family members or friends.

The Economist’s panel of business school experts gave advice about seeking out letters of endorsement from professional contacts, explaining that the best examples of these recommendations come from current or recent direct supervisors. In cases where asking for such a letter isn’t possible—for instance if it may put employment at risk or an entrepreneur does not have a supervisor—prospective students can go to other business contacts, such as current clients. The Economist’s panel warned against going back too many years when seeking recommendations. Present or recent associates give the best indications of a professional’s current expertise.

What Types of Fields Produce Ideal MBA Applicants?

Due to the fact that professional experience is a requirement to apply for an MBA education, it’s natural to ask what effect, if any, a candidate’s choice of industry has on admission prospects and academic success. Fortunately for MBA hopefuls across all industries, the type of company at which a person works matters less than the quality of that employee’s contributions in the workplace. Every corporation needs competent and well-informed leaders, which means an MBA education is compatible with all industries.

Individuals who have a resume that shows stability, progression in responsibilities, and approval from their supervisors over their five-plus years of professional service likely have what it takes to impress admissions committees, no matter the kind of work their employer performs. Indeed, MBA programs actively want to include students from a wide variety of backgrounds and industries in their classes.

Business professional leading a team

The Business School Admissions Process

If professionals have put in enough time to meet MBA work requirements, have business contacts they can count on for letters of recommendation, and are ready to commit the time and effort to courses, then they should get in touch with admissions officers. These prospective students should be ready to present additional proof of their accomplishments, including the following:

  • Undergraduate education transcripts: No one undergraduate major leads to an MBA education. With that said, applicants to the D’Amore-McKim School must have completed a degree at an accredited college or university, with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a four-point scale. Prospective students must present transcripts of their undergraduate careers, as well as any other graduate programs they have completed.
  • A current resume: Studying for a business degree is a part of an individual’s career advancement. As such, admissions personnel will want to review applicants’ resumes to inspect past work history and present employment situations in detail.
  • An application essay: MBA programs require candidates to explain their background, goals, and hopes in applying. Spending time pursuing an MBA is an activity for individuals who have objectives of advancement and want to build on their expertise. A personal essay is a place to explain what this means to the applicant.

Once students are accepted into an MBA program, they’ll gain access to experienced and knowledgeable faculty members who are actively engaged in the business world as executives and decision-makers. New enrollees will also become part of a class where they can make valuable connections for their future success and advancement in the corporate world. Specializations within the MBA program allow students to focus on the elements of leadership that are most relevant to their interests and future plans.


An MBA education is not a purely academic exercise, focused as it is on real-world business outcomes. Individuals who possess the professional experience to enter these programs – and the drive to succeed within them – set themselves up for increased professional advancement opportunities. Companies across industries and regions are in constant need of decision-makers who understand the underlying concepts of leadership and the present-day business climate—all information gleaned from MBA programs.

Visit the Online MBA program page to learn more.



Northeastern University – Online MBA Program Details

The Economist – Ask The Expert: How to Apply to Business School