At Stanford, future MBA students still seeking real-world experience after graduation

Oct. 12, 2010, 2:00 a.m.

Despite a growing number of students nationwide who are hoping to avoid a tough job market by applying directly to business school, many at Stanford are still opting for a more winding path.

According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council, people under 24 comprise the fastest-growing group of GMAT test-takers. The trend, however, has yet to take root at Stanford with either undergraduates headed to business school or Graduate School of Business (GSB) students.

At Stanford, future MBA students still seeking real-world experience after graduation
ANASTASIA YEE/The Stanford Daily

The desire to get out of academia and gain some practical experience is a common one for current seniors–even if their eventual plans will have them hitting the books again in a few years.

That experience just might prove to be necessary in order to distinguish themselves from the rest of the applicants. Business schools are known for looking for well-rounded applicants and often like students with a few years or more of hands-on work experience.

The GSB is no different. The median student comes into the program with four years of experience in the workforce or having started his or her own company. According to Madhav Rajan, senior associate dean for academic affairs at the GSB, attracting senior undergraduates is not a top priority–in fact, it is not on the priority list at all. Rajan has been teaching at the GSB since 2001, and has yet to see a large number of first-year students coming straight out of undergraduate careers.

“Last year’s first-year class had 388 students and the number straight out of undergrad was in the single digits,” he said.

Rajan, an accounting professor, said students without much practical experience tend to bring less to the classroom than those who have been exposed to more business techniques. And while summer internships expose students to some business structures, they lack the degree of responsibility normally put on part-time or full-time employees. He says that when considering undergraduate applicants, the GSB is more likely to look at students who have tried to start businesses on their own rather than those who have completed several brief work experiences.

“It’s about bringing their own experiences into the classroom, and students with more experience can contribute more to the class,” Rajan said. “Students tend to get less out of the program also if they come straight out of undergrad.”

As an active member of Alpha Kappa Psi, Stanford’s business fraternity, Ming Yan ’11 is familiar with the path toward business school. She does not know of any seniors in the fraternity applying for acceptance into MBA programs, positing that many of the group members are fully aware of the expectations that business schools have for their students.

“Normally how it’s done is that you have to have work experience,” Yan said.

One program that’s attracted the attention of Stanford students in the last few years is Harvard Business School’s 2+2 program, which demands two years of work and two years of academic study of its students. Bringing the security of a graduate program together with the adventure of two years of entrepreneurial endeavors, the program strikes a balance that many students find appealing.

“I want to get some experience that I can reflect on when I go back to school,” David Rust ’11 said of the Harvard program. He has already been accepted into it and says allowing students to defer their enrollment after being accepted to business school is a growing trend that promises to yield many benefits. Rust imagines that collecting recommendations and writing personal statements might prove to be challenging outside an academic setting. Furthermore, the Stanford senior has heard from others that business school can be useless without work experience. Rust is therefore looking forward to the years he will spend between an undergrad degree and graduate school.

“I feel like I can go do what I really enjoy whereas I might be more inclined to do something with more certainty otherwise,” Rust said.

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