Graduate School in Business & Finance

Should you go to business school directly from Grinnell?

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is a professional degree that integrates leadership, management experiences, and team projects into the classroom environment. People with an MBA are broadly trained and are expected to be highly skilled individuals who can go on to assume key positions in a wide variety of settings (e.g., corporate, healthcare, nonprofit, entrepreneurial, and more).

Experience is a key factor in selection of applicants for most business schools. Although some business schools will accept students directly from undergraduate programs, the more competitive graduate programs in business are typically looking for two to four years of full-time work experience. You should read this requirement as indicating two to four years of full-time, post-Grinnell work experience. (Note that the average age of GMAT-takers is 27.) Business schools are willing to consider experience from a range of industries and opportunities (nonprofit, service, entrepreneurial, government, and more). As long as you have developed the quantitative, analytical, teamwork, leadership, communication, and other skills business schools seek, you can still be a competitive applicant without “traditional” business experience.

If you decide to attend a school that will accept applicants without at least some full-time work experience, do not expect your degree to have that much cachet. The best-paying jobs for MBA graduates require both work history and the degree. In fact, with an MBA in hand, you’re actually at a disadvantage when applying for entry-level positions. So, do not underestimate the value of work experience before applying to and enrolling in business school. Exceptions to this rule include the few MBA scholarship programs that are specifically designed for undergraduate applicants, such as NYU Stern’s Berkley Scholarship Program.

Determining the best fit

Applicants often place more emphasis on which schools might accept them than focusing on which schools are best for them based on their interests and goals. Schools vary in curricula, specialty areas, teaching methodologies, and overall atmosphere. You should consider these and other factors before you begin the application process. Check out this affiliated website of the Graduate Management Admissions Council to explore programs. Among postgraduate degrees, MBA degrees are among the most flexible. Individual schools often deliver their curricula through a number of channels (full time, part time, remotely, hybrid, etc.); you have many options to weigh in evaluating the best fit for your situation and needs.

The application timeline

Many schools have multiple rounds of applications, with final deadlines (for fall matriculants) typically falling in early spring. It’s best to apply early since many admissions decisions will be made before the official deadlines. Applications for fall matriculation may be reviewed as early as October and November, but make sure to read each schools’ information regarding deadlines and admissions procedures.

Admission to Business School

Bridge Programs

Business “bridge programs” are offered by several prestigious business schools to prepare college students for graduate-level work in business. Participating in such programs can be especially useful for students at liberal arts colleges who believe they lack certain social and cultural capital necessary for understanding, for example, the ways of the corporate or financial world. Students potentially interested in someday attending business school should investigate the possibilities of such programs and pay attention to scholarship options that may be offered through the CLS.

Grinnell is a collaborating college in the Harvard HBX CORe program. For further information about this terrific opportunity for students interested in business, send us an email at


The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is the standardized test most commonly taken by business school aspirants. However, these days, the more competitive business schools (especially) are accepting GRE scores in lieu of GMAT scores. Check with the websites of the schools to which you wish to apply for particular requirements. To learn more about the GMAT, check out the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

The application essay

Essays are extremely influential in the business school admissions process. In many cases, your personal statements will be given as much or even more weight than your undergraduate grades, standardized test scores, or the prominence of your past employers, so the manner in which you describe your work experience and discuss your goals and achievements (both professional and personal) can have a major impact on the disposition of your application. Make sure you’ve done your homework and are targeting schools that have offerings that fit well with your interests and goals.

Each application will also include a copy of your current résumé, letters of recommendation (usually at least two), and an application fee. (Some business schools, such as those at Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford have application fees of $250 or more; keep these fees in mind as you’re selecting your target schools.)

Preparing for interviews

Many business schools require or offer optional interviews. The MBA admissions interview is similar to an employment interview. You are given the chance to highlight your accomplishments, skills, strengths, and personal qualities. The focus of the interview will be your work experience, the benefit of an MBA to you at this point in your career, and the goals that you wish to achieve. You should (of course) carefully research the program before interviewing, so you can be clear as to why you wish to pursue an MBA at that school and how that program particularly fits your goals. Interviews may be conducted by faculty members, members of the admissions staff, or even alumni of the program.

If you are offered an optional interview, in most cases you should accept. Interview offers often signal that a program is interested in you but wishes to learn a bit more. Preparing for an interview is also a great opportunity for you to gather more information about the program and help make a decision about whether the program is a good fit. Talking with alumni is a great way to prepare for business school interviews; contact the CLS for assistance in identifying Grinnellians who may have MBA degrees from your target schools. Also, advisers at the CLS  would be happy to conduct mock interviews.