Work First, Study Later
The Business School wants to start admitting more students right out of college, but students would rather...
The Harvard Business School may be trying to forge a new path by admitting more students right out of college.
But it may be a lonely road: financial firms, other top business schools and even Harvard's own undergraduates do not appear ready to follow along.
The Business School's plan to restructure its flagship MBA program, which was released in November, includes a revision of admissions requirements to include more graduating college seniors. Under the current policy, virtually all applicants are required to have at least two years of work experience.
Nationally, diversity is definitely the justification for such new MBA plans, according to Bill K. Laidlaw, executive vice president of the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business.
MBA candidates tend to bring similar professional backgrounds with them to business school, Laidlaw says.
"The incoming classes have been very homogeneous, and after the program they have all gone to the same kind of industries," he says. "Schools are trying to get a richer mix of students in the classes who will fan out to more industries afterwards."
That desire for diversity may be frustrated, however, at Harvard and at any other business schools attempting to admit students directly from college.
Students going through financial firm recruiting at Harvard see no real reason to proceed directly to business school.
The traditional path is to work in the financial world for a few years and then return to school for an MBA, with tuition in many cases paid by a firm.
OCS Business Counselor Marc Cosentino says he thinks students are unlikely to buck that trend for the new program, especially with an improved economy making the work world more attractive.
"More students may apply but they may opt for deferral," he says. "This will allow an additional option, but I don't think it's going to make a big difference."
The future MBAs of Harvard, those students going through financial recruiting right how, seem to confirm Cosentino's assessment.
Most students interviewed say that while they would probably seek acceptance into business school right out of college if possible, they would defer enrollment in order to work for two or three years.
"It's a safety thing to know you're accepted," says Scott N. Henkin '94. "But to get a full education out of business school you really need to have a job first."
The best business education comes from a combination of schooling and working, the students say, and they do not want to confine themselves to the classroom end of the experience.
"I look at business school as further specialized once you've done something in the real world," says Elissa L. Kao '94. "I would like to get a feel of what's out there first."
"It's not a good idea because it makes people not think about what they want to do in life and makes people apply without knowing what it's like out there," says Hok K. Yeung '94.
In fact, the immediate MBA may be just a choice for those who can't get the coveted business-world jobs.
Muse Y. Kwong '94 says that those without a job offer may prefer to immediately matriculate into business school.
"If I view it from people who still couldn't get a job, then it's a good way to spend a few years in business school," she says. "But otherwise working is more important and you're more mature when you finally get into business school."
And according to the financial firms on which the future MBAs will depend for employment, the Harvard undergraduates' lack of interest in the possible HBS admissions reform is the right choice.
Financial firm representatives say that applicants with work experience before business school will definitely have an edge in obtaining coveted financial jobs.
Chip Rae, director of recruiting at Smith Barney Shearson, says his firm prefers to hire MBAs who have work experience as well.
His firm, like many, offers an entry-level program for college graduates which puts them to work for two years before the new employees return to business school. Harvard's possible new initiative would not affect the program, he says.
"We hire people from across the country, and we're talking about just one school here," he says. "There are plenty of undergraduates out there who would want to work for two years."
Many management consulting firms assist employees with their business school applications and offer financial assistance to those pursuing an MBA program.
Bob K. Sullivan, director of recruiting for Deloitte & Touche, says almost 98 percent of the 80 to 90 undergraduate analysts hired each year go on to a top MBA program. The firm then pays tuition for those who return upon graduation, he says.
If the HBS plan is implemented, Sullivan says, it may impact Deloitte & Touche's compensation plans.
Instead of the senior consultant positions offered to traditional MBA graduates, he says, those without work experience will be offered consultant positions which will later be reclassified into senior consultant posts.
But those with MBAs and no experience are less appealing prospects than those with both, he says.
"There are people ready for business school sooner than others, but they have to realize that they won't come out of business school with the same opportunity and offers," Sullivan says.
And not only the entrenched hiring traditions of financial firms and the students who will work for them defy Harvard's possible initiative. Although Laidlaw says he predicts a trend toward more diverse business school classrooms, tha trend has apparently not yet arrived.
Other business schools seem skeptical, at best, about the prospects for admitting undergraduates directly into their MBA programs.
Donald P. Jacobs, dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, says his school rarely admits candidates without at least two years of work experience.
"It's better to take them with experience, and the only reason I would change is if we don't get the quality students we want or if the number of applicants decreases dramatically," he says. "But this year [the number of applicants is] up very strongly."
According to Jacobs, Kellogg has not accepted and candidates directly out of college for two years. "Every year we have people tell us they want to go directly to business school and we tell them to go elsewhere where they will accept people directly out of college," he says. "There are more [schools] that do than say they do."
The Stanford School of Management also has a strong preference for students with work experience, says Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Jerry I. Porras.
Even the occasional few who are accepted directly out of college are advised to get work experience first, he says.
Porras says that accepting students directly out of college creates complications for class-room dynamics. "If the person has work experience, they grasp the material faster," he says. "It could create a much more difficult teaching process."
No plans are in the works to admit more students right out of college, Porras says.
Only one business school contacted, the Yale School of Organization and Management, is experimenting with an admissions shift like the one HBS is considering.
Admissions Dean Richard A. Silverman of the Yale School of Organization and Management, however, says the school has been experimenting with accepting more MBA candidates right out of college.
"In the last three or four years, our average age of the class has been going down a little bit because we've consciously admitted a few more younger people to see how it goes," he says. "We've taken a little bit of a chance in that regard, and it's a good ideal to bring younger people in as long as it's under control and the class is still very experienced."
But Silverman says the school continues to favor those with experience and the move will not lead to a policy change to admit more students directly from college.
He says, however, that students who have had significant extracurricular leadership roles and entrepreneurship experiences in college add an interesting perspective to business school classes.
"There is something to that argument," he says. "But we haven't felt the need to look or extreme ways to try to increase diversity."