Work Experience as a Predictor of MBA Performance

By Adams, Arthur J.; Hancock, Terence | College Student Journal, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Work Experience as a Predictor of MBA Performance


Adams, Arthur J., Hancock, Terence, College Student Journal


Students bringing post-baccalaureate work in business to an MBA program may have gained experiences that will help them succeed in their course work. This study investigates the relation between years of such work experience and success in the MBA program, as measured by grade point average. Using a sample of 269 recent graduates from an urban university's MBA program, we use ANOVA and correlation analysis to show that amount of work experience prior to enrolling in the program is a predictor of success. Surprisingly, work experience is found to be more associated with success than GMAT score or undergraduate grade point average, the typical strong correlates of graduate grade point average found in the literature. A possible admissions policy change based on this finding is discussed.

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Quite a few years ago, far too many of the students beginning our university's MBA program had the same profile: male, undergraduate degree in business, a product of our own bachelor's degree program, and no work experience. Fortunately, we now have a much more diverse group of MBA students. Although more than half of current MBAs do bring a business background to the program, there is gender balance, and about two-thirds of the students get their undergraduate degree elsewhere. In fact, over ten percent are of foreign nationality. The proportion of MBA students with meaningful work experience has risen as well.

As professors, we have often had the occasion to appreciate having MBA students in class with work experience who can relate concepts and situations discussed in class to their current or past place of employment. This type of exchange clearly benefits the entire class, perhaps especially those students who may be wondering why class time is being devoted to a particular topic. We take it for granted that work experience will have a positive effect on a student's MBA program experience. Indeed, many highly respected MBA programs encourage or require interested students to get work experience prior to applying for admission. Accordingly, we should view work experience as a possible predictor of success in the MBA program, not unlike undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) or score obtained on the GMAT exam.

There have been a few studies that in one way or another try to deal with the perceived importance of prior work experience for MBA students. For instance Sobol (1984) develops a variable called "scale" that is used along with UGPA and GMAT to forecast graduate grade point average (GGPA) at Southern Methodist University. Students can get points on the scale variable in six different ways, one of which is work experience. (Others include such things as recommendations and undergraduate activities.) The scale variable is found to be significant ([alpha] = .05) in several models. However, given the half dozen factors that make up the variable, the effect of work experience per se is unknowable; it is confounded with the other factors. Graham (1991) finds that only GMAT of ten predictors is significantly related to GGPA. Noting that since the [R.sup.2] is low (.1677; typical for such studies), Graham observes that the door is open for admission committees to factor in qualitative assessments of a student's potential, such as writing samples, interviews, and work experience. In similar studies (Paolillo, 1982; Deckro and Woundenburg, 1977) the authors obtain a comparable value for [R.sup.2] and likewise suggest using a variety of qualitative variables in the admission process.

Some researchers have downplayed the merits of work experience between the bachelor's degree and the MBA program as an admission criterion. For instance, a study (Fisher and Resnick, 1990) of first year MBA students at Baruch College considers only UGPA and GMAT as predictors of GGPA, noting that other factors such as work experience lack evidence of validity. Cooksey and Rindfuss (1994) note that MBA programs offer a contrast to the wisdom that prevails in other fields about the benefits of "continuous" schooling (See, for example, Fitzgerald, Jurs, & Hudson, 1996). …

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