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  • What is an early Career MBA program?

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    Unlike traditional and executive MBA programs, Early Career MBA programs are designed for students with one to two years of professional work experience (most MBA programs expect applicants to have spent more time in the workforce).

    Students are typically recent college graduates. The curriculum, hands–on applications and career services are geared to help students accelerate their careers and re–enter the workforce with a more competitive skill set.

    What are the key benefits of an Early Career MBA program?

    Completing an MBA early in your career can make sense. Early career MBA graduates enjoy higher starting salaries than those with just a BA. With more years to reap the financial and professional benefits of your MBA, the return on investment can be the greatest early in your career.

    With an Early Career MBA you can:

    • build your resume through projects and internships with real companies while you complete your MBA degree.
    • get the in–depth knowledge and cross-functional understanding of management needed to succeed in a professional position.
    • develop the behaviors and skills, such as communication and leadership, that employers seek.
    • gain the help of tailored career services to identify your professional career goals and support your job search.

    What should you look for when selecting an Early Career MBA program?

    A "true" Early Career MBA
    Keep in mind that many schools admit recent college graduates into their traditional MBA programs, but a true Early Career MBA is specifically designed to meet the needs of students who are seeking their first professional position or career change early in their career.

    Willamette University Atkinson Graduate School of Management has a long history of providing early career learning experiences. According to Judy O'Neil, the Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions at the graduate school, their Early Career MBA "provides experiential hands–on learning, projects, internships, a strong core curriculum that helps students understand the integration of the functions of management, an opportunity to build depth of knowledge in one or more areas of interest, teamwork, leadership and career management skills–all the tools students need to attain their first professional position or career change."

    A curriculum that incorporates in–depth hands–on experience
    Courses such as PACE (Practical Application for Careers in Enterprises) at Willamette emphasize hands–on experience with working in teams, providing professional consulting services to client organizations (public and non–profit), professional behavior, and strategic career management. The IKEWs (Integrated Knowledge Exercise Weeks) model teaches students to view organizational issues from a broad cross-functional perspective–a perspective that usually develops over a longer period of time while working.

    Established, active mentorship programs
    Find out if alumni are engaged with current students. What types of speakers and executives are brought to campus and how often? At Willamette, incoming students are paired with successful professionals in a variety of industries. Students also have the opportunity, through interactive panels, speakers, treks and special events, to speak directly to alumni and other practitioners in key areas of interest. A power lunch series brings executives to campus to give insight on their particular career paths.

    Strong career services and placement
    Career development and preparation is especially important with an Early Career MBA. Ask the school about internship opportunities and job placement services. Internship opportunities should be open to students pursuing new industries and job functions. Career services should include counseling and resume and interview skills building. Through networking activities, students should be taught the art of developing and keeping a strong professional network.

    Insight from current students and graduates
    There is no better way to understand if a particular program is right for you than by talking to people who went through it. Visit the campus and talk with current students. Schedule an interview with alumni in your area. Ask a graduate how the Early Career MBA benefited them. Ashleigh Williams, a 2006 graduate of Atkinson's Early Career MBA program and now an Associate Portfolio Analyst at Russell Investments, says, "Getting my MBA at Willamette put me on an entirely different career track than my peers. I benefited greatly from the accessibility of faculty, the opportunities to work on important real–life projects, and interaction with other students. It was hard work – but a lot of fun."

    What is the profile for a typical Early Career MBA student?

    Professional work experience is not required, but there are key characteristics that admissions officers look for in an applicant. Here is a typical profile for an entering Early Career MBA student.

    • Looking for a traditional, full–time, 2–year+ study experience
    • Has a bachelor's degree, with a major in any area of study. You don't need to major in business to get an MBA. Schools often look for a variety of major backgrounds that build critical thinking, reasoning and writing skills.
    • Experience leading or working within an organization. This experience can come from part–time work, volunteer activities, student clubs and organizations, or other experiential projects.
    • Exceptional academic credentials, including strong undergraduate GPA and GMAT scores.
    • Strong references from previous managers, supervisors or professors.

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