“I had an internship from June to August of 2011. Will the admissions committee count that as work experience?”
“I ran a lab during my master’s program. Is that part of my total number of months of work experience?”
“I ran a small business that ultimately failed. Will I get credit for my time as an entrepreneur?”
Business schools have not seriously considered a candidate’s number of months of work experience as a factor in admissions decisions for a long time. In fact, with Harvard Business School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business increasingly open to younger candidates, work experience on a strictly quantitative level is actually being devalued at some schools. A candidate’s quantity of work experience is just not relevant—quality is, of course, what is important. An “average” employee who has merely fulfilled expectations during a five-year stint at a Fortune 500 company could certainly be said to be at a disadvantage compared with an individual who has made the most of a three-year stint elsewhere and been promoted ahead of schedule. Think about it—which of the two would you hire? Which of the two would you admit?
So, if you are asked on an application how many months of work experience you will have before you matriculate, simply answer honestly. If you have any gray areas or are unsure about any aspect of your professional experience as it pertains to your application, you can always call the admissions office for guidance. (Far from being punitive, most admissions offices are actually surprisingly helpful with this kind of simple technical question.) Thereafter, stop worrying about the number of months you do or do not have and instead focus on revealing that you have had an impact in your professional life—and how. Your essays, recommendations, interviews, resume, and other application elements will ultimately make a qualitative impact that will outweigh any quantitative data.