5. The application essays address the type of work experience you have. Admissions officers also consider the amount.

Most MBA applicants know that the average number of years of full-time work experience has risen dramatically at the top business schools. Schools that only recently averaged two or three years now average five. And that number keeps rising.

This trend means you don't want to apply too early. I have many ambitious students in my classes who insist on taking their shot at the brass ring with only two years of full-time work experience. (And that's by the time they would enter school, not when they plan to apply.) Some of them are exceptionally bright and do well on the GMAT, but very few of them make it into top-tier programs. In fact, most end up "trading down" to a backup school or getting rejected altogether.

I have to admit that I agree with admissions officers who reject inexperienced applicants. The whole objective in assembling a business school class is to put together people who can share unique experiences from a diverse range of industries, so admitting a candidate with two years of experience over a candidate with five makes little sense, even if the less experienced applicant has a higher GMAT score.

But That Won't Happen to Me!

I know, you're different. You think your 740 GMAT and 3.6 GPA will get you into Wharton. After all, you have almost two years at Goldman. But look at the numbers. Only two percent of a typical year's class at Wharton has less than two years of full-time work experience. That means 15 people out of 8,300 applicants (one of the highest acceptance rates out there). That gives you a 1-in-553 chance.

Be serious. Wait until you have at least three years (by the time you would enter). I have had a few students who have gotten into top programs (including Wharton) with only two years of experience, but they were the exceptions to the rule. The vast majority of inexperienced applicants get the ax and have to reapply the following year with a lame story about why they were rejected previously.

And, by the way, you don't get to apply from ground zero the year after you have been rejected. At many schools all you are allowed to submit is an updated information form and a single essay explaining what has changed in your life since you last applied.

What if I Changed Jobs?

I hear this question a lot and I've heard a number of admissions officers address it — enough that I'm able to discern a pattern among their answers. The general opinion seems to be that changing jobs isn't a problem, especially if the change involves some kind of promotion. But "job churning" is frowned upon because the admissions people want you to have more than just a surface understanding of your industry. You need to bring a certain amount of expertise into the classroom, and changing jobs every six months will make it difficult to develop an in-depth understanding of a specific industry.

So try to stick with one job (or, at least, one industry) for a year or two. Otherwise you won't have much to offer a school.