Unlike most educational courses, for MBAs, almost without exception, you will need at least three years work experience in a managerial role, and in some cases, this figure can be even higher. It is a rare MBA course indeed that will accept very recent graduates onto their MBA courses and they usually only do so for the most exceptional and talented students.

There are a few reasons for the need for having experience under your belt before starting the MBA: reasons that benefit both the business schools themselves and you as the aspiring MBA student. First of all, without experience, can you be sure that you are cut out for and genuinely interested in a career in business? If so, what field are you best suited to and what are your long-term goals? With the time as well as the financial commitment (some courses cost over US$100,000 if you factor in the sabbatical from your earnings as well as the costs of the course, relocation and so on) you will need to be absolutely sure that you are doing the right thing by yourself when undertaking an MBA.

Additionally, you will want to know that, when participating in the case studies and peer group sessions that an MBA course consists of, you will be able to play a constructive and creative part in the discussions amongst people who, most likely, have spent quite some time in a managerial position. Nunzio Quacquarelli, Managing Director of QS is one of a chorus of voices urging caution against trying for an MBA with no work experience: Even if you are an exceptional student, and schools are fighting over themselves to offer you a place on an MBA, we advise against this. It's not that you won't benefit from such a course, but you simply won't get the most from it. You won't be in a strong position to know exactly what you want, and to contribute fully to the programme. For your MBA course, experience is key. Business schools, like the companies who employ MBAs, are also fighting a war for talent and are in quite serious competition to find the best graduates for their courses. In this respect, business schools spend considerable resources tracking down and recruiting the most appropriately talented individuals. This equals a higher success rate for their MBA graduates into the world's top companies, greater prestige for the school and, ultimately, a positive cycle of excellence the same as any other business would aspire to, including the opportunity to charge more for the education they offer.

While your academic background is critical - you'll need a good first degree and GMAT scores to even be considered for the best courses - it is your personal qualities and work experience that will allow you the best chance of being accepted on an MBA course. During case studies for your marketing module, for instance, you will need to bring your experience to the table and pass on your knowledge of your particular industry to your peers. The world's top business schools believe that diversity of work experience, as well as background and nationality, breeds an atmosphere of international peer-learning. You will benefit as much from your peers as from lecturers when studying an MBA, many of whom see themselves as guides or facilitators of discussion. However, the trend is towards an increasingly younger MBA intake. Statistics from the QS MBA Applicant Research 2007, where almost 5,000 aspiring MBAs were surveyed, show that the average age for people entering MBAs was down to 26.8 on average in 2007 (25.9 in Asia) compared with 28 in 2005.

Incidentally, the average work experience amongst Indians is a little over two years, compared with the USA where people have a little more than five years pre-MBA experience. Simon Stockley, Dean of the Full-Time MBA Programme at Tanaka Business School at Imperial College in London, concurs: Though the average experience for an MBA at Tanaka is 7 years, the trend is increasingly moving towards less experience because people want to graduate younger and get on with their careers. It's a global marketplace so people are feeling they need to get their MBAs younger and still have time to relocate. However we are also finding that applicants of the right quality for us are also getting younger. A career in business may not preclude doing an MBA, though the chances are that, without work experience, your application will be unsuccessful. If you are in that position and you want to go straight into graduate business education, Masters programmes are more likely to be the route for you. If you've had a few years in work and you want to move to the next stage, check out the MBA. You can also personalize your selection of the best business schools in the world, according to the criteria that are most important to you, not to faceless newspapers or magazines, by searching QS Search and Scorecard on www.topmba.com/scorecard.