by Brian DeChesare

The Full Guide to Pre-MBA Internships: Are They Worth It?

Pre-MBA Internships

A long time ago, the idea of a pre-MBA internship was odd because most people stayed in their full-time jobs until their MBAs began.

Also, getting into a top MBA was so much of a hassle that few people wanted to apply for something else before the program began.

But then recruiting moved up, the MBA process became more structured, and now we have 4-year-olds aiming for “Target Kindergartens” so they can eventually get into investment banking ~15 years in the future.

Due to this “early prep” craze, pre-MBA programs of all types have become more popular.

Many incoming MBA students now wonder if they should complete them in addition to their normal internship(s).

I’ll answer these questions, but, as usual, we need to start with some descriptions:

What is a Pre-MBA Internship?

Pre-MBA Internship Definition: In a pre-MBA internship, an incoming MBA student works for a few weeks in a structured setting at a large company or in an unstructured setting at a smaller firm and uses the experience to boost their chances of winning formal summer internships the next year.

There are three main categories of pre-MBA programs, which the MIT page on the subject describes quite well:

  1. Internships – These meet the definition above. They’re like traditional summer internships but often shorter and completed at smaller companies.
  2. “Programs” – These are more like spring weeks in the U.K., where you attend a few days of events and workshops and get fast-tracked for first-round interviews if you do well enough.
  3. Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Events – These are like the “programs” above but provide underrepresented minorities (URM) with the chance to get fast-tracked for initial interviews. I do not want to wade into the DEI debate here, but these can be excellent for winning interviews if you legitimately qualify for them.

These pre-MBA programs are the most prominent in consulting, finance, and technology, which makes sense since most MBA students target these industries.

You can find companies that offer these pre-MBA internships on the websites of MIT and Wharton: Bain, BCG, McKinsey, LEK, Kearney, PwC, Deloitte, Amazon, and Google.

The deadlines vary, but most are in the April – May range, right before your pre-MBA summer.

Interestingly, there are not many investment banks on these lists.

Evercore has a “pre-MBA diversity program,” but GS, MS, and JPM only appear to offer “fellowships” or “early insight student programswithout specific details attached.

We’ll return to this point later, but in finance, it’s more common to do a pre-MBA internship at a small VC/PE firm or boutique bank rather than a bulge bracket bank.

These pre-MBA internships give you an advantage because MBA-level hiring is still based largely on work experience before your degree.

Yes, the top schools like to claim that you can use an MBA to “reinvent yourself,” but this is a bit of a stretch for many industries.

Management consulting firms like to hire candidates from diverse backgrounds, but for tech and finance roles, you have a big advantage with relevant work experience.

So, by completing a pre-MBA internship, you:

  1. Potentially fast-track yourself for a real summer internship the next year if you’re doing this at a large company or via a diversity program.
  2. Gain experience you can leverage when you apply to other firms (if you’re interning at a smaller firm).

Companies like pre-MBA internships because they get free or cheap labor from eager/motivated students, and they can hire back the ones who perform well.

Oh, and the DEI programs let these firms boost their diversity stats and appear more inclusive.

Do You “Need” a Pre-MBA Internship?

There’s no universal answer because the usefulness varies widely based on your previous career, diversity profile, post-MBA goals, and internship type (small vs. larger firm).

My general views are:

  • If you are a URM, apply immediately for all the diversity programs you qualify for. These will give you a big advantage in virtually any field if you perform well.
  • If you are making a “hard pivot” career change, such as engineering to investment banking, pre-MBA internships are very useful but not necessarily required.
  • Pre-MBA programs at large companies tend to be more common and important in tech and consulting; internships at boutique firms (via networking) are more common in finance.
  • Outside the diversity programs, the 3-day pre-MBA events are rarely worth it. It’s tough to spin a 3-day event as an “internship,” and you normally want something more substantial to list on your resume.
  • Pre-MBA internships are arguably the most useful in eliminating certain careers from your list. There’s no better way to understand a job than to work in the field for 1-2 months!

Here are a few examples of when these internships are useful or not useful:

  • Startup Engineer to Tech or TMT Investment Banking: A pre-MBA internship at a boutique VC/PE firm, bank, or search fund would be very useful here. You’d learn some required skills and get solid talking points for your “story.”
  • Big 4 TAS to Investment Banking: It’s not worth it here because Transaction Services is closely related to IB and uses many of the same skills.
  • Energy Consulting to Asset Management: Consulting is closer to finance than engineering, but a pre-MBA internship would still be useful because AM firms recruit relatively few MBAs and normally want people with finance experience.
  • Healthcare Corporate Finance to Healthcare Investment Banking: If you worked as an FP&A Manager at Pfizer, for example, and now you’re targeting IB roles, a pre-MBA internship is probably not worth it. FP&A is a bit removed from IB, but it’s still a “finance role,” so you won’t necessarily get a huge story or skill-set benefit.

You should also keep in mind whether your desired move is plausible.

For example, if you have no finance experience, it is highly unlikely that you will get an offer at a multi-manager hedge fund or private equity mega-fund after the degree.

A pre-MBA internship won’t bridge the gap because you don’t have the full-time work experience or investment track record to be competitive for these roles.

However, you might be competitive for investment banking, asset management, or consulting roles, and a pre-MBA internship could help with those.

How Do You Apply for Pre-MBA Internships?

At the large firms, it’s easy: Go to your MBA program’s website, look up the opportunities, and submit your applications well before the deadlines – ideally, as soon as they open.

If you’re targeting an informal venture capital internship, private equity internship, or search fund internship, focus on smaller, local firms.

For private equity, anything with under $1 billion in AUM should be fine (i.e., below the normal “middle-market private equity” cut-off).

For VC, firms with under ~$200 million or less in their current fund are appropriate (if you can’t find this information, maybe target firms with under $500 million AUM total).

And for boutique banks, find firms that advise on deals worth less than $100 million.

You will have to complete extensive outreach to win offers at these firms, and you can use the cold-email templates on this site to get started.

To find these firms, you can start by searching on LinkedIn and other job boards; Google Maps is surprisingly useful in many regions as well.

Your pitch should be something like this:

  • You’ve previously worked in Industry X and are an incoming MBA student at School Y who wants to transition into Industry Z.
  • You’ve prepared independently, including studying the technical skills and building/researching [Models, stock pitches, sample portfolios, etc.], and you’re confident you can add value or save time for the team.
  • You’re looking for a pre-MBA internship but can also work part-time in the first year of your program.

Timing is critical for these informal internships because you must start looking several months in advance.

For example, you should ideally start your search for summer 20X5 internships before the end of calendar year 20X4.

That means you need to win admission in Round 1 to have a good shot at these roles.

You can start later and still get an internship, but it will be more stressful, and your chances will be lower.

In interviews, be prepared for the usual range of technical and behavioral questions and even stock pitches, case studies, and modeling tests, depending on the firm type.

Yes, there’s a lot to worry about, but all these assessments will be required if you apply for official internships and full-time jobs in these fields.

It’s just that you’ll need to learn the skills more quickly in this case.

With case studies, stock pitches, and modeling tests, focus on breadth over depth.

For example, if you’re targeting PE internships, don’t spend 10 hours building a hyper-advanced LBO model with PIK Interest, bolt-on acquisitions, and a dividend recap.

Instead, pick a single company and give yourself 1-2 hours to assess it and build a simple model.

Since they could ask for almost anything in an interview, it’s best to practice simple models and pitches for a wide range of companies.

What Should You Expect If You Win a Pre-MBA Internship?

There’s not much to say about the 3-day internships; expect to shadow people, attend networking events, and… network.

With the longer-term internships, you’ll help the full-timers with industry research, sourcing deals/ideas, building pitch books, or evaluating due diligence.

Do NOT expect a lot of “real work” – they’ve hired you because they need help with repetitive, time-consuming tasks.

Your goal is to learn the job, see if it’s right for you, save them time, and pick up talking points you can use in your story later in the year.

Also, do not expect much of a salary – they might pay you a small stipend to cover expenses or a modest hourly amount, but it will be far lower than actual job earnings from post-MBA roles.

How Do You Leverage Pre-MBA Internships?

Pre-MBA internships are helpful mostly if you complete one and then stick to that industry, such as a PE/IB internship, followed by full-time recruiting for IB roles.

It won’t be especially helpful if you do a PE internship but then change your mind and interview for product manager roles at Big Tech firms.

Once you finish, you should immediately incorporate the internship into your story and ask the senior people at your firm for additional referrals.

The MBA-level recruiting process for investment banking at the top schools is very structured and consists of on-campus events followed by coffee chats with bankers, invite-only events, and real interviews.

A pre-MBA internship won’t guarantee that you pass all these steps, but it will be quite important in your story, and you’ll sound more convincing in these initial events.

So, Should You Do a Pre-MBA Internship?

I’d sum it up like this:


  • They can be great for narrowing down your post-MBA career options.
  • They’re very helpful if you’re making a big career change and need more relevant resume experience (especially for tech and finance roles).
  • If you are an underrepresented minority (URM), these opportunities can be game-changers, and you should apply for them ASAP.
  • You don’t need great qualifications or experience to win informal pre-MBA internships; you can do it with enough networking hustle and your school’s brand name.


  • You could pigeonhole yourself because by completing a pre-MBA internship, you’re committing to one specific field – not great if you change your mind.
  • There’s a huge variance in individual internships in terms of recruiting effort, pay, and on-the-job tasks.
  • Most pre-MBA roles at small firms will not convert into formal summer internships or full-time offers.
  • You could burn out if you go straight from your full-time job to this internship to the MBA program – which might hurt your recruiting chances.
  • Networking for these roles may be difficult if you’re an international student or you’re changing locations to attend the MBA program.

I realize that previous coverage on this site has implied that pre-MBA internships are required or critical, but I don’t think that’s true.

It’s more accurate to say that they can be very helpful for certain candidates but are never required; most people who win IB summer offers don’t have this experience.

If you have questions about whether a pre-MBA internship is worthwhile for you, comment away.

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys lifting weights, running, traveling, obsessively watching TV shows, and defeating Sauron.

Break Into Investment Banking

Free Exclusive Report: 57-page guide with the action plan you need to break into investment banking - how to tell your story, network, craft a winning resume, and dominate your interviews

We respect your privacy. Please refer to our full privacy policy.


Read below or Add a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *