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What’s The Best Age To Do An MBA? 6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Apply

Is there an ideal age to enrol in an MBA? We find out from admissions staff at top business schools like Berkeley Haas and HEC Paris

Thu Jul 26 2018

BusinessBecause
People may say that age is just a number, but there’s no denying that it impacts MBA applications.

According to the latest data from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC)—owner of the GMAT admission test—only 11% of GMAT test-takers who were intending to apply to full-time MBA programs in 2017 were over 31. Most applicants, according to GMAC, fell within the 25-to-30 age bracket, and indeed, this is reflected in the class profiles of the world’s top schools.

Looking at the top-10 US schools as listed by the Financial Times for which data is available, the average age of full-time MBA students is 28; 29 for the top-10 European and Asian schools.

Does age matter when you apply for an MBA program? What makes age 28 so magic?

Here are six questions you should be asking yourself if you’re wondering whether you’re the right age to be undertaking an MBA:


1. How mobile is my career?

The first thing you should consider is that MBA admissions teams aren’t looking for a specific age—they’re looking for a broad type.

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“You’ll see many full-time MBA students in their mid-to-late-twenties,” says business school admissions expert Barbara Coward. “And I do think that’s a good age, because you’ve had some years of work experience but may have the flexibility for a new career path that you may not have later.”

This flexibility comes from the fact that, at 28, most...

ctive MBA applicants are unlikely to be tied down by a senior management role or the demands of a young family. ‘Settling down’ is still a little way into the future—and in the meantime, they’re ready to change things up in their career.  


2. What are my other options?

Evidently, career mobility is key for students planning on undertaking a full-time MBA course—but for older applicants likely to have less of this flexibility, there are still MBA options available.

According to US News, the average age of students across online MBA courses is 33, proving that older applicants can and do succeed when it comes to online programs. In fact, online MBA programs increasingly offer many of the same experiences and benefits as full-time MBA courses, without the need for excessive compromise.

For example, at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Marshall School of Business, online MBA students commence their studies with an immersion week in Los Angeles, where they meet one another and problem-solve in teams before returning home and collaborating virtually on projects for the rest of the degree.

This provides MBAs not only with the networking opportunities so lauded by campus-based programs, but with invaluable hands-on experience in leading projects in a globally connected business world—an unmistakable asset in this heavily-digitized age.


3. Do I have enough experience?

For younger candidates looking to get onto a campus-based MBA program, though your flexibility may be superior to other candidates, the challenge will be proving that you are experienced enough to get the most out of the course.

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“While there is no ‘perfect age’, the average age for our incoming MBA class is 28,” says the assistant dean of the full-time MBA program at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Peter Johnson.

“We seek candidates who have enough professional experience to provide the context that enables them to fully benefit from the learning in the program, but it’s really a question of experience rather than age.”

Véronique Carresse, admissions director of the Executive MBA at France’s SKEMA Business School, where the average age is 42, agrees. She says that “professional maturity” is more important in an MBA candidate than a specific age.

“It is preferable to have been faced with a variety of workplace situations in order to fully benefit from the MBA program,” she explains. “We expect a level of comprehension from our students that will allow them to properly and quickly analyse a situation in order to find the appropriate solution—or at the very least, that will allow them to ask the right questions.”


4. What’s my desired destination?

Evidently, in many cases, age considerations are actually more about how much you as a candidate will be likely to benefit from the degree.

With this in mind, are there situations in which being outside of the usual 25-to-30 age bracket might be beneficial?

“For some professions such as doctors and lawyers, it can make more sense to wait a bit until your get your MBA,” Barbara Coward suggests.

“However, for elite management consulting and tech, it’s not a bad idea to go to business school sooner rather than later. These industries are changing so rapidly that the sooner you get ‘in’ the more places you’ll be able to go.”

This is a useful thing to keep in mind when presenting yourself to MBA programs with certain specialties, or business schools known for placing their grads in certain industries: show that you have a destination in mind, and demonstrate how the MBA is going to help you to get there.


5. Is now the right time for a transition?

You may be mobile, experienced, and focused on your goal industry—but how else can you tell it’s ‘time’ to do an MBA?

According to Copil Yáñez, MBA relationship manager at the University of Edinburgh Business School, MBAs are best used when they coincide with a change in your career.

“In general, people should consider doing an MBA when they are in transition: from one sector to another, one position to another, one country to another,” Copil says. “While these transitions do tend to cluster around age 30 for our Full Time MBA and around age 40 for our Executive MBA, everyone will be ready at different times.”

For older candidates, the biggest barrier to admission to a top full-time MBA program may simply be convincing admissions teams that you will be able to achieve such a transition.

“You need to remember that some business schools play the role of talent scout for top employers,” Barbara cautions older applicants. “If a program seems hesitant, there may be a reluctance based on recruiter preferences. So you need to show not only why you would be a successful student, but why you would be a successful hire.”


6. What does my gut tell me?

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Ultimately, what comes across from all of the experts we've asked is that the ‘right’ time to apply for an MBA isn’t down to the number of birthdays you’ve had—it’s down to you as an individual.

“In my career leading admissions functions, first at Georgetown and now at Duke, I can tell you the best time to pursue an MBA really depends on individual circumstances and career goals,” confirms Shari Hubert, associate dean for admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

“I have seen people who are ready for their MBA in their early 20s and folks who thrive on the MBA experience in their 50s. With so many fantastic options for working professionals, there really isn’t a barrier to pursuing the degree later in your career.”

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Perhaps the best way to know whether you’re ready for an MBA is simply that you feel determined to do it.

“What often triggers the desire of doing an MBA is the will to accelerate one’s career and seek an even greater path,” says HEC Paris’s Benoit Banchereau.

“The right age is when you want to make it happen at any cost, no matter what, and nobody can convince you otherwise.”

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