When you think of the typical MBA student, who do you think of? Young, upwardly mobile recent graduates? Mid-career professionals who have a few years of experience under their belts and are trying anything to move up the career ladder? Or perhaps another age group altogether?
You might be surprised by the answer: all age groups are seeking MBAs these days. Although the greatest number of MBA students are in their late twenties, most programs include students of all ages, from recent college graduates to those who have more than ten (or even more!) years of work experience. Depending on your career goals and individual situation, any time is really the right time to go for an MBA.
Just Out of School
It used to be rare for students to enter MBA programs right out of college. Many students preferred to get a few years of work experience under their belts before attempting the rigorous coursework required of graduate students. In fact, many MBA programs agreed with this wisdom, often requiring applicants to have significant work experience before applying.
Things have changed though, and more schools are willing to admit applicants who are just out of school and have limited work experience. One reason is the fear, from schools, that students who go to work and achieve a high level of professional success will not see the need for an MBA – and thus will not enroll. In addition, more than ever before, students are graduating from college with the skills and knowledge required for business school. Many business students have started their own businesses while still in school, or worked for a family business or held jobs with a high level of responsibility while still in school.
Younger students who want to go to business school to have obstacles to overcome, though. Without a record of professional achievement, applicants need to prove that they have the maturity and focus to do well in B-school. One way to do this is to enroll in one of the accelerated business programs. Many universities offer accelerated programs in which students can earn both their undergraduate degree and the MBA in just four years, meaning that they begin their careers with a leg up on the competition.
Conventional wisdom – and many so-called “experts” and pundits in the academic world – says that the chances of earning an MBA after the age of 30 are nearly impossible.
However, the number of professionals who are seeking an MBA ten years or more after earning their undergraduate degrees is increasing nearly every year, especially with the ease of pursuing an MBA degree online which allows them study around their busy schedule. These individuals, having been in the field for several years, often have a great deal of insight to add to the discussions in business school, as well as the maturity and commitment required to be successful. Older students are often seen as more committed, since they often have additional responsibilities, such as work and families, that require their time, meaning that the time they spend on their studies will be focused and efficient.
However, it is those same qualities that make older students successful that also present limitations, and give admissions committees pause when considering older candidates. In addition, while younger applicants have to overcome the hurdle of lack of experience, older applicants have to have the right experience. The longer you’ve been in the working world, the more advancement you need to demonstrate. Showing career growth is more important than longevity, in the eyes of admissions committees—and you’ll need to demonstrate that you need the MBA to continue to grow.
No matter what age you are, deciding to pursue a MBA is a major decision. You need to weigh the cost of the degree and the time you need to put into your studies against the benefits to your long-term career goals. And goals are important; younger students should not pursue an MBA just to avoid looking for a job, while older students need to know why they want the degree and where they plan to go with it. It’s not a way just to fill time.
If you have a clear vision of where you want to go, though, there really is no “perfect” age to go to business school. You’ll encounter students both older and younger than you, and you’re sure to learn something from everyone.
This article was written by Justin Davis who after obtaining an undergraduates degree has decided to go back to school and pursue his MBA on line. He expects to have his degree by next year.