Here at mbaMission, one of the most common questions we are asked is “Am I too young [or old] to pursue an MBA?” Most applicants to traditional two-year MBA programs have between three and seven years of full-time work experience by the time they matriculate. For example, the average number of years of professional experience for Harvard Business School’s Class of 2024 is five. Schools typically publish the average amount of work experience their MBA students have as part of their class profile.
The good news is that admissions committees consider not only the amount of work experience you have but also what you have actually achieved in your career. Here are some factors that can help you decide whether you are ready to apply to a traditional two-year MBA program, regardless of your age.
The top business schools are interested in applicants who make an impact at their work, no matter how long they have been in a particular role. How have you made a positive impact on your team or clients? Do your best to quantify your achievements. For example, perhaps you took the initiative to improve a reporting process, and this change has ultimately saved your team valuable work hours each week.
In addition, certain professional signals—such as promotions, increasing responsibilities, and internal or external recognition (e.g., MVP awards)—can show the admissions committees that you are a strong performer and a valuable contributor at work.
In addition to wanting to know that you are influencing positive change at your job, the top business schools like to see that your career trajectory is healthy and on an uptrend. That means you are not staying excessively long in any one role. Of course, this varies with function and company. For example, at investment banks with a two- to three-year analyst program, you would be expected to progress to the associate level after graduating from the analyst program. However, at some technology firms, software engineers can stay in their role for years, but the projects they take on—and the role they play—tend to get larger over time. That also counts as a positive career trajectory.
No matter your age, clearly articulating your future career goals and how an MBA will help you achieve them is important. This information helps the admissions committees understand what motivates you and how their MBA program can support you and help you reach your stated goals.
Describing your professional objectives is especially crucial for more tenured applicants who have a demonstrated track record of success in their career. For such candidates, the admissions committees also want to know “Why now?” So carefully consider why this is a good time for you to return to school. Importantly, what will business school teach you that you cannot learn on the job?
Although strong test scores will not necessarily get you into the most competitive business schools, weak test scores could keep you out. This is especially true for candidates who are younger or older than the average student at their target program. If you have been out of the academic setting for a number of years, having a strong GMAT or GRE score could reassure the admissions committees that you will be able to hit the ground running, so to speak.
Find the “Right” Program for Your Career Stage
If you find that you might not be a good fit for a traditional two-year MBA program, be aware that other options exist. We are seeing the rise of MBA programs that cater to applicants at different stages of their career. For example, mid-career candidates (those with 8 to 15 years of work experience) can choose a one-year program such as MIT Sloan Fellows, Stanford MSx, or Kellogg’s One-Year Accelerated MBA. And college seniors can apply for deferred admission to many business schools (for more on this option, see our blog post An Overview of Deferred Admissions MBA Programs).
The advantage of these programs is that your classmates will be in a similar career stage as you. This facilitates networking and peer mentoring because you will be experiencing similar issues as you grow together in your careers. For example, by contrast, a mid-career MBA candidate might want to learn how to manage international teams, whereas a deferred MBA applicant might be more interested in building her analytical skill set.
We hope the factors we have addressed in this post can help you decide whether you are ready to apply to a traditional two-year MBA program or might want to explore other options. If you would like to discuss your profile in more detail or receive targeted guidance on your business school application, simply sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with an mbaMission admissions expert.