Is there a perfect age to get an MBA? According to the MBA Crystal Ball, students enrolled in the top US b-schools range from about 27 to 29 years old.(1)
Does this mean that a younger applicant is not attractive to the top programs? For example, is a 25-year-old candidate less attractive to admissions committees than an identical 29-year-old candidate?
Not necessarily, but most admissions committees are looking for applicants with robust job experience. Since substantial job experience typically takes time to achieve, the people that attract the attention of top MBA programs tend to skew older.
Time spent working is time well-spent
Consider a 29-year-old business school applicant. If this person graduated from their undergraduate program at 22-years-old, this person has likely spent about seven years working. Seven years is ample time to dig in one’s roots at an organization. Spending seven years at one company is plenty of time to build notable seniority and gain focused expertise. For example, in most traditional banking organizations, seven years could propel you from analyst to associate, and perhaps even to a VP if you’re especially sharp.
Alternatively, seven years could be spent holding a few different jobs, which would allow for exposure to a variety of roles, industries, and organizations. For example, many undergraduate business students spend two to three years after college in consulting. Suppose an MBA applicant spent three years in consulting; they could have contributed to anywhere from three to nine different projects. Then, if this person chose to leave consulting and join a different company, they would have four additional years to dive into a brand-new organization and continue honing their skills.
In sum, the 29-year-old applicant has gained either deep understanding of one industry or a variety of industries. Not only does this make for an impressive resume, but these applicants probably have interesting content to lean on for essays and interviews.
Robust job experience creates meaningful perspective in b-school
And it turns out, this experience matters not just for getting into business school, but it matters once you’re in the classroom, too. CommonBond’s own Tara Fung, VP of CommonBond for Business and HBS alumna, explains:
“One of my professors told me that an MBA degree is a multiplier. The more experience you have before business school, the better your perspective is on the coursework, and therefore, the more you get out of your MBA.”
Therefore, quality experiences within an industry might determine just how much you gain from business school. The concepts that you study in business school are illuminated by examples from the real “working-world” that you can draw upon from your past. Knowing how your old company structured its organizational chart will help build context in a human assets class. Having experience working on an IPO might shed light on concepts discussed in your corporate finance class.
Plus, you can share what you’ve learned from your working experience with your group and section. Wouldn’t you want to have a former Google mobile designer in your UX class? Wouldn’t you opt to partner with a former Toyota employee in a six-sigma production class? Admissions committees take this into account as well: do you have experiences that your classmates could also benefit from?
More experience in the workforce can also create a clearer picture of what interests you the most. An applicant who spent a good amount of time working probably has had more exposure to different industries, roles, and styles of corporate culture. In this way, they have been able to “look through the window” at what career path most appeals to them. This means that this person can make a clear plan for what classes they want to take, what clubs they want to join, and for which jobs they want to recruit. In other words, these students can come in day one with a clear and concise plan for what they seek to gain from business school.
How to stand out as a younger candidate
This is not to say that a younger candidate can’t find ways to accelerate their path and go to business school earlier than the average MBA student. Simply prioritize work experiences and look for acceleration tracks within your company. Seek out hands-on experience and volunteer for projects that will help you learn more about the industry. Ensure that your employer is committed to helping you develop not only quickly, but in a robust and meaningful way that you can point to in essays, interviews, and on your resume.
If you are not seeing forward progression in your current role, ask for more responsibility and express your desire for more ownership. If that doesn’t propel you forward, consider recruiting for a new position internally or even externally.
Some schools are also beginning to roll out new deferment programs to help create accelerated paths to b-school for younger students, such as Harvard Business School’s 2 + 2 program. These deferment programs are designed for especially eligible undergraduate students to apply to while they are still in college. In the case of Harvard’s 2 + 2 program, undergrads who apply and are accepted are promised admission to HBS in two years after they successfully graduate from their undergraduate institution and spend two years in the workforce.
Students are able to defer even longer if they find that they want to spend up to four years working before heading to get their MBA at HBS. Notably, 65% of the 2 + 2 Class of 2022 came from STEM backgrounds, which HBS expressly favors for this program in particular (2).
And to prove that age is less important than experience, MBA programs have admitted students as young as 19 in recent years (3). These youngsters came to b-school with job experiences that usually take years to achieve, such as building drones for NASA, training for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and even launching their own startups.
Have more questions about when you should apply to b-school? We can help. Get connected to one of CommonBond’s own MBA alumni. They can answer your questions and make sure you're on a good path towards earning your MBA.
And don't forget to join CommonBond's Pre-MBA group on LinkedIn, where you can ask questions, connect to other "pre-MBAs," and be first to see exclusive b-school content.