If you're pondering a Master of Business Administration (MBA), you're probably working various calculi in hope of optimizing your degree. Among the questions you're considering are: How much should you spend on your MBA program? Which school's curriculum and networking opportunities represent the right fit for you and your career goals? Will you benefit more from a part-time or full-time program? On-campus or online?
And then there's the question of when, exactly, to attend. Is there a perfect age at which to pursue an MBA? Can you be too young to get an MBA? Too old? Does it matter whether you amass professional experience before pursuing your degree?
It might help you answer these questions to know the average age of MBA students, and we'll cover that in this article. We'll also discuss the factors that determine the average age, caveats surrounding that average, and the circumstances under which students pursue MBAs before and after they reach that age.
According to Poets and Quants, the average age of students in full-time, on-campus MBA programs falls somewhere in the late 20s. At many of the top 25 programs in the country, that number lands squarely at 28 years of age. At Harvard, Stanford, University of Michigan, and University of Virginia, it's just a tick lower at 27; at Rice and University of Washington, the number sits at 29.
There's a sensible explanation for this data: students in the most competitive programs tend to attend as early in their careers as they possibly can. Because these MBA programs require both a bachelor's degree and years of post-collegiate professional experience, students tend to reach their late 20s by the time they have the necessary amount of work experience to qualify for MBA admissions. (The average student at a top 25 program arrives with about five years of professional experience.)
Those numbers warrant plenty of caveats, which we're about to discuss. First, those figures represent data for top 25 programs. There are over 1,000 accredited MBA programs in the country delivering part-time, full-time, on-campus, online, and hybrid programs. Some of these programs cater to younger students, including those fresh out of college—no work experience required. Others are tailored to working professionals, including many older candidates well beyond their late 20s.
Another caveat: averages can be deceptive. All they tell you is either the sum of all the ages divided by the number of students (arithmetic mean); or, the age that falls right in the middle when all the ages are listed in ascending (or descending) order (median). They tell you nothing about the age range. Are some students considerably younger or older than the average, and if so, how many? Just because the average student at Wharton is 28 doesn't mean there aren't any (or even quite a few) 40-year-olds in an MBA graduating class. There's just no way to tell.
And we still haven't discussed an MBA option designed exclusively for older, more experienced students: the Executive MBA (EMBA). EMBA programs typically limit admissions to candidates with at least 10 years of professional experience at the supervisory, management, or executive level. The average age of an EMBA student is 38.
You certainly can be too young to get an MBA. It is impossible to imagine a seven-year-old managing the content and workload of an MBA program and equally hard to imagine that seven-year-old having any interest in doing so. Since nearly all MBA programs require students to have a bachelor's degree, it's reasonable to assume that few to no MBA students are below the age of 18 and that only a few more are younger than 21. After that, you're old enough to attend some programs, although probably not those that require substantial post-undergraduate professional experience.
You can't be too old to attend an MBA program, although at a certain point you reach an age at which achieving a return on your investment seems highly unlikely at best. That said, even students at an advanced age can pursue an MBA, and doubtless some do merely out of a desire for knowledge and learning. Online MBA programs have expanded accessibility to this degree as well as opportunities to pursue an MBA.
The average age of MBA students in the United States is 28 for conventional MBA programs and 38 for Executive MBA programs, but remember that those are just averages. If you qualify for admission, have the desire and determination to pursue an MBA, and can afford the cost, there's likely a program out there that wants you. All you have to do is find it and apply.
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