How young is too young to apply to top MBA programs?
We get asked this question a lot. Thanks to COVID-19 and the general mess of the world economy, we are now getting asked this question daily.
The Data: How Old is the Typical MBA Student?
If you are 24 or younger, the odds aren’t in your favor. This analysis by MBA Data Guru, while unscientific, shows that many business schools penalize people that are just a bit too young.
That is not to say that we haven’t seen ApplicantLab users 24 and younger get admitted. However, similar to those admitted with lower GMAT scores, these candidates demonstrate leadership and initiative that goes far beyond their years of work experience. View ApplicantLab success stories.
“As a fringe candidate that was considered too inexperienced (2 years out of college), too young (24), and probably too dumb (2.9 GPA), I needed every ounce of help I could to craft a cohesive and persuasive story for my MBA applications. Without the ApplicantLab setup and [Maria’s] personal help, I probably don’t receive a single acceptance. 3 acceptances later, including the Tepper School at CMU, I want to thank you a hundred times over for setting up a fantastic, intuitive, and most importantly, effective tool for MBA applications. – HUDAMANIAM
What Business Schools Are Looking For In Younger Candidates
Younger candidates accepted to top business schools* almost always fit the following criteria:
- Have at least two years of work experience.
- Have demonstrated significant work and leadership experience post-college (Note: You don’t need to have been in charge of people, but you should have demonstrated ownership of an important project or initiative.)
- Have interesting or impressive work experience (entrepreneurship, a top consulting firm, Google, a major non-profit, etc.)
- Have a bulletproof rationale for “Why an MBA” and “Why Now”.
- Have a unique well-researched career vision that is possible given they have less work experience (Travel, Food, Social Impact, etc.)
*Note: We do not include early application programs like Harvard’s 2+2 program in our analysis.
MBA Recruiting as a Younger Candidate
The last bullet is particularly important. If you have less than three years of work experience, you could find yourself at a significant disadvantage during MBA recruiting.
Believe it or not, many companies that recruit MBAs on campus require between 3 – 5 years of work experience for their MBA internships and rotational programs. This can put younger MBA students at a significant disadvantage in recruiting in comparison to their peers. If you are pursuing a Brand Management, Consulting, or General Management career, it may be worth waiting to gain additional years of work experience to have a more competitive profile for recruitment.
Should You Wait?
As one AdCom put it: “Why are they in such a hurry…especially, why are then in such a hurry to hear ‘no’?”
In general, if you have less than three years of work experience and don’t fit the criteria above, you should probably wait to apply to business school.
This is especially true if you:
- If you majored in business in undergrad, since you were studying this stuff a year or two ago.
- Could benefit from additional experiences in the next year that will fill gaps in your profile (teamwork, international experience, etc.)
- Have less than two years of work experience (basically the minimum requirement)
The one exception is if you are in a pre-defined pre-MBA / rotational program (e.g., 2-year Analyst program in banking/consulting, or a rotational program at a company). You have to make a decision. You could decide to apply to business school now. However, you could also take the increasingly common third Analyst year or get a job in an industry of interest (P.E., Tech, etc.).
Likewise, if you hate your current job, we would encourage you to make a career move that will get you closer to your career goals. Then, you can apply to business school in 2 years with a strong rational and profile. Not to mention, you will have a more competitive profile for MBA recruitment.
Benefits of Waiting
- COVID-19 has impacted MBA recruitment. Why go to business school and compete with students who have many more years of experience than you when there are fewer roles?
- You will have a stronger story and profile, which could help you gain additional scholarships and fellowship opportunities.
- You’ll have additional stories and knowledge to share with classmates. This may help you get more out of the MBA experience.
Not convinced? Sign up for free trial and discover our advice for maximizing your admissions chances no matter your age or years of work experience.
“I’m heading to Wharton this Fall – the ApplicantLab was the secret sauce that got me in. (In fact, Maria’s/the Lab’s advice “let’s not bury the lead” has played out right here!
For context – I’m an Indian male engineering – a special snowflake – just like everyone else. Additionally, my number of years of work experience was relatively “light” when compared to the rest of the cohort and the company I work for usually begs the question, “Where do you work, again?” By the way, did I mention that my GMAT score was slightly below school averages, and way below standards for engineers from India?” – AJINK25