What’s the right age for an MBA?

The average age of MBA classes tends to vary, which leads some people to think there’s a “right” age for an MBA. To find out if this is the case, we spoke to Kenneth Cheung, Head of Recruitment & Admissions at AGSM @ UNSW Business School.

In short

The different types of MBA programs

Let’s first take a look at the different formats that MBAs tend to come in. This is important because the format can influence the average age of the students.

Kenneth Cheung is Head of Recruitment & Admissions at AGSM @ UNSW Business School, one of the top business schools in Australia. Kenneth gave us a bit of background on their range of MBA programs.

“We process more than a thousand MBA applications per year. We’re the biggest school admitting the largest number of MBA students of the top tier universities in Australia,” he says. (00:28)

“We offer a full-time MBA, an executive MBA, and a part-time online MBA,” he adds. “Our full-time MBA program is ranked number one in Australia by the Financial Times. There’s only one intake per year and we have around 50 students in each cohort – which [makes it] an incredibly small program.” (00:46)

What’s the average age of an MBA student?

Each of the formats that Kenneth describes has its own characteristics. As a rule of thumb, part-time executive MBAs tend to attract older applicants than full-time programs. That’s partly because EMBAs demand more work experience, and partly because senior professionals may find it more difficult to take time off work to study full-time.

“In our class of 2020 and 2021, the average age of our full-time MBA cohort is 30 years old, with an average of eight years of work experience,” Kenneth explains. “The average age for our two part-time programs is quite similar – around 37 years old, with 14 years of work experience.” (01:24)

It’s important to remember that the average age for an MBA is not the same as the right age for an MBA. Both full-time and part-time MBA programs attract a range of people from different countries, different industries, and different ages. 

“Age does not play a role [in admitting candidates]. When choosing which program to enroll in, it always comes down to which program is suitable for you at that time,” Kenneth says. (02:04)

“Many people think younger students should study the full-time MBA, while the EMBA program is only suitable for more mature students – which is not always true. You can’t be too old for a full-time MBA,” he states. “Although full-time MBA programs attract more young students compared to part-time executive MBAs, you will always find a small proportion of older students in each program.” (02:17)

Why older students sometimes choose to pursue a full-time MBA

The average age of a full-time MBA student tends to be lower than those studying a part-time program. But, as Kenneth says, plenty of students above that average age still decide to study a full-time program. He outlines some of the reasons why.

“Full-time MBA programs generally offer more support in career development, and there might also be more scholarships available than in an EMBA,” he says. “Every year we have students transfer from our part-time EMBA into the full-time program because they want to focus more on learning, participate more in socials, [join more] extracurricular activities and build a stronger network.” (03:16)

“It’s also sometimes difficult to juggle part-time study with a demanding full-time job and family commitments. There are just so many reasons [why] people choose to study a full-time MBA,” he clarifies. (03:57)

Just as you’ll find older students in a full-time MBA, you’ll also find that EMBAs contain younger students, too. However, it’s not very common. That’s because EMBA programs demand a minimum number of years of work experience, which can automatically rule out younger candidates.

“An EMBA is a post-experience degree that requires substantial work experience,” Kenneth says. “A critical part of the learning process comes from student interaction and class discussion. The length and quality of management and leadership experience you have affect how well you can understand core concepts, and how much you can benefit from and contribute to class discussions.” (04:20)

How to decide which format is right for you

So, which format is right for you? Firstly, it’s important to make sure your career goals align with an MBA, regardless of whether it’s full-time or part-time. Kenneth has some words of advice on how you might do that.

“Before making a decision on which MBA format to undertake, you should really talk to your family and partner, as you will most certainly need their support during the program,” he suggests. “You may speak with alumni of the program you’re interested in. Speak to an MBA graduate who had a similar pre-MBA experience to find out how the MBA has helped them.” (05:08)

He continues, “Most importantly you should speak to the business school, attend information sessions, go through the website to understand your time and financial commitment [as well as] the value proposition of the MBA program. Make sure you do thorough research, as embarking on an MBA is a big decision and a big investment.” (05:38)

The right age for an MBA is the moment you feel you need to go for it. Although each MBA format has typical class profiles, that doesn’t mean age is a precursor to admission. The reality is that you’re never too young nor too old to try something new – including an MBA. 

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