Can I take an MBA at 21? 4 insights from a young MBA student

Twenty-one-year-old Janhavi Mahale was in a unique position when starting her MBA. Straight out of her Bachelor’s in Psychology and armed with an internship in marketing and a certificate in customer relationship management, she jumped in at the deep end with an MBA. She told MBAGRADSCHOOLS about what other young MBA students can expect and how they can get the most out of their experience.

In short

I’m a young MBA student: Will I be taken seriously?

Unfortunately, no matter how unfair it may be, young MBA students are quite rare. This means that a lot of people you meet outside the classroom may prejudge your capabilities. This can have an impact as you try to build your network or apply for jobs. 

For those who like a challenge, this is less of an issue. It can be a great motivator in learning your subjects to a level that will make an impact on others. Twenty-one-year-old Janhavi Mahale was well aware of her position, telling MBAGRADSCHOOLS, “I felt like, as I was a student of psychology, I did not have as much exposure in the corporate world or understanding that management students have.” (01:07)

Janhavi also had a strong drive to understand how corporations worked. This spanned from the roles and responsibilities in each sector, down to the subcategories of each industry, such as investment banking and equity research under the umbrella of finance. 

Janhavi’s advice to others is that you need to match ambition with a realistic viewpoint. She says, “The thing about being young is you have to gain a lot of experience and respect. I think that happens over time, so you have to be a bit down-to-earth when you’re starting out.” (05:06)

1. Internships can help you advance faster

A large part of almost every MBA is the opportunity to complete internships. You can apply what you’ve learned in the classroom and discover how departments and companies as a whole work. 

Janhavi’s decision to study at Athena School of Management offered a vast amount of working experience through internships. She told MBAGRADSCHOOLS, “Most [business] schools here just give you one internship in two years, whereas Athena provides you with three internships.” (02:34)

With three distinct opportunities, young MBA students at Athena can explore their options, gain insights from different departments and sectors, and see how their classroom learning applies to the world of work. This way, you can build a more profound understanding of how different businesses work. It is an accelerated way of learning that can serve you well in your future career.

2. You’ll learn a lot from your classmates

As most MBA candidates are considerably older than 21, they come to the classroom with a lot more working experience. Their backgrounds are often very diverse. As a young MBA student, you can learn a lot from the professional lives of others.

Aside from lessons learned in the classroom and internships, you can garner an understanding of industries in which you have no experience. Similarly, you can take on board cautionary tales where your classmates have taken a wrong step. 

Surrounding yourself with the kind of minds you find in an MBA program gives you a crash course on business. Janhavi recognized this unique source of learning. She tells us, “Every time someone else from the class talks, you learn something new.” (12:20).

3. Build a network at a young age

By mixing with others who are more advanced than you professionally, you can get a lot more than simply absorbing their perspectives in the classroom. Whether it’s workgroups, associations, or even just on a social level, the connections you make during an MBA open many doors for you that you couldn’t access at an undergraduate level or even in the workplace. 

As a 21-year-old MBA student, Janhavi has a unique network compared to peers her own age. By connecting with classmates, professors, and students that have a wealth of experience, she can find opportunities, ask for advice, and collaborate with minds that help her career. 

MBA programs open you up to a melting pot of clubs and associations that can build your network and knowledge. A great example of this is Janhavi’s initiative to become Secretary of the Rotaract Club, part of Rotary International. She explains, “In this club, we take on a lot of different activities. There are various avenues like entrepreneurship development, professional development, community service, social media interaction.” (07:42) As the secretary, Janhavi also gains leadership skills that have a real-world application in the club’s events. 

4. Use the support of your school

An MBA is a lot of things. One thing it definitely isn’t is easy. Even if you have 10 years of business experience, an MBA is an incredible achievement for anybody. In truth, it is even harder for young MBA students who are starting from scratch. 

Janhavi told MBAGRADSCHOOLS about the stress she experienced during the program but added that you’re not on your own. She says, “Something that I really appreciate about Athena is they are very supportive. If we need any support, we can always talk to our course coordinator.” (13:54)

She goes on to say that it’s not just work-related stress you can discuss. Your school wants the best for you, so if you’re having personal difficulties, you should always reach out, rather than allowing issues to snowball into bigger problems.

Being a young MBA student: A summary

By throwing yourself in the deep end with an MBA, you will have to work harder to understand concepts, soak up experience, and find your path. However, if you have the motivation, you can progress at a rapid rate. 

Janhavi’s story shows that it is absolutely possible to succeed as a young MBA student. In closing, she offers advice to other ambitious young people who want to make their mark: “The main point should be that you need to take initiative. Of course, opportunities will be given by your [business] school…but if you don’t make the best of it and if you do not take that opportunity, it’s going to be on you and not on them.” (14:48)

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