When it comes to the ideal age to enter a highly ranked MBA program, there’s little variance. Some 18 of of the 25 highest ranked MBAs in the U.S. boast an average age of exactly 28 years. The exceptions? Stanford, Harvard, Virginia Darden and Michigan Ross are just a year younger at 27, while the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business and Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business are a year older at 29.
Averages, of course, are just that: averages. At Stanford, the average 28-year-old first-year MBA student brings 53 months of work experience into the classroom (by the way that is the least amount of work experience of any top 25 program). But the actual range at Stanford is between zero and 14 years which would likely make the oldest person to enter the GSB this year 37 or 38 years old. That is clearly an outlier, no doubt a military veteran who is using the MBA to make a transition into civilian life.
It’s not all that different at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School where the age range is between zero and 16 years, making the oldest student in the newly entered Class of 2021 close to or at 40 years of age. At Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, the average amount of work experience is 5.7 years though the median is a bit shorter at 5.1 years. The middle 80th percentile of the latest entering class in 2019 is between three years and 8.3 years.
AVERAGE AGE OF ENTERING MBAS: WHY FULL-TIME MBA PROGRAMS PREFER 20-SOMETHINGS
At many of the European business schools, the average age tends to run a little higher. INSEAD, for example, boasts an average age of 29 with six years of work experience. But 22% of INSEAD’s latest class of 1,020 MBA students boast over seven years of work experience, while just 5% have three or fewer years of work experience on their resumes. The 497 students in London Business School’s MBA Class of 2021, meantime, average five years of work experience but range from a low of two to a high of 14 years.
The youngest average age for a Top 50 MBA in the U.S.? That distinction belongs to the entering MBAs at two public universities: the University of Florida and the University of Georgia where the average age is 26, with just 41 and 39 months of work experience, respectively
Why do full-time MBA programs prefer 20-somethings? It’s because they have just the right amount of experience in the world of work to make valuable contributions in class yet are not entirely set in their ways. They are open to learning and changing which makes them ideal students in a full-time MBA program. But the numbers also reflect the self-selecting nature of an MBA applicant pool. Truth is, there are far more applicants to full-time programs who are in the 26 to 28 age range so it only goes to reason that more of them will be admitted and enrolled.
THE IMPACT OF AGE AT HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL
Schools generally fail to report highly detailed breakdowns of their newest MBA students. But the last time Harvard Business School crunched those numbers and made them available revealed some fascinating data. The clear sweet spot, accounting for 499 of 935 in the Class of 2017, or 53.4% of the entire incoming class, are candidates aged 26 and 27, with four to five years of work experience. A sizable group of 153 students, or 16.4%, entered at the age of 25, with three years of work behind them. The same was true of people aged 28, with six years of experience. They accounted for a block of 124 students, or 13.3%.
From there, the odds fall dramatically on either side of the age range. At 29, for example, only 50 students, representing 5.3% of the class were enrolled–that is less than half the number at only a year younger. Of course, some of this is a reflection of the applicant pool which would attract far more candidates aged 25 through 28. Nonetheless, in a typical pool of 10,000 candidates, HBS has enough age variety to shape the class anyway it wants.
Only 12.5%, or 67 students in the Class of 2017, entered Harvard’s MBA program at age 30 or above, with eight to more than ten years of work experience. So once you hit 30, the odds quickly diminish for an admit. At exactly 30 years of age, only 2.7%, or 25 people, were admitted. At 31, only 19 got in, just 2.0%. At 32 and up, just 23 students were admitted, 2.5% of the class.
On the younger side, HBS admitted only one student with a single year of work experience, presumably at the age of 23. That comes out to a mere 0.1% of the class. A group of 24-year-olds did much better. They numbered 41 students, or 4.4% of the entire class, with two years of work experience (and of course Harvard’s deferred admission program 2+2 probably plays a key role here).