Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at 3pm

When is the Best Time to Get an MBA?

When is the Best Time to Get an MBA? main image

It’s tempting to try to move as fast as possible to earn that next degree. However, if you move too early, you might not be ready for the programs available from the world’s top business schools. And if you go too late, you may have wasted years that could have been spent moving up the career ladder. So, what’s the right answer? When exactly is the best time to get an MBA?

Can’t I just go right after my undergraduate degree?

With a few exceptions, your best time to get an MBA is not directly after college. These days, an MBA does not come with quite the same employment guarantee it once did – even when you receive one from one of the top business schools. Hiring managers say they are only interested in MBA candidates with extensive professional experience. It makes no sense to get an MBA if you can’t get a job afterward.

It’s also very difficult to get into the top business schools right out of college. Therefore, common wisdom puts forth the idea that it is important to wait a few years before applying for your MBA. There are several reasons for this:

  • If you want to get into an elite program you need some experience first: For most top business schools, the average age of MBA students demonstrates that they are about five years out of an undergraduate degree. At Harvard Business School, the average MBA student is 27, and at The Wharton School, the average applicant has that sweet spot of five years professional experience behind them prior to enrolling. This is a trend that has been growing. The average age of the incoming class of 2018 in top US business schools was 28 years and the average work experience was five years.
  • It’s all about leadership potential: The most important qualification MBA programs want to see is experience in leadership - something that can be difficult for students to have in their portfolio until they’ve been in the workforce for a few years. Some undergrads spend their extracurricular hours starting their own business, but if you haven’t created a startup in your spare time, do yourself a favor and get some professional experience.
  • Make sure you actually need an MBA for your chosen career path: Another reason to wait a few years before deciding you want to get an MBA is that the qualification isn't always necessary – so don’t waste your time if you don’t need to. A friend of mine is an actuary and, after talking the qualifying exams, it turned out he didn't require an MBA to continue having an extremely viable career.

Along with this, when you do enter the workforce, you will get a better idea of what you are looking for professionally; only by really experiencing it will you see if a particular path is right for you.

Learn a little more about the people already working in the world you are planning to inhabit and you might be inspired, or you might change your mind and decide that you don’t need to get an MBA, or maybe your interests will shift to a different program from the one you originally had your eye on. As Alexander Hamilton (one of the US’s Founding Fathers) teaches us, life is long, so don’t have an itchy trigger finger. Find the program that is right for you at the right time in your career.

Is an MBA worth the investment?

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Ryan Hickey is the managing editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.