The Pros and Cons of Being an Older MBA Student

By Chris Hassan
Posted October 16, 2013 11:00 AM

The pros and cons of being an older MBA student.
The pros and cons of being an older MBA student.

After earning a bachelor's degree, many individuals choose to work for a few years and gain professional experience before going to graduate school. For this reason, students who pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or similar advanced degree tend to be older than the average college student.

While the experience that comes with age can help some MBA degree seekers excel in business school, it could be detrimental to other students' success. If individuals plan to pursue an MBA, they should consider what role their age might play in their overall experience. Here are a few pros and cons older students should know about:

Pro - Defined Career Goals

The longer people have worked and gained professional experience, the more likely they are to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. As a result, the time they spend in business school should be more productive.

Sara E. Neher, assistant dean for MBA admissions at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, told Bloomberg Businessweek that this sense of purpose is one of the benefits of being an older student. With post-graduation career goals comes focus.

Con - Too Set in Their Ways

Unfortunately, greater professional experience can also leave some students more set in their ways than they should be during business school. To be successful, MBA degree students must be open to new ideas and receptive to input from classmates and educators.

"We're not looking for people to be guest speakers who are locked into a role in a first-year section pontificating on how things were done at Firm X," Dee Leopold, Harvard Business School's admissions director, told Poets & Quants.

Pro - Students and Mentors

Of course, many older students have seen and experienced a lot and, as a result, can serve as mentors to their younger classmates. Christie St-John, director of admissions at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management, told Businessweek that individuals with military experience, for example, often bring rich experiences to classroom discussions.

Con - Too Much Experience

It is not uncommon for professionals with many years of business experience to desire an MBA. In some cases, however, these individuals may be a better fit for a business school's executive MBA program.

"There are people who may be much better suited to an EMBA," Leopold told Poets & Quants. "They are looking to hold on to their life. When you come here, you have to leave all that behind. … Are you coming wanting to be as invested in your sectionmates as you are in learning on your own and do you believe that you have lots to learn from someone who is 24?"

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