Why Older Professionals Enroll in MBA Programs - An Interview with an Alumnus

Going back to school after 20 years was certainly a challenge, from having to learn how to use the technology to staying focused for hours during classes. Time management is a critical skill you must develop to make sure you get everything done.

Ricardo Mier, Southern Methodist University MBA Graduate

Getting an MBA is often a good investment: it’s a recession-proof way for some people to double their salary just a few years after graduation. On top of that, an MBA can boost one’s business acumen, facilitate a career change, or elevate someone into higher levels of management. But does all this hold true if you’re an older professional, mid-career, considering an MBA?

Younger MBA students have four decades to reap the benefits of their post-graduate salary. Older MBA students sometimes only have two. That time disadvantage also plays out in career changes and job progression: older MBA students don’t have as much time to collect experience in their new roles.

All this is compounded by the fact that older professionals are more situated in their lives. While those who are fresh out of undergrad are unattached to a particular geographical location or can afford to take off years at a time, older professionals often have families and mortgage payments and they’ve worked in the same job for years, sometimes even over a decade.

For an older professional, forgoing a full-time salary or putting an entire life on pause in the name of an MBA simply isn’t feasible. But now more than ever, MBAs are becoming more accessible for older professionals. The rise of comprehensive online MBA programs, together with increasingly connective forms of technology, means that no one has to uproot themselves to go back to school. So just as geography is no longer a barrier to getting an MBA, perhaps age isn’t as much of a barrier anymore either.

In some cases, age comes with benefits. And when applying for an MBA program, work experience matters a lot. Acceptance rates at top business schools can be higher for older professionals. Admissions data from the top 25 business schools shows that ASU admits 62 percent of applicants over the age of 30, but only 19 percent under the age of 25; Vanderbilt admits 63 percent of applicants over the age of 30, but only 35 percent of those under the age of 25. Even with less than stellar GMAT scores, older professionals might find the admissions process, and the interviews that go with it, significantly easier than their younger counterparts.

An old dog can certainly learn new tricks. According to a 2017 study by the Graduate Management Admissions Council, 95 percent of those who completed their degree while over the age of 40 found the education personally rewarding. With age comes wisdom, and making the decision whether or not to get your MBA as an older professional should come as the result of careful analysis.

What do you want out of an MBA? Is it a career change, higher levels of responsibility, improved networking, or just a personal challenge? No matter the reasons, MBAs are increasingly available for older professionals, and they might yet be a shrewd investment.

Alumni Perspective: Ricardo Mier

Ricardo Mier was in his forties and working for a consulting firm when he decided to go back to school and get his MBA.

“I was looking to increase my business acumen to get out of consulting and be able to grow within a company,” Mier says. Forgoing an income in order to go to school was not feasible for Mier. Executive MBA programs lacked the specializations and concentrations that he wanted. So, after considering all his options, Mier selected an on-campus, part-time, professional MBA program at Southern Methodist University.

“One of the reasons to get my MBA was to develop a powerful network that would continue helping me even after graduation,” Mier says. “I believe that interacting with classmates and professors in person is the best way to build meaningful relationships, which is why I selected the on-campus format.”

With a background in engineering, Mier already had strong analytical and technical skills. But the MBA program allowed him to channel that into a business development mindset. Instead of being solely reactive, he’s learned to become proactive and strategic. But, at the time, that personal upgrade came at a heavy cost: selling his car, dipping into his savings, and taking a temporary pay cut at work. And then there was the actual studying.

“Going back to school after 20 years was certainly a challenge, from having to learn how to use the technology to staying focused for hours during classes,” Mier says. “Time management is a critical skill you must develop to make sure you get everything done.”

Even while juggling work and school, Mier tried to make the most of his time in the MBA program by flexing out of his comfort zone, growing his network, and giving back. While in school, he got involved with multiple nonprofits in order to start putting his newly learned skills to work. And he currently serves as a student board member and a mentor to MBA students.

A self-identifying extrovert, Mier relished the new networking opportunities that come with an on-campus program. And, both during his MBA and after, Mier credits working with younger colleagues and classmates to widening his perspective and learning how to better collaborate across generations.

“I consider myself a lifelong learner,” Mier says. “I enjoyed every class, and spending time with my classmates.”

Mier’s career has gradually seen the benefits of his MBA program. And he’s currently in a role where he uses his MBA skills on a daily basis—thereby fulfilling his reasons for getting an MBA in the first place.

“Do your homework first,” Mier says, in his advice to older professionals considering enrollment in an MBA program. “Make sure you understand how the MBA is going to help you reach your goals. Talk to as many people as you can to find the program that’s right for you. If you’re married or in a relationship, make sure your partner supports your decision. The program will be demanding and require considerable time and economic commitment. Finally, believe in yourself or nobody else will.”

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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