Six Benefits of Earning an MBA Early in Your Career

The answer varies by program, but earning your MBA early in an online MBA program for working professionals may help you advance in your career more quickly.

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This blog post was originally published in March 2022, and was revised in June 2023.

According to Poets & Quants, students enrolled in top MBA programs have, on average, approximately four to six years of professional working experience. That average, however, obscures the broad range of experience levels in these degree programs. The admissions requirements in top business school programs vary widely. Some MBA programs limit enrollment to candidates with a great deal of work experience, but others accept applications from candidates with no experience at all.

Common wisdom states that MBA candidates should have at least three years of professional experience before enrolling in a program, but many business school students in on-campus and online MBA programs for working professionals have fewer. These early career applicants are plentiful.

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), a staggering 45 percent of applications to full-time two-year MBA programs come from candidates with fewer than three years of experience. Early career applicants submit 34 percent of applications to part-time MBA programs, 33 percent of applications to full-time accelerated MBA programs and 25 percent of applications to online MBA programs.

Clearly, the answer to the question ‘Do you need work experience for MBA programs?’ isn’t as straightforward as most people assume. Professional experience can undoubtedly be an asset in MBA programs, but there are also several benefits to earning a Master of Business Administration sooner rather than later. Programs such as the online MBA Direct offered by the SMU Cox School of Business give young business professionals a springboard from which they can advance in their careers more quickly.

What are the Benefits of Earning an MBA Early in Your Career?

The long-standing argument for limiting MBA enrollment to applicants with an extended career history is that students get more out of MBA programs if they acquire professional experience first. Although that may be true sometimes, there are many compelling reasons to enroll in an MBA program early in your career. For one, going back to school to pursue a graduate degree after a long break can be challenging. Pursuing an MBA online or on-campus soon after earning a bachelor’s means you are still in ‘student mode’ and equipped to handle academic challenges. Beyond that, there are several other benefits to earning an MBA earlier in your career instead of waiting. For example:

You Can Pursue Your MBA Before Life Obligations Get in the Way

MBA applicants who are in the thick of their careers and have busy personal lives may discover that while they meet the work experience requirements of most MBA programs, the commitment involved is discouraging. The prospect of preparing items for an MBA application (even in an MBA program with no GMAT requirement) can be overwhelming. While part-time MBA programs provide working professionals who may also have family commitments with more flexibility than full-time MBA programs, they still require a level of commitment that can present challenges for students with families and jobs.

Completing a part-time MBA program, online or on campus, is much easier before finding a partner, having children and taking on more responsibility at work. The structure and flexibility of the online MBA Direct program offered by SMU let students engage with the curriculum at a sensible pace while advancing their careers or preparing to pivot into a new position.

You Will Fast-Track Your Future Executive Career

Traditionally, aspiring business professionals amassed some years of full-time work experience in specialist and lower-level managerial positions before pursuing master’s degrees to qualify for upper management and executive roles. Hiring for many upper-level positions favors those with MBAs, so students who earn graduate degrees in business early in their careers may advance more quickly. While MBA holders still need professional experience to ascend into upper management and the C-Suite, they may need less to advance after graduating from a b-school graduate program.

You Can Develop Advanced Management Skills Before Starting Down a Specialized Career Track

The typical MBA curriculum provides a broad base of skills and knowledge that can be particularly beneficial at the start of a career. Coursework in most MBA degree programs explores business analytics, communications, economics, finance, leadership, marketing, operations, quantitative reasoning, strategy and supply chain management. The core classes provide a broad strategic view of business, helping students think holistically about what they want to accomplish. Students without much work experience learn what they need to know to create short- and long-term career plans, but they are not locked into those plans. Becoming an early career MBA student means building a solid foundation that supports numerous career goals and career paths.

You Will Increase Your Earning Potential Sooner

Earning an MBA is one of the most straightforward ways business professionals with only a few years of work experience can enhance their job prospects and earn more money. According to GMAC’s 2021 annual survey, professionals with business bachelor’s degrees and other undergraduate degrees earn about $65,000, while the typical MBA graduate earns about 1.7x more – or around $115,000. An MBA can generate an additional $3 million over a 35-year career. While an on-campus or online MBA will not pay for itself in the short term, this degree can pay for itself in the long term.

You Will Also Build a Useful Professional Network Faster

The best MBA programs promote relationship building through classroom discussions and project work, whether students interact on campus or online. Making professional connections as an early career MBA student can be extremely valuable because relationships lead to opportunities. The online MBA Direct experience includes an intensive four-day immersion experience in which students work on a real-time project and build a strong rapport with their peers. These projects also challenge MBA candidates to address the complex obstacles they will encounter in an evolving global market so they can navigate corporate change.

You Can Prepare to Launch a Successful Startup

Many aspiring entrepreneurs pursue graduate business degrees to better understand business strategy and critical business functions before founding their companies. The traditional MBA curriculum dives into essential components of entrepreneurship and the ins and outs of launching a successful startup or nonprofit. These include finance, marketing, information technology, human resources management and advanced business operations.

Is an Early Career MBA Right For You?

Only you can decide whether becoming an early-career MBA student is the right decision, and arriving at the correct answer requires honest introspection.

Consider the following questions:

Do you have the maturity and discipline to handle graduate school at this point in your life? Balancing the rigors of a part-time MBA program and a full-time job can be challenging.

Are you ready for managerial work? MBA programs tend to attract emerging leaders and experienced professionals because these types of students have the foundational knowledge or leadership experience to understand the concepts covered in the curriculum.

If you answered yes to these questions, you might be ready to enroll in an MBA program – regardless of where you are in your professional journey. SMU Cox built the part-time online MBA Direct program for ambitious early-career professionals who want to invest in their education now without sacrificing opportunities for career advancement.

This unique 33-month program lets students continue working and gaining experience while engaging in interactive, synchronized online class sessions with world-renowned faculty, attending optional elective courses on SMU’s Dallas campus and taking part in a global immersion designed to broaden student perspectives. Plus, MBA Direct graduates gain access to 42,000+ alumni and a network of global leaders, just like graduates of other Cox School of Business programs. While the benefits of earning an MBA early are numerous, the potential value of those connections alone makes the ROI of an early-career Master of Business Administration such as the MBA Direct extremely high.

When you are ready to take your career to the next level, visit the MBA Direct admissions page to learn more about the application process and the admissions requirements. If you are ready to accelerate your professional growth now, you can start your online application today.