At HBS, Older MBAs Seem In Vogue

by John A. Byrne on

Deidre Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School

Deidre Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School

For quite a few years, it was thought that Harvard Business School preferred its MBAs young enough to have little more than two to three years of work experience. In other words, young enough to allow Harvard faculty to truly shape and form their view of the world. But that preference is apparently changing.

New admits in HBS’ incoming fall class who earned their undergraduate degrees just two years ago plunged by 48% to 58 from 118 a year earlier—despite the impact of the school’s relatively new 2+2 program to attract younger candidates.

It was the steepest decline of any age group in Harvard’s new class, according to newly disclosed data on the new 919 MBA candidates who arrived on campus Aug. 27th.

The preference for slightly older MBA candidates becomes even more apparent when you look at the data over the past two years. Incoming HBS students with just two or three years of work experience have fallen 31.6% to 223 from 326 in 2010. In contrast, the newest HBS students with five or more years of work experience have shot up 51.7% over the same period to represent 434 members of the new class versus just 286 back in 2010.

HARVARD MBAS WITH EIGHT TO TEN YEARS EXPERIENCE UP 226%

This has been especially true among candidates with the most work experience, in all probability showing that Harvard has especially embraced military recruits who tend to be older than the mainstream MBA population. This year’s crop of HBS students who got from their undergraduate degrees eight to ten years ago, for example, are up a whopping 226% from two years ago, to 49 students from only 15 in 2010.

“There are increased “outliers” at years out 8, 9, and 10,” acknowledges Sandy Kreisberg, an admissions consultant who runs HBSGuru.com. “A good chunk of that could be military and docs/medical, although who knows, there could be some real geezers with odd but terrific stories–not to mention a faculty spouse or two.  I would not get my hopes up over that figure, however,  if you are from consulting, banking, or PE. They are not looking for aged types from those villages because it usually means burn-out, dementia, or you just got fired.”

The biggest surprise in the data is the relatively small impact on the entire class of Harvard’s 2+2 contingent. This year, HBS received only its second cohort of 2+2 program admits whose admission had been deferred two years ago. As reported earlier, however, many 2+2 admits are requesting additional deferments because they are either in jobs they like or have found love (see Harvard’s 2+2 Adjusts to Work & Love). “A lot of 2+2 kids, almost near half, are taking a third work year before enrolling,” adds Kreisberg. “That could explain it.”

THE ‘SWEET SPOT’ IS STILL THREE TO FIVE YEARS OUT OF UNDERGRAD

The “sweet spot” for this year’s HBS admits shows that the vast majority earned their undergraduate degrees in 2007-2009, which translates into five to three years of full-time work experience (see table below). Those MBA students represent nearly 60% of this year’s entire incoming class—547 out of 919 students.

The information was published by Deirdre Leopold, director of MBA admissions and financial aid, on her “Director’s Blog” in the form of a chart (see below) without commentary.

ONE IN FIVE NEW HARVARD MBAS HAVE ALREADY FOUNDED A BUSINESS

Leopold said that 57% of the class has worked outside their home country for three month or longer, while one in five members of the new class have already founded or co-founded a business. About 13% are among the first in their families to graduate from college.

Harvard said that 14% of the members of its new class had their most recent job at a start-up, while 9% either worked for or plan to work for a family business.

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  • Elvis

    As a somewhat older HBS MBA student myself, it is interesting to see the wide age range in the program. It work with 23y olds as well as with 35y olds. 2y of work experience is rarely enough to fully leverage the MBA experience. 4y is a much beter base to get started from.
    hbstimes.com

  • Gil Levi

    I think it’s still early to determine that HBS is changing their policy. In our experience, Harvard is opening up to younger candidates with less
    experience. Our clients who got admitted to HBS in recent years were around age 26-27 on average, so we’ll have to wait and see if this trend continues in the next few years.
    Harvard’s preference for younger candidates is also expressed in our chances indication tool: http://www.aringo.com/clientinfo/chancesindication27985.htm

  • jmco

    The comment by Ms Kreisberg:

    “there could be some real geezers with odd but terrific stories–not to mention a faculty spouse or two. I would not get my hopes up over that figure, however, if you are from consulting, banking, or PE. They are not looking for aged types from those villages because it usually means burn-out, dementia, or you just got fired.”

    comes across as incredibly insulting and shallow to older workers (over 50? what is a “real geezer” anyhow?) and prospective students, spouses (implication, the less successful wife or husband who followed the professor), people with dementia (1/3 of all of us will have the disease eventually!), or people struggling with burn-out or unemployment through no fault of their own.

    I’d stay away from MBA admission consultants who think this way and just call the admissions offices at the schools you want to apply to. Ask them questions about any concerns you have. Call them more than once if need be (I did). They get calls like your all the time so, if they sound indignant it is because they repeat many of the same things over and over. Be sure your questions are not on the web site and are unique.

    In my experience, the best schools are happy to help you (even if they sound not so happy you called). Be sure to ask for the head of MBA admissions or the lead for the program, rather than whoever answers the phone. If they are out, call back when they return.

    For smaller programs, it is also a good idea to contact the head professor of the program. Like the chair or lead professor in finance or marketing or whatever area you are interested in. Although actually speaking with a professor is a bit like finding a unicorn. Especially during winter, summer, and holiday breaks.

    Don’t bother calling the larger program faculty. Too many applicants for them to deal with.

  • hbsguru

    Ms Kreisberg here,
    YOU SAID, “incredibly insulting and shallow to older workers (over 50? what is a “real geezer” anyhow?) and prospective students, spouses (implication, the less successful wife or husband who followed the professor), people with dementia (1/3 of all of us will have the disease eventually!), or people struggling with burn-out or unemployment through no fault of their own . . . ” HMMMM, No insult intended, since I am a geezer myself, just noting that most geezers, most unemployed bankers and consultants with 8 yrs experience, no matter the reason for the unemployment, and most people w. dementia, will not be admitted to HBS.

    If you find that insulting, I suggest you use your self-proclaimed phone skills to call Ms. Dee Leopold at HBS (she is the head of the admissions, accept NO SUBSTITUTE) and tell her that they should admit more people from those groups. If she does not pick up on the first ring , keep calling and leave you name and phone number. She will get back to you –in some form– trust me on that.

  • jmco

    Wow. Avoid for sure.

  • soylentcorp

    HBS ’75 and HBS ’13 are completely different animals.

  • soylentcorp

    Yeah, can’t really associate ‘old’ with ‘vogue’ unless its a new madonna music video..

  • http://www.mbaover30.com/ MBA Over 30

    Interesting, Elvis. What are the profiles of the 32+ people in your class–if they even exist at all. I know that Stanford and MIT have several. Are they all military or entrepreneurs who’ve already made millions? Or are professionals who are similar to the rest of the class but just with more years of experience (8-12) and a commensurate amount of experience, community involvement and achievements to show for it represented as well? I’ve always said that if the schools really did not want this demographic, it’d be nice if they just said it; however, THEY haven’t, so I applied; still doesn’t mean they’ll feel that I’m a fit this year…but neither will 90%+ of everyone else who applies. And who knows, they just might; I certainly do.

  • Oskar

    A cynical perspective helps to understand the aversion to “older” candidates. The success of a MBA program over the long run comes from its alumni in top positions. Most people in these positions would have been very successful whether or not they went to HBS (does not mean that HBS was not helpful of course). These top performers tend to have rapid career progressions and as such the cost of opportunity of attending and MBA increases very quickly. So the objective from HBS as a business entity is less to avoid “older” candidates than to make sure that the “younger” ones do not forget to come get their stamp lest they lose the opportunity forever. While this is good business strategy, it is sadly an example of how the school is acting as a monopolist rent-seeker more than as an educational institution helping people achieve their career aspirations.

  • RefriedBeans

    The average person 8 – 10 years out of college is about 30 years old. It’s rare for dementia to affect 30 year olds, so I have to assume you’re bad at math or you’re making a joke about dementia.

    In any case, your comment came off as offensive, and your reply came off as sarcastic. Not a great endorsement for your admissions consultant services.

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