At HBS, Older MBAs Seem In Vogue

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

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.


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 “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” 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.


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.


  • 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..

  • 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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