Getting Into B-School When You’re 30+

by Judith Silverman Hodara and Caroline Diarte Edwards on

In this exclusive column for Poets&Quants, Fortuna admission consultants  look at some of the myths that surround the MBA admissions process – and how schools evaluate candidates.  So if you have ever asked yourself "Is it true that ...", you'll find all the myth busting answers right here.

In this exclusive column for Poets&Quants, Fortuna admission consultants look at some of the myths that surround the MBA admissions process – and how schools evaluate candidates. So if you have ever asked yourself “Is it true that …”, you’ll find all the myth busting answers right here.

Why are the world’s leading full-time MBA programs so focused on 20-somethings? After all, you’re never too old to learn, and for every youthful founder of Facebook, Instagram or Spotify there are thousands of others whose business success has arrived much later in their career.

A scan of the class profiles at the world’s top full-time MBA programs paints the picture. The average age of this year’s incoming students at Harvard is 27, while at Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, Kellogg, Columbia, Tuck, Haas, Michigan and UT Austin the average is 28. While Wharton, NYU Stern and Cornell do not release an official figure, the average years of pre-MBA work experience at these schools ranges from 4.6 years (NYU) to 5.5 years (Wharton).

And though the average years of work experience for Stanford’s Class of 2014 was at a decade-long high, the figure fell slightly for the Class of 2015, to 4 years.

EUROPEAN BUSINESS SCHOOLS PREFER SLIGHTLY OLDER MBA STUDENTS

In Europe the picture is only slightly different, with an average age of 28.6 at London Business School, and close to six years of work experience on average at INSEAD. France’s HEC Paris and Switzerland’s IMD are the only top 20 schools with an average age of 30 or more.

Pretty much every school can point to more mature students in the MBA classroom. While the age range at MIT Sloan and Tuck includes 37 year olds, and UCLA Anderson and Oxford Saïd both have students in their 40s, the bell curve of distribution clearly centers around students in their mid to late 20s: 80% of the class at Columbia for example are in a range from 25 to 30.

But talent is talent, and older applicants who can make a great case for why they need the MBA, have well-defined and realistic career goals, with competitive grades and test scores, a track record of achievement and a clear sense of fit with the institution are still in with a chance of admission.

OPPORTUNITY COSTS ARE ONE REASONS FOR THE PAUCITY OF 30-SOMETHINGS

So why so few 30 –somethings in the full-time MBA classroom? Part of the reason lies in self-selection, opportunity cost, and the need for change. If you are doing well in your career and already reaching upper levels of management with a commensurate salary and a settled family life, the opportunity cost of a full-time MBA can look very different, if not downright disruptive. In reality, full time MBA programs see relatively fewer applications from older applicants because this population is either opting out, or choosing part-time EMBA type programs. With the exception of HBS, Stanford, and Tuck, all the top schools have an Executive MBA, and will often point more “seasoned” (MBA parlance for older) candidates applying to the full-time program in the direction of the school’s EMBA option.

But when we agreed with John to write these mythbusters for Poets&Quants the idea was to share the Fortuna team’s inside experience of life in the admissions office at Wharton, INSEAD, Booth, LBS, Haas, Kellogg, NYU Stern and other top schools. So what is really going through the minds of admissions officers for full-time MBA programs when considering the age and experience of applicants?

Applicants in their 30’s with an impressive list of achievements to their name, and who make a difference to their organization or community will always be considered. But we typically see that the best candidates often apply early in their career, and there is hot competition between top schools to woo them. Top US schools in particular are looking for young and bright candidates who can still be molded, and may steer away from older candidates whose careers may have stalled and who want an MBA to get them on a stronger track. Career switchers are also tricky; the career management offices need to be certain that they can help the thirty-something change their path; and with 10 plus years in one field, this is not always easy to achieve.

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  • Ferman

    it is completely meaningless doing an MBA when you are over 24. Over 30 or 35, you are approaching retirement. (HBS kindergarten )

  • AT

    I go to a top 20 school . We have a batch size of about 270 and there are many many many students who are above 30.
    Different people evolve at different times. The picture perfect resumes who go to school work at a F100 company for 3 years and enter a 2 year MBA program at age 27 are usually the ones who burn out by 31-32.
    Compare this to so many people who have made their way into the Mckinseys and The BCG’s after doing a PhD, or working in the industry for 7-8 years, these are the guys who go onto become solid senior partners. They value their jobs a lot more. They don’t believe its their birthright to be picked up by an MBB or a GMJ

  • generalization

    Both of the above are generalizations. Whether or not an MBA is “worth it” will vary from person to person.

    Ex1: 24-26 year old who want to change careers (mostly into one that has a very high barrier to non-mba entry)

    Ex2. A 30 year old who is looking to start his own business and wants to gain skills and a network in a specific area.

    In both cases above going for an MBA may well be a good idea.

    TLDNR: The ROI will vary from person to person.

  • Sami

    after searching employement reports and linkedin profiles, I found an interesting fact, in every class in the last five years, there are 3 to 4 people who are over 33 (Yes 33) make it to Mckinsey in a very competitive office, london office. And they performed pretty well to the degree they got promoted to engagement manager just after 1.5 year in the associate level. Those are the graduates of IMD lausanne. Most of them did NOT have a previous consulting experience, this tells one thing, this is a super school by all means.

  • Ryan S.

    Where do people come up with this garbage? At 24 you have no experience, no context in life, nothing. It’s taken me several years to come to a point where I actually NEED an MBA. Still, I don’t even need one, I want one.

    Some people on this board are delusional.

  • Ferman

    in today’s business world, 24 is already old, HBS’s plan is to have avg age of 20 or less. Their analogy is that the kid aged less than 20 is still have no major success, so any success later on will go for HBS credits :)

  • Ryan S.

    Hahahaha I don’t even have the words to adequately describe how much of an idiot you are. A degree, regardless of where you get it from, is useless without the experiences that give you direction and an appreciation for the utility of the degree. If you think 24 is old, which… frankly it isn’t (which is appalling by the way), you truly are out of touch. Go back to your bubble now little one.

  • Ferman

    thats the problem with some people, the businesses today and certainly in the future are mostly driven by online and virtual world which mastered by kids and teenagers, so it is indeed an old to be at 24 and not getting you MBA yet! avg age should be something between 19 to 21, thats it. check out most of IT billionaires, they achieved their success in late teens and early twenties. that whats Harvard want! they want people of 20 or 21! if you are already passed 30! then it is highly advised to take care of your health and retire.

  • Ryan S.

    Again, wrong. Look, I could go on this whole schpiel about how wrong what you’ve just said but I don’t have the time. Firstly, the sample that you’re talking about is tiny. Secondly, most of the stuff being spat out in the virtual and online world offers virtually no value and isn’t sustainable see Zynga. Twitter has never posted a profit, neither has Weibo or RenRen, or Instagram (pre F-book acquisition) and an overwhelming majority of tech IPOs, the founders cashed in because people were stupid enough to buy their stock or acquire their companies. The reality is that at the end of the day products have to offer utility, half the stuff being pumped out into the online and digital world don’t do that… and this is coming from a guy who’s co-founded three start-ups. The New York Times did a great expose on this topic.

    Anyway, infant, go change your diapers, and I’m not over thirty either, but I probably have more experience in my pinky than you do in your entire body.

  • I’m 30+

    I will be almost 34 at matriculation this fall, and attending a top school (white, male, finance background). Each person is different, but its actually a great time in my career & life to do an MBA. I know what I want & why the MBA will help me, all my experience has been international which will add value to my classmates, and I can actually fully pay for my MBA without debt…so my post MBA decisions will not be driven entirely by immediate debt repayment obligations. My experience in Europe has shown me how there are many cultures that do not obsess over age — unlike the US.

  • Ryan Wrong

    It’s called sarcasm…

  • Colin

    which school? :)

  • Ferman

    I am somewhat surprised that he didn’t realize it from the beginning ::))

  • Alex

    I applied when I was 29 and will matriculate at an M7 school at 30 this year. I found the analysis the authors made valid and makes a lot of sense. The fact is even after I was admitted I still have doubts exactly as described in this article. Good writing!

  • I’m 30+

    I was admitted to some of the following schools, and will be attending one of them: Haas, Yale, Tuck, Sloan.

    If you are over 30, and an MBA makes sense for you, don’t listen to the naysayers.

  • Colin

    congratulations, this list is far beyond my wildest dream :) but really impressed they still accept people over 30!! I thought you should be around the avg to be consider!! thank you

  • JohnAByrne

    And I think that’s the point of this column which is devoted to MBA myth busting. One of the reasons there are so few 30-something admits to full-time MBA programs is because the pool of them is rather small to begin with.

  • Rona

    because when looking into every class profile of any of the top 30 schools, it is just discouraging!

  • Sami

    sponsored students at IMD MBA are among the lowest, 2 or 3 at most, and the school clearly mention them in the class profiles list. sometimes there was no single sponsored students at all. That what makes the schools really impressive in its education and career service. I believe they still have classes in saturdays :)

  • Guest

    How many of these “IT billionaires” exist for a school (any) to target them? You must be trolling.

  • AK

    32 at Matriculation and heading to Sloan [also got into all the other top programs I applied to]. Couldn’t imagine a better time for me to go for my MBA — it’s of course different for everyone.

  • Colin

    you guys make me confused! I thought unless you are extraordinary exceptional (i.e found multi millions company, belong to a wealthy family, incredible stats 760 770 gmat, ..etc) it is almost impossible to be admitted to top 10 schools if you are over 30! Otherwise, the class profiles that published by schools are just misleading!

  • AK

    1. I completely acknowledge that you could be trolling and implying that I and “I am 30+” aren’t exceptional….but

    2. Should you be a 30+ trying to figure this out, I’d say what they publish shouldn’t freak you out because:

    i. There’s very likely a smaller pool of 30+ applicants therefore a smaller representative pool in these schools. (we are supposed to be having kids and settling, not heading to B-schools)

    ii. 30+ applicants could be rejected more but not because of age, but because they have had more time to excel and thus might be held to a higher standard. This higher standard doesn’t mean you have to have “found multi millions company, belong to a wealthy family, incredible stats 760 770 gmat, ..etc”, although I’d say I’ve given success and making an impact in society a decent shot.

  • Colin

    thank you for the reply. However, it is better to be smooth and not angry when replying to others inquiries. always assume people have good intentions when they ask.

  • AK

    Sincere apologies if I came off angry. The #1 point was just a disclaimer since this is the internet after all :).
    I was compelled to do 2 only because I know how much doubt and worry I personally had when going through the applications – only to get into all my schools and some money so in the event you have good intentions, you benefit from my experience.

  • Colin

    good boy.

  • El Meerr

    Not to mention that many non-US/European citizens simply do not have any financial resources to pay for the top MBA degree when they are in their early 20’s…

  • AK

    Frank Underwood you too!!

  • SogoHAHA

    this is very clever note! How come no one have noticed it? you are very impressive.

  • proud34

    I was 34 when I got accepted to Booth, Kellogg, and Haas. I was terrified, as well, about my chances when I was so “old”, but I just made sure that my essays were crystal clear when answering the “why now” question.

    Also, it’s important to remember a lot of school profiles shows the middle 80% of the age range, not the full age range. So even if you are outside of it, doesn’t mean they will throw away your application- they certainly didn’t throw away mine!

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