Am I Too Old To Get An MBA?

You’ve never felt better in your life. You just ran your fourth marathon, ranking in the top 20% of finishers. You’ve totally hit your groove at work, taking names, taking lunches, and taking home a nice bonus, despite the economic downturn. At thirtysomething, you’re accomplished, confident, seasoned, and ready for your next step: getting a full-time MBA at a top program.

After beginning to research schools, however, you get the niggling feeling that you might be in a dead zone, being a bit too old for full-time MBA programs and a bit too young for Executive MBA programs. If you were to examine the distribution by year of college graduation for HBS’s Class of 2013, for example, you might have ample cause for discouragement.

Source: “More About the Class of 2013” “From the Director” blog, June 21, 2011.

For simplicity’s sake, if we assume students graduate at age 22, those who graduated in 2003 or earlier would be 30 or older. This is merely 5% of the entire class, or 47 out of 916 students. MBA candidates 32 or older represent 1.3% of the class. Thirtysomethings represented just under 2% of the class of 2012 and just under 3% of the Class of 2010. It’s data such as this that initially disheartened my client Saif*, who’d turned 31 when I began to work with him in July this year.

“Like everyone else, when you start thinking about applying for an MBA, you worry about the usual things: GMAT, recommendations, essays, interviews. However, when I was researching schools, I discovered another worry—my age. While I wasn’t much older than average, I learned that only a few candidates get accepted after they’ve passed 30.”

Given Saif’s goals, getting a full-time MBA from a top school was critical, so he decided to apply to four of the most competitive programs. (We will revisit his candidacy.)

So Is My Age a Problem or Not?

While the word on the street regarding older applicants’ chances of admission tends to be grim, if you look at the data, it’s clear that top schools are accepting candidates who are well into their 30s. Someone in UCLA Anderson’s Class of 2013 is even the ripe old age of 42, and MIT Sloan accepted a 60-year-old into their master’s in finance program this year.

What’s harder to determine at first glance is how many of them. HBS is possibly the only school that makes a histogram available from which we can come up with an age distribution. If you apply some of those great skills you’ve developed from preparing for the GMAT, you’ll notice that the average ages in the table below are closer to the lower end of the schools’ age ranges. We might then surmise that the age distribution skews more toward the younger end of the spectrum than the older one.


Deborah Knox is founder and CEO of Insight Admissions. While she works extensively with traditional MBA applicants, she loves the challenge of assisting qualified nontraditional candidates. Devoted to the study of leadership excellence, Deborah has also served as a researcher and editor on numerous book projects for best-selling management author Jim Collins.

  • Warren

    So, deborah, where is “Saif” Now?!

  • emad

    thank you. why there are many students aged 36, 37, and some times 38 and 39 at some of top two year mba programs?!

  • Deborah Knox

    If you are that old with that much work experience and will be sponsored by your employer, you should be looking at Executive MBA programs.

    Deborah Knox
    Insight Admissions

  • emad

    Hello there, is it ok to enroll at 36 if your employer pays all the fees and will have the job after graduation. ?

  • Reaver

    Some years ago, at least in Europe where obtaining a master’s degree is no big achievement, people who enrolled to MBA:
    – had a couple years of expierience, and more 8 years than 2
    – already went up the ladder more than once, or moved their business past the start-up phase

    Now MBA is marketed as a place where you can meet professionals from various fields, establish valuable networks of contacts and acquire business knowledge that you could leveraged in moving into more senior positions or changing industry, fair enough.

    But tell me how 27 year old, who’s been in his career for 4-5 years is going to give me his perspective on business strategy based on his very limited operational expierience? Networking? Are you joking, their network is usually at similar (low) level of professional seniority so we are talking here about guys that are despreate to move as fast as possible from senior analyst to project manager.
    As for cases ask yourself if business case based on facebook that was presented to plethora of other students prior to you is going to be an eye opener?
    Textbook knowledge and frameworks? Today everything is online, so it’s up to you to decide whether dwelling on Mr. Porter’s 5 forces (who btw. went bankrupt) for hours in class, instead of reading about it on wikipedia, is an advantage.

  • Reaver

    I’ve been gradually coming to the very same conclusion, but you’ve articulated it all perfectly.

    There is a huge confusion around how/why b-school is relevant to entrepreneurship. It’s not, deans want students to think that way and students are confused cause the label says ‘business’ school so theoretically it should equip them with some magical skills that will enable them to setup on their own and make millions upon graduation.
    What b-school really can do is to make someone entrepreneurial in a corporate environment, but it won’t make anyone an entrepreneur. So you will be skilled at administering something that was already built, that’s relatively safe. You will be good at organizing your work and referring to the frameworks from textbooks and case studies, but that’s really it. It’s an inconvinient truth and they won’t say it loud.

    I’d say that if you want to start your own gig:
    – be afraid of time
    – believe that you can influence the reality
    – forget about the diploma

  • Deborah

    Is 48 too old to get into a MBA program? Would it be worth it?

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  • hernan cortez

    I know its been a while but as an objective stranger with a business background, I find your “why do I want an mba” reasoning to be dishonest or poorly thoughtout. I suspect you were rejected due to this reasoning.

    Why do you need an mba to do something entrepreneurial. With the experiences you described having you have more than enough to go out and start your own business. Given that you’ve worked at such reputable companies before, why do you need to go to hbs to network? And if you did not learn business development skills and capital market skills when working in your healthcare company and VC you aren’t going to learn it in Harvard. Didn’t you already work in several startups. You had a major position as a director, why did you leave it, you are already earnng more than any hbs school grad.

    You failed to relate how b-school would help your career. And your career is inconsistent, you are all over the place. No one knows what you are going to do if you get in.

    Entrepreneurs don’t need mba’s, not when they been working for 9 years, they should be smart enough to figure out how to raise the capital on their own. HBS can do nothing for you. You are wasting your time trying to get in. This is why I say you are either a poor communicator, or being dishonest. Your stated objectives don’t align with what you are clearly trying to do.

    Your first step is to honestly state what you realy want, then maybe I can help you. Look at the people on shark tank, a bunch of entrepreneurs who became millionaires with networths in the hundreds of millions, NONE went to HBS or the major b-schools. You don’t need B-school to be an entrepreneur. In fact the leading research from the top b-schools (i know, i went to one) demonstrates that b-school grads from the elite institutions make the WORSE entrepreneurs.

    This is because the smarter you are and the more you know, the more likely you are to come up with reasons why what you are thinking of doing will never work. No disciplined investor would ever look at a company like Pogs or Pokemon, basically a picture of an animal on a piece of paper and think this is going to make billions. You’d be laughed out the room.

    You want proof of that look at what the elite b-schools grads did to the LBO industry. A trial of destroyed businesses so long that they don’t even call it LBO any more they call it “private equity” because LBO became a dirty word. another good example would be downsizing or offshoring. etc. B-school grads make poor enterpreneurs. We look how to squeeze out efficiencies of companies someone else largely built who never went to a b-school. Usually destroying the company in the long run.

  • Matthew Person

    I’m going to follow up a post I wrote a long time ago related to this article. I’ve since graduated from Boston College (at age 34) with honors with a dual MBA/MS Finance. It was the best decision I ever made. Not only did I change careers (I now work in investment banking, where prior I held senior management roles in professional baseball) but I found the return to school a welcome break from work life and a chance to relearn what I had forgotten during my undergrad days. Plus, I met new friends. To be honest, I found that us old folk (there was a great group of 30+ at BC) were actually the better students. We knew more, imparted more knowledge, and had more success (in school competitions, GPA wise, etc.). It was obvious to those watching/teaching who had relevant work experience and who didn’t. I’m not sure why age is such a factor – in fact, I think you need 5+ years at least before you go back. Just my opinion…..

  • Liz Hand

    I’m approaching 55 and I just got accepted on my first try. I’m willing to see if the education makes any difference at all. An MBA cannot hurt in any economy in my opinion. A person may have to use it to start their own business or stay at the job they are currently in. I enjoyed your article.
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  • AZ

    Agreed. I would say since there are more and more college graduates. Decades ago, college degrees were rare, not mentioning master degrees, and all PhDs became professors. But today who can guarantee that he or she can land a professor job upon graduation? The inflation of college education led to inflation of age too. I earned a PhD in my early thirties. Guess what, some class mates in my program earned and will earn their PhDs at 27~28. You can barely see a 40-year-old PhD candidate on campus. So it doesn’t surprise me that B-schools want young people. Companies want young MBAs so that they can easily work 12~14 hours a day. I can’t imagine working at the office till midnight everyday if I have a whole family waiting for me at home.

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  • khatuwala

    I am 43 years old, having my own business in South Asia. Do you think I can make the cut for a 2 year full time MBA program at the top business schools? Do I have a chance at corporate placements after my MBA?

  • Zhiyan Cheng


    I am late 30’s and have over 10 years on supply chain management, and I really enter an MBA program for focusing on strategy and general management, I do not know I could have a chance to be enrolled in top 20 MBA programs. Actually I view myself as a valuable source for their program since I have a solid real world experiences in China, I could share my extensive professional experiences for the class and my cultures and backgrounds should be a plus.

    What do you think?

  • SayWhat

    I’d argue that B-Schools are skewing too young … way too many people in their early 20s are being admitted. While 1-2 years on a job can definitely give you some insights, you really need to hit some bumps along the way to truly bring good management insights to the table. 4-8 years on the job is probably best to do a full time program.

  • In Business, experience or someone who had actual experience in middle managmenet is very important. Just like an inexperienced 2nd Lieutenant is ineffective without an experienced sergeant, sometimes those commissioning through the ranks going to officer candidate school are needed and respected over green 2nd lieutenants, likewise, an experienced MBA student is a great welcome that many companies do seek.

  • Matthew Person

    I think this article is way off base. Right now I’m 32 and half-way through my first year MBA at Boston College. The average age is 28 and of the 100 people in the program, a significant percentage are on the older side (30+). In addition, I find the older students contribute more in class and find the program easier to navigate. Plus, to all older students considering returning to academia, I was once hesistant about acclimating but found that I am more than capable of handling the coursework. In fact, I just finished my first semester with a 3.74GPA, so don’t think you can’t hack it.

  • mbaseeker

    Hi Ree698
    > you should visit the school to get flavor of it. 
    indeed I visited the school twice and I spoke with many alumni.

    I must admit the 80 hours / week schedule scares me a bit, but I want to believe if I was accepted I showed the potential to deal with it.

    I’m now getting in contact with alumni in my field of choice (high tech) to get a feeling of how good of a choice it would be for my specific profile.

  • Ree698


    IMD is top tier b school worldwide. It is by the way the most liked b schools on FB. However, it is very different, you should visit the school to get flavor of it. the school sends majority of its graduate to general management and consulting. It is very very very intense (10 hrs minimum a day most days 12 to 18 hrs work) plus u work during saturdays. It is true business school not academic or research oriented. you will never regret it..congratulations for ur admit..   

  • mbaseeker

    prospect, are you suggesting IMD is 2nd tier?few months ago Forbes ranked IMD 1st non-US 1 year program from a ROI point of view: 
    Since I’m European and I don’t want to work in the US I applied to European programs.
    More to the point of the article, I will be 35 years old at graduation next year.
    After extensive research, I reached the opinion that INSEAD, LBS and IMD are the top 3 programs in Europe. Although I can see huge differences in the programs together with specific pros and cons, I am sure each of these programs would put me on an equally high starting point in the post-MBA world.
    I’d be very happy to hear any criticism on IMD since I was just accepted.
    It’s a kind of “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace!” situation for me as I have two weeks to choose. 🙂

  • Clifford Johnson

    After making the decision to get my EMBA at the age of 52, I subsequently realized that I am not as marketable as my thirty plus year old graduate school contemporaries. Acquiring this MBA has left me with additional debt with no additional earnings to offset the expense of acquiring it. Moreover, when I attend MBA College Fairs recruiters, even in light of the stellar experience I have, do not give my resume serious consideration because they are focused on the young, new MBA’s. So I would caution any older person (over 40) to weigh their options carefully before making a decision to go back to get their MBA because it may not be as productive as you may plan for it to be.

  • JAW

    LA, I agree. When putting together my application I was focused on demonstrating my professional experience, nonprofit work, and management skills. Knowing what I know now, I would have put a lot more effort and more real estate in my application toward making a strong case for needing an MBA now. That probably would have helped out my chances a lot more especially considering that I have a strong GMAT/GPA.

  • LA

    Being over 30 should not relegate an applicant to an EMBA or 2nd tier FT program. While some schools may purposely skew young others do so unintentionally. As the # of younger applicants increase so does the # of younger admits, thus bringing average ages down from 27-28 to 25-26. Older applicants aiming for top schools need to understand the challenges they may face and be proactive about addressing them in the application.

  • prospect

    A relatively old age shouldn’t stop you from applying to b-school, but you should probably select the right program. Top MBA programs in the US (yes, HSW) prefer young applicants around 26-27, so older applicants should consider other schools, maybe even 2nd tier. For example, I saw here that the IMD MBA program in Switzerland prefers older applicants with more work experience. The average age of admits there is 30! so hope is not lost…

  • JAW

    I did tie things together better in my essays. I pulled on my prior experience working for the entrepreneurial startup healthcare company to explain my desire to do something entrepreneurial. (I actually only spoke about the capital markets in my Wharton interview, and explained that my goal with capital markets was to learn how to leverage them for funding a startup).
    All that being said though, “Why I need an MBA” may have been the least compelling part of my applications. Unfortunately, at the time I did not really think that I would have to sell the fact that I need an MBA to adcoms who right away would be skeptical.
    Also, the applications were very strong on professional maturity and people development. That may have further increased their skepticism.
    Your article helped me see that I probably should have focused more on my short term goals (which could have been extrapolated to be long term as well) to land senior level roll (Director, Executive Director) at a medium sized startup company after my MBA. Unless you know someone at a growing startup, it is difficult to be considered for anything senior unless you have an MBA, because they are looking for someone they know can hit the ground running and bring a valuable network to the organization. I think could have probably elaborated on that and been more successful explaining why I need an MBA.
    I also did not explain why MBA vs. EMBA. Honestly the primary reason for me not wanting an EMBA is because after researching and speaking with colleagues I have come to believe that an MBA is more valuable. I don’t think an EMBA is as rigorous as an MBA. I think an EMBA would be the best option if I was sure that I wanted to stay at my current company and wanted to move into their leadership development program which for the most part requires an MBA/EMBA.

    Thank you for your feedback.

  • Naser

    (between him and me and now you)! and now me too ;), if you read this Saif, have fun man all the world is in turbulence we don’t know what is going on nor what will happen…

  • NewCareer,

    Most schools (maybe MIT excepted) want you to clearly articulate your post-MBA career goals, and some directly ask for short-term and long-term scenarios. I usually have clients present both ST and LT goals, even if not explicitly asked. If your goal is entrepreneurial, you want to give some notion of the industry/space (and why that one), a gap you’ve spotted in the market or a problem you want to solve, and the broad outlines of how you might go about that. I say broad, because especially for tech-related entrepreneurial goals, the landscape could change dramatically in one year, much less two or three years (depending on how far in advance you apply to school to when you matriculate), when you’d be graduating. At the same time, you don’t overspecify, e.g., I want to be CEO of Company X in 15 years.

    As for my EMBA comment, as I said, that was pretty subjective. JAW writes and seems to hold himself in a way that just feels like the vibe of EMBA clients I’ve had. As I noted, a bit more gravitas and sense of professionalism. That point aside, I do think it is wise when you get into that 30+ zone to explain why you want the FT MBA over EMBA. In Saif’s case, at his age, his company would only sponsor him for an MBA, not an EMBA. He also lives in the MIddle East, and he would have to travel a lot for an EMBA program. With the FT MBA program, he can just plunk himself down in the U.S. for two years. Plus he thought it would be more fun (between him and me and now you)!


  • NewCareer

    Hi Deborah,

    I picked additional interest in this discussion due to a couple points you just made for JAW:

    1. “You don’t feel like an MBA applicant” … could you elaborate? Is this because he sounds “overqualified”?

    2. ” … or explain that they grew up with entrepreneurial parents …” I took about 300 words on Stanford essay on this subject (and my Stanford / Columbia MBA friends thought it was very passionate / emotional and well written). Although again, I did NOT talk at all about specific short-term / mid-term goals (I did not realize these were important).

    There’s a lot of parallels between JAW’s story and my story. At the end of the day, we both may not *need* MBA, and it probably is not the most logical next step forward … although from my perspective, S/H MBA will still help me on the longer term if I don’t want to just keep doing what I am doing now (i.e., switch career and learn / do something else).

    Thanks again

  • JAW,

    A P.S. Not having read your essays, I don’t know how you put forth wanting to do something entrepreneurial, but I never let clients lay out an entrepreneurial goal unless they establsh prior entrepreneurial activity/behavior or explain that they grew up with entrepreneurial parents and have been strongly imprinted with/affected by that type of lifestyle and career choice.


  • JAW,

    In reading what you wrote above, my attention goes to what you wrote re Why do I want an MBA. Let’s just say I hope you wrote something other than what you wrote in brief here, and that the points were more fleshed out and integrated with each other. What I am reading here sounds all over the map unless you plan to do something entrepreneurial related to the capital markets and business development. If so, what? Did you show them what you already brought to the table and specify what you needed to
    learn to achieve however you described your goal? Did you tie those needs very directly to aspects of each school’s program?

    I will also say that in what you wrote above, you give the vibe of someone with the gravitas and professionalism to potentially be applying for an EMBA. You don’t feel like an MBA applicant, though clearly this is hugely subjective. Did you explain why you were applying for an MBA instead of an EMBA?


  • JAW

    Thank you for writing this article. I found it to be very helpful as I am in the category of “older individuals” looking to pursue an MBA. I recently got dinged in round 1 at HBS and Wharton (received an interview at Wharton, dinged without an interview at HBS). I was wondering if you could provide some feedback on my profile and give me some advice on what schools I should apply to in round 2 that I would have a better shot at. Your feedback may also be beneficial for others reading this post, because I really thought I had a good shot at one of these schools (thought I’d at least get wait-listed). I wonder if age and number of years of work experience were significant factors.
    GMAT: 760 (essays: 6 – not that it matters much but shows I have pretty good writing skills)
    GPA: 3.8 from Georgia Tech with degree in management (finance focus)
    Work: Began working for a healthcare startup as a senior accountant beginning 2003. The company grew from $30M revenue when I started to $300M in 2008 when I left (very successful company provided significant returns for VC when sold – over 50% annual rate of return). When I left the company, I was the director of MIS with 8 direct reports (I had significant accomplishments and played major tangible role in company’s development). In 2008, I left for a lead analyst position at AT&T in the finance dept. In 2010, I was promoted to associate director with 5 direct reports (team works on acquisitions, forecasting impacts for new technology implementations and old technology decommissions). Left startup after growth slowed. I wanted to get back into finance and wanted experience of working at fortune 500.
    Extracurricular: Student Government, Big Brothers Big Sisters; Played drums for a band; Significant international humanitarian work that includes working with a program to bring Eastern European pediatric surgeons to US for training; summer camps for underprivileged children; fundraising and delivering aid to orphanages and pediatric hospitals; and fundraising for individuals impacted by Chernobyl reactor meltdown (lived in Eastern Europe for 3 years).
    Why do I want an MBA: My post MBA goal is to do something entrepreneurial. I want to leverage an MBA to enhance my network, learn the skills necessary to tap into the capital markets, and improve my business development skills.
    Recommendations: Current and former supervisor (Executive Director, CIO). Didn’t read the recs but know they focused on professional maturity, collaborative skills, and creativity.
    Essays: My writing skills are pretty good. I felt that my essays painted a good picture of some of my major accomplishments, how I meet challenges, and how I interact on a team.
    Wharton Interview: I’m not going to say I blew it away, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t bomb it either. I think I generally did well. I thought I had strong answers for the questions that demonstrated my decision making skills, willingness to learn, and ability to work with challenging individuals. I also thought I connected with the interviewer well primarily around our mutual humanitarian interests.
    Work Experience: 9.5 yrs at matriculation (2012)
    Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

  • NewCareer


    Thanks for the feedback.

    The answer to most of your last questions had to be “no, I did not discuss any of the above”, unfortunately, basically because I was not too self conscious about addressing these issues while I was applying. Again, during an MBA fair, the HBS adcom who was there assured me about a dozen time that there’s no such thing as too much work experience, so the age question was the last thing I worried.

    Considering what you are now saying about Saif … I see now it’s possible … although arguably the circumstance is a bit different. My company does not support / sponsor — nor favor — anyone who quits or go part time to get an MBA. I now understand what I lacked in my applications, but well, it’s a done deal for the time being. I can reopen the book next year, but at this moment I am still a bit uncertain.

    — Perhaps they have all rejected me for all the right reasons? —

    (PS: if you are interested in the further details, feel free to email me … I don’t want to bore everybody with my life’s story that probably had already bored the S/H adcoms)

  • Cupocofi,

    Re HBS post-mortem, I erred. Yes, it is only avaialble if you got interviewed.

    You didn’t tell me what you actually told them that you wanted to do post-MBA and why it took you till now to decide. That could be the crux of the matter. I think mentioning that you would need an MBA to get certain positions would have helped (though you’d want to be more specific about that) and mentioning taking on your father’s business as a potential LT goal might have fit, but it really depends on what you said you wanted to do short- and medium-term after getting your MBA, and why you really needed that degree. Also, did you address Why Not EMBA? I’ve had older clients address this in the Optional Essay. Good answers can be learning better in an intensive two-year experience, wanting to be able to focus on studies rather than having to work at the same time, or having your company being willing to sponsor you for an MBA, but not a PT MBA or EMBA. These are some examples.


  • I’m happy to report that Saif, my client in the story above, got accepted at Stanford, HBS, and Wharton.

  • NewCareer


    “Do you need an MBA?” definitely not if I want to continue doing what I am doing. I work in manufacturing / engineering role and have been doing the same thing for more than 10 years — though with increasing responsibility and I now supervise a group of professionals ; I am 31 years old. I also do believe career-wise, it’s likely for me to move faster in my current role without an MBA.

    So why one? Aside from a myriad of unofficial personal reason (that I did not bother to talk about in my essays, more on this later) … basically I just want to (1) learn and do something else, different from what I am now doing, and (2) move to Silicon Valley or Cambridge, where I would have a better chance of finding the job I really want to do and to really become somebody influential (3) want to see the world beyond the walls of my company, not because unhappiness (I am perfectly happy) but just because I want to see what it’s like.

    The unofficial reasons are, I graduated from a top US university with a BS but I never moved back to the US. Elsewhere in the world, a Master’s degree is almost a must. Plus, at some point I see myself having to quit my job to take care of my father’s business at least temporarily in case something happens to my father … and I thought MBA would help that and would help find me a job back once I’m done taking care of the family business. Now, maybe I should’ve just talked about these unofficial reasons in my essays, but I had chosen not to, mostly because if these were the real reason, they would be better served by doing some PT or EMBA program … so the real reasons are indeed the official reasons above (which I talked about in my essays).

    So why not PT / EMBA? It comes down to hunch that I just don’t want to do it … if I have to pay money and time for something, I want it to be worthwhile. So, I applied to H/S (not even W this time as I was wrongly far too overconfident I should get in).

    Could you tell me about the post-mortem — I read something in admissions blog but sounds like only for those invited to interview?

  • Cupocofi,

    I would be scratching my head in your case, too. Without seeing your application, it is hard for me to say what happened, though HBS does give short post-mortems (not sure how much substance), so that might give you some sliver of insight. Did you have a compelling reason for needing the MBA? Could you proceed on your path without one? How “off the chart” are in you terms of work experience/age? Also, what field are you in? Is it something that might have been underrepresented before, but now scads of people in that space apply for MBAs? Perhaps the most important question is, Do you need an MBA? Puts you back in the driver’s seat.


  • NewCareer

    Hi Deborah, All,

    I have a data point that could be useful for consideration.

    Seven years ago I applied (half-heartedly) to H/S/W first round (my essays were horrible and I didn’t even bother to apply to a “safe” school) and got interviewed then waitlisted by some. Before I even received any decision back, my company offered me an opportunity to work in another continent. I jumped at that, and, since then, my career progression has been strong as I have continuously been the youngest person by far in a comparable position within my company (a DJIA component), which would look even better given the cultural challenges that I have faced.

    Just now, I applied again to H/S first round and this time I did not even get an interview invite. I thought this was strange because my essays were definitely strong and much better than before (now I had couple MBAs from Stanford and Columbia to review my essays) and my GMAT is even a few points better (720 and balanced), plus by now I have pocketed substantial global work experience and a few national and international-level awards.

    Of course what I will not know is whether I have received poor recommendations (plausible though difficult to believe) …

    Before I was applying, I had slight worry that I might be too old. But when I went to an MBA fair, everyone seemed to suggest my “too much work experience” would not be an issue. I specifically asked H/S about “too much work experience” because while I have seen H/S statistics that show they have students who are in their late 30s; more than 9 years of work experience is in fact a rarity. But because of the assurances from at least H representative that it’s a non-issue (S rep was more cryptic but did not outright discourage me in any way) I did not bother to use my “free” essay to address the age question.

    Now after reading the different articles (many discuss about employability after MBA) … coupled with the Euro troubles … I am getting cold-footed about the whole deal. I now have a good-paying, safe, and nice job … and when even H/S worries about the employability of its graduates … brrrh!

    Then I stumbled upon this other piece of statistics that seem to suggest that (at least based on the pay), older MBAs may in fact be (slightly) less marketable … with 3-4 years of experience seems to be the sweet spot for employability.

    I was once determined to go to B-School because I wanted to see the world from yet another different perspective, and I thought that if I were to go study again, I would do this right by going full time in H/S. Now I’m not so sure … if H/S had rejected me because they’re afraid THEY couldn’t find me a job, then I would be right to worry, right?

    (My S friend never thought I should do MBA anyway … he thought I was too cynical … but this was only between him and me and he concurred that my essays were so beautifully and emotionally written and well rounded)

    Thoughts anyone? Would you think I might have better chance at MIT, Columbia, Wharton, Kelloggs … in any case I am still off the chart with regard to total full time work experience …

  • LA,

    Thank you for sharing all this information. I am sure it will encourage many solid older applicants.


  • LA

    In my essays I did not address handling the job search on my own. I did address how my professional background would be an asset to my classmates. During the interview I was sure to point out that I could help students who are recruiting with my current employer by giving advice on the corporate culture and hot topics. I don’t recall if I mentioned doing my own job search. In my career goals essay I devoted over 25% of the content to outlining my post MBA plans with concrete short term, mid range, and long term goals. I think this helped show them that I knew exactly what I was going to focus on once I got to campus.
    I am just about at the median GMAT for Kellogg. I believe their median is a 717 and I have a 710, so I’m definitely in the 80% range. However, my GPA is well below the median so I knew that would be an issue. I did write the optional essay. I think a few other things mitigated the GPA:
    1) my undergrad institution
    2) length of time since undergrad
    3) balanced GMAT score (80/80 split)
    4) high performance in an analytically rigorous job at a respected company

    Ultimately, I think that I got in because I showed who I am, what I can offer, and what I plan to do with the MBA. When I got the admit call I was told that my application was compelling. At the end of the day, regardless of age, that’s what’s most important.

  • LA,

    I am so glad you shared all this. I am wondering a few things (answer what you like). First, did you suggest that you could handle your own job search or did you not mention that? Also, were you at or above the median for GMAT and GPA? I am sure that getting fast-tracked in your job and obatining really good recommendations from a Fortune 500 company were significant factors.



  • LA

    Sure, I’ll share! I actually didn’t want an MBA for the longest time. I work at a Fortune 500 and wanted to get out of the traditional corporate setting. It took me a while to figure out exactly WHAT I wanted to do though. Heck, I’d even applied to Creative Writing MFA programs back in 2006 (how glad I am now that I didn’t get into any of them). I started getting an idea of what I wanted to do from doing some fundraising as a volunteer for community orgs. I really liked getting local businesses involved and making sure that they got something of value from their support. Thought I was going to apply to MPA or Communications programs but my sorority sister convinced me to give the MBA another look. I did and I never looked back. So that’s how I arrived at pursuing an MBA. It took me a couple more years to finally pull the trigger due to having a mortgage burden and two job transfers in two years that each required one year contracts.

    However, I did not communicate any of that in my applications. Trust me, schools don’t need or want to know about every turning point that brought you to their doorstep. In my applications I communicated that over time my professional goals had evolved and I wanted to combine the skills I used in my career with my volunteer experiences. I said that I already had a lot of transferable skills, but I needed an MBA to be most effective. I told them that I’d taken myself as far as I could on my own and needed their MBA to focus on strategy, finance, etc. as well as gain industry experience. Since I’m a career switcher the fact that I was going for a 2 year program made sense.

    I didn’t read my recommendations but from what my recommenders told me they were pretty strong. I believe that they communicated that I was doing really well at my current employer. This removed the “red flag” that I was pursuing an MBA to get out of a dead end job. It also helped that I’d moved through two positions in less than 2 years. I think this demonstrated that the MBA wasn’t a hail Mary pass, but rather a logical next step to get to my goals.

    I think it’s perfectly fine for a person with significant work experience to want to switch paths. Just make sure that the switch makes sense given your experiences and interests. You can’t say that you want to go from being a teacher to an investment banker without any evidence that you’re even interested in finance/banking. Schools also understand that even if you’ve excelled at your current company it’s difficult to move into a new field. The MBA is a chance to rebrand yourself for the next step in your career.

    I know I wrote a lot but I hope this helps.

  • LA,

    I’m not sure if you’d be willing to share your Why MBA and Why Now answers, but I was thinking that might be helpful to other readers if you feel comfortable doing so.


  • LA,

    That’s great! Enjoy!


  • LA,

    Congrats to you!

  • LA

    If an applicant can make a compelling case for Why MBA and Why Now then age shouldn’t really be a factor. I was so worried about being too old because of everything I had read on forums, blogs, etc. Turns out I had nothing to be worried about. This week I was accepted to Kellogg’s Full-Time 2YR MBA Program. I am 31 now and will be 32 at matriculation.

  • lifeisrockandroll,

    If you look at the Business Week profiles for the schools you mentioned, for the Class of 2012, you’ll found the following.

    Boston College
    Median age: 27
    80% range for work experience: about 2 to 7 years

    Median age: 27
    80% range for work experience: about 2 to 7ish years

    Median age: 28
    80% range for work experience: 3 to 10ish years

    With this data, we can estimate that only about 10% of the class at BC and Babson are 29 or older, and at Hult, 32 or older.

    Brandeis wasn’t listed on BW, but on its own website it says the age range is generally 24 to 28.

    Looks similar to top 25 programs, but there are always exceptions for extremely attractive candidates.

    Deborah Knox

  • Well, this is like, how feel you real age is and when do you expect to retire?
    I am 38, entrepreneur, from South America, applying to Babson, BC, Brandeis and Hult. It seems that age is really a matter in the top 25, am I correct?

  • It’s great that Ross has that makeup, though as I noted in the article, we can’t really tell much if we don’t how many applicants of a certain age applied vs. how many were accepted. If in your case, about 1 out of 8 of applicants were 30 or older and 1 out of 8 applicants got in, then you would know the cards weren’t stacked against older candidates.

    Here is some data about age ranges for the Class of 2013 at various schools. Doesn’t tell us how many people are 30 or above, but does let you know how high each school has gone this past year.

    School Age range (or range in years of work experience)
    IE NA
    LBS 24-37
    INSEAD 2-10 yrs WE
    Oxford (Saïd) 23-39
    York (Schulich) NA
    CEIBS NA (2 yrs WE min reqd)
    UCLA (Anderson) 22-42
    USC (Marshall) NA
    Northwestern (Kellogg) 25-30
    Columbia 23-37
    Berkeley (Haas) NA
    Michigan (Ross) 1-15 yrs WE
    Indiana (Kelley) 23-39
    Dartmouth (Tuck) 24-36*
    Duke (Fuqua) NA
    Virginia (Darden) “usually 23 to mid-30s”**
    Yale 22-38
    MIT (Sloan) 22-37*
    Chicago (Booth) NA
    Harvard See histogram
    NYU (Stern) NA
    Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) NA
    Penn (Wharton) NA
    Cornell (Johnson) NA
    Stanford 0-18 yrs WE

    Sources:School websites and interviews with deans of admission
    *Class of 2012 data
    **As per Darden’s head of admissions

  • Spearhead

    I am currently a full-time MBA first year student at Ross. In my cohort of about 80 people, there are two students who are in their early 40’s, two who are in their mid-late 30’s, and at least half a dozen more who are in their early 30’s. This whole business about being too old to go to a full-time program is a myth…

  • Sherry,

    You have a less common goal than most, so from a diversity perspective, that is a big plus. In your appliications thus yet, have you mentioned organizations that might hire you, talked about how they require an MBA (if they do), and suggested that you could handle doing your own job search? I am sure you could make a case for getting an MBA, but I am wondering if the B-schools might wonder whether you’ve considered a master’s related to arts management/administration instead, which would potentialy be more tallored to your needs.

    Given your particular goal, I don’t think it is necessary to talk about being free to travel or put in a lot of hours at this point in your life. For clients that want to convey that, I have them show how they are already on the road a lot or putting in long hours rather than explicitly pointing it out.

    One more comment re age that I did not include in the article. One of the deans of admissions with whom I spoke said that they were noticing some noticeable cultural divides between Gen X and Gen Y students–she said something to the effect that it was like they spoke different languages–and this made her concerned about stretching the age envelope too far for now. I found it hard to believe there was such a cultural divide since I work with Gen Yers and Gen Xers and I’m a Tweenie myself (someone once called those of us born in that strange little zone at the end of the Baby Boom but before Gen X as Tweenies) and I seem to understand what my clients are saying! The culture and social scene of any FT program will have more of a twentysomething vibe. And you may completely enjoy that, find it unappealing, or something in between.


  • Sherry

    Thanks for answering, Deborah. Admittedly, I am unusual in my goals. I’m looking to get into museum administration, and without going into my entire thought process and research, I’m confident that an MBA is the way to go. I don’t have kids and my husband is very supportive if we need to move for a good program. So, I’m not really the type who is going to be hired as a grunt for Deloitte. I make my goal very clear on the applications I’ve sent so far, but don’t address the “family conflict” issue. Should I do so for any other applications?

  • bschool2013,

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the piece. First, given your military background and post-MBA goal, you may be in a good position to get into a FT MBA program, assuming you’ve got good stats, leadership experience, etc. Although attending PT MBA and EMBA programs may make it harder to career change, given the uncertainty in the economy, a lot more people are choosing that path these days. Still, I totally hear you about wanting the FT MBA.

    As for the link you posted, I do believe I was making the same point. Even though the percentage of the class that is 30 or older may be small, if we don’t know the rate at which these folks apply, it is hard to say how bad it is. Yale and Darden suggested that the rates at which candidates age 30 and above applied and were accepted were about even, but I couldn’t get such information from the other deans of admissions whose input I sought. Since we don’t know about this for sure across the board, I proposed taking a “better safe than sorry” approach.

    As for the excerpts you noted related to age, I was lightheartedly riffing on what Dee Leopold at HBS had expressed. I can’t speak for her comment. I can say, however, that there are smart-alecky 24-year-olds (as well as smart alecks at every age). My intention with my comment was to lightly poke fun at both the smart-alecky 24-year-old and any thirtysomething or older who might actually be irritated by that behavior. I think your being open to input from younger people and your desire to share your own experience with others are great attributes that will continue to serve you well.


    While I was unable to get the admissions professionals to speak to this directly, many of the industries that recruit FT MBAs, particularly investment banks and management consulting firms, do like to hire younger people. They will be working 80- to 100-hour weeks, often doing less than inspiring tasks, and perhaps traveling 20 days per month. Younger people tend not to have family obligations and they have the unbounded energy that makes doing somethng like that possible. There are other industries that might not think or hire that way, but it seems to be the tendency when hiring FT MBAs. Some schools also place a value of grabbing them while they are younger and setting them on a business career path vs. a law career path or something else. I don’t personally think that way.

    I’m looking at the age ranges for the Class of 2013, and for those top schools who reported such data, only UCLA Anderson and Stanford had at least one person matriculate into their FT programs who was 40 or above (I am guessing in Stanford’s case–they have a years of work experience range of 0 to 18 years). I had a 45-year-old in my class at Stanford, but that was also quite a while ago!

    Deborah Knox

  • Sherry

    Since when is 30 old? Why isn’t life experience valued? If I’ve got the GMAT score, the GPA, and good essays, why should age make any difference? If an applicant has made the decision that a full-time program is the most beneficial way to get an education, I don’t see why age would factor at all. Not everyone knows what their path should be at 25. I’m over 40 and it kills me to think that I could jump through all the hoops and be considered a good candidate until someone notices my birthday or the year I graduated from college.

  • Damien

    You’re as old as you feel. I was an nerd turned RM. At 30 I took redundancy and went back to an MSc in Quant Finance in a class full of 21 year olds. Best decision I ever made. Took a hit on salary but infinitely happier and I can protect my fellow nerds at meetings.

  • An interesting link on the topic.

  • Gosh

    Good Luck Saif.

  • Koushal Swami

    Thanks for sharing such a nice topic on “Am I Too Old To Get An MBA ?”, really helpful for me.

  • This article caught my eye since I’ll be 34 when I’m looking to matriculate in the fall of 2013.

    However, two excerpts annoyed me for various reasons:

    “There are people who may be much better suited to an EMBA. They are looking to hold on to their life. When you come here, you have to leave all that behind. . . Are you coming wanting to be as invested in your sectionmates as you are in learning on your own and do you believe that you have lots to learn from someone who is 24?”

    “Don’t completely reject the part-time and EMBA options, especially if you need the skills more than the brand and the network. (This is probably most true for people staying in their existing firms or industries, or for entrepreneurs.) While these paths may take longer, you won’t have the opportunity cost of missing two years of income, you’ll learn virtually the same material, and you won’t have some smart-alecky 24-year-old telling you where you’re wrong.”

    First was the two references to 24 year-olds. That age group is going to be in the minority too. The majority of students will probably be in the 26-30 range, and I’ve found at that point, the age/maturity gap has shrunk. You’re all adults and have one important thing in common: You’ve decided now is the right time to invest 2-years of your life in getting a full-time MBA.

    The second problem I had is that it paints the picture of these 24-year-olds as arrogant/immature. I would venture that any 24 year-old admitted to a top B-school with that little experience has something good to share, and I’m not too proud to admit that I could learn something from someone a lot younger than me. On the other hand, I’m willing to bet that a 24-year-old could learn something from me as well. Isn’t a common essay question: “What could you provide to the (insert school name here) community?”

    Despite suggestions, I’m not considering part-time/EMBA at all since I’m making a switch from the military to (hopefully) brand management. Major career changes are not the purpose of a part-time or EMBA (despite school’s websites that say they all lead to the “same” MBA), and while this article hints at that a bit, it doesn’t completely spell it out.