Am I Too Old To Get An MBA?

DelMonico underscored the importance of demonstrating ongoing growth and learning over taking any particular career trajectory. Yale is receptive to candidates who may have tried a variety of things, as long as they’ve been learning and developing. The question is, have you just plateaued and getting an MBA now is a perfect jumping off point, or have you been plateauing for a long time? Is this a natural next step based on your path to date and your post-MBA aspirations, or are you just throwing out a lifeline?

What Do You Want to Be Now That You’re Grown Up?

I thought that candidates’ stated post-MBA career goal would play a role in how attractive they are. B-schools want to have good placement figures, so wouldn’t you want to prove that you’ll be eminently employable after graduation? I was concerned about the chances of success for older applicants who, for instance, want to go into investment banking and consulting. Don’t consulting firms and investment banks like ’em young? The admissions directors with whom I spoke didn’t want to make any categorical statements about this, and, after all, there are the exceptions, such as former members of the military or PhDs who are snatched up by these firms. My take is that you have to offer some very specialized expertise to offset the age differential if you want to move into these fields. To make your best possible case, research which companies take older candidates and begin to cultivate relationships with them. Identify what value you can add above and beyond less experienced candidates. And talk about these things in your goals essays.

Neher expects older candidates to have well-articulated and feasible career goals, and she also likes them to be clear about what level of jobs (and salaries) will be available via on-campus recruiting. Since Darden has an EMBA program, she occasionally refers those interested in pursuing MBAs or even those who have applied to the MBA program to the EMBA program when she believes they’ll be better able to achieve their career and compensation goals that way.

In contrast, DelMonico explained that the choice of post-MBA career “matters only a little at the margins,” adding one of my favorite quotes, “Candidates don’t have to identify their post-MBA career path to a metaphysical certainty.” Yale will take a shot at applicants if they’ll add value to the program and assumes that they’ll somehow make their career goals work.

Neher and DelMonico did agree that entrepreneurs (even those who have already failed at a substantial attempt at launching an entrepreneurial endeavor) can be attractive candidates, as these individuals’ experiences would be helpful to other students in the class.

While MIT Sloan does ask you to write a cover letter advocating for your admission to their program, they don’t ask about career goals explicitly, so this isn’t a factor they consider. As Strong wrote, “Unlike many MBA programs, we do not ask for a career goal. We don’t think it is particularly useful information since most of our students are coming to change careers and we hope to expose our students to ideas they may not know about.”

Saif, who hails from the Middle East, went to work for a global petroleum company after getting an engineering degree at a U.S. state university. His fast-tracked career began on the operations side, but he was recently moved to a strategy role, where he also weighs in on economic matters. His company is committed to fostering more entrepreneurship and innovation internally and externally, and they’d like him to spearhead this activity. Up until this point, he has been able to carry on his duties without an MBA, but now he needs to learn about entrepreneurship, innovation, venture capital, and finance, and he’d like to beef up his leadership skills. He believes he’ll learn best in the intensive two-year format and his company needs him to get up to speed for his new position very quickly, so he has a good reason for pursuing a full-time MBA program vs. a part-time MBA or EMBA program now.

The Numbers

“So how will admissions committees look at my GPA and GMAT score? Will my GMAT matter more since it’s more recent? How much do numbers matter at my age?”

The answer to these questions is it depends. Some schools, such as MIT Sloan, make no distinction. According to Strong, “GMAT and GPA are two data points that are never considered in isolation. They are considered like two tiles of a mosaic. . . It’s not until you have all the tiles that you see what you have.” Leopold stated that there was no formula regarding this, but she added, “There is a correlation between high test scores [and doing well] in the class. People we admit like to do well on things.”

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