Am I Too Old To Get An MBA?

DelMonico shared that the farther out you are from your undergrad education, the less GPA correlates with success in Yale’s program. However, if your GPA is below average (or out of their 80%) range, it’s worth taking a quantitative course such as microeconomics or statistics before applying. In doing so, your skills will be fresher and you’ll be more in the classroom mindset. (And in “kicking the tires,” you may even discover you really don’t want to go back to school if it’s going to look like this!) DelMonico also noted that amongst older candidates the verbal GMAT score correlates more with success in their program than the quantitative portion (while the latter is more predictive for younger candidates). That said, you need to demonstrate you can handle the analytical rigor of the program and can’t hope to breeze through based on your verbal mastery.

“We put more attention on work experience and goals than numbers,” said Neher. More interested in evidence of current performance, Darden weighs the GPA less heavily for older candidates. However, they won’t be looking favorably on that 2.0. And if you do have a low GPA or did poorly in quantitative courses in college, it may be worth it to build an alternative transcript. Neher recommended taking accounting in particular if you haven’t already. Darden also recognizes that older applicants haven’t been in test-taking mode for some time, so they don’t expect them to score as highly as younger applicants.

A non-native English speaker, Saif earned a 3.6 GPA in a rigorous U.S. engineering program and scored 700 on the GMAT (77th percentile quantitative, 83rd percentile verbal, 90th percentile overall) on the first try. We discussed his retaking the GMAT, but he really wanted to apply first round and put his energy into telling his story in his application essays. Given he came from an underrepresented region, had exceptional work experience, and had a compelling reason for needing an MBA, I let him off the hook, and he turned his attention to writing compelling, high-impact essays.

Other Factors

While admissions-committee members are looking to see if all candidates are mature, open-minded and curious, and team oriented, some mentioned looking particularly closely for these attributes in older candidates’ applications and interviews.

For example, Neher declared, “If they [older applicants] have poor communication skills, I don’t even look at the scores.” She also expects them to demonstrate greater maturity than early-twentysomething candidates. What you really don’t want is to have your recommender cite your lack of maturity as an example of critical feedback he/she gave you. Ding!

You also want to provide evidence that you aren’t set in your ways and that you’re open to learning from others. Leopold noted, “We’re also looking for people that, regardless of their background, are coming here not to sort of be in executive education mode where they tell us about their experience but instead have the same curiosity and open-mindedness that someone who is three years out of school would bring to the program. We’re not looking for people to be guest speakers who are locked into a role in a first-year section pontificating on how things were done at Firm X.”

When I asked Saif if he wondered about any factors that went into the admissions-committees’ decision-making processes when they evaluated older candidates, he wanted to know if being single or being married and with a family made a difference. I got a very uniform answer to this—NO. Most schools don’t even have access to such information. So do pop the question now if you were concerned about that.

In Saif’s case, we made sure to demonstrate his expertise, skill, and leadership in various areas over his nine years of work experience while also showing how he’s a lifelong learner and team player, curious and receptive to others’ ideas and feedback.

Am I Overqualified?

The admissions directors with whom I spoke had different views regarding this question. Strong responded that they don’t use the term “overqualified” at MIT Sloan. I asked DelMonico if he ever looked at candidates’ backgrounds and assessed whether they might be bored with the program and therefore not accept them on that basis. He replied that choosing to attend a school was a mutual decision and he wouldn’t make that determination for a candidate. Yale does offer a specialized EMBA Leadership in Healthcare track, however, to which he does direct more seasoned candidates pursuing careers in that field. As I mentioned earlier, Darden points applicants to their EMBA program if they think applicants’ career and salary expectations will be better met through that track. For Leopold, it’s more of an issue of whether you’re prepared to drop your current life and completely immerse yourself in the HBS experience: “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?”

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