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At HBS, Older MBAs Seem In Vogue

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.


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.