The average age of an MBA applicant who is admitted to the Harvard Business School is 27, with 54 months of work experience. Averages, however, often disguise wide ranges in data and can easily distort a large or small set of numbers.
Yet, these days, you won’t find much more detail on the age of successful HBS candidates that the mere average. Harvard doesn’t even disclose the top-to-bottom age range of an incoming class. This is something of a departure from the days when Dee Leopold was managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid. She left in May of 2016, having been succeeded by Chad Losee, a former Bain consultant and HBS alum.
But when Leopold was in the job, she would routinely publish a “histogram” that showed rather clearly the range of work experience and likely ages of HBS admits. The chart broke down each entering class by their years from college graduation. The last time one of these charts was made public was back in 2015 for the Class of 2017 (see below). While there were slight shifts in age over the years for the readers of tea leaves at HBS, the numbers pretty much stayed the same. So it is a good bet that the Class of 2017 data provides a good portrait of how age impacts admissions today.
THE SWEET SPOT FOR AN ENTERING MBA STUDENT: 26 AND 27 YEARS OF AGE
The clear sweet spot, accounting for 499 of 935 in the Class of 2017, or 53.4% of the entire incoming class, are candidates aged 26 and 27, with four to five years of work experience. A sizable group of 153 students, or 16.4%, entered at the age of 25, with three years of work behind them. The same was true of people aged 28, with six years of experience. They accounted for a block of 124 students, or 13.3%.
From there, the odds fall dramatically on either side of the age range. At 29, for example, only 50 students, representing 5.3% of the class were enrolled–that is less than half the number at only a year younger. Of course, some of this is a reflection of the applicant pool which would attract far more candidates aged 25 through 28. Nonetheless, in a typical pool of 10,000 candidates, HBS has enough age variety to shape the class anyway it wants.
Only 12.5%, or 67 students in the Class of 2017, entered Harvard’s MBA program at age 30 or above, with eight to more than ten years of work experience. So once you hit 30, the odds quickly diminish for an admit. At exactly 30 years of age, only 2.7%, or 25 people, were admitted. At 31, only 19 got in, just 2.0%. At 32 and up, just 23 students were admitted, 2.5% of the class.
‘THE GEEZER BRIGADE IS A MIXED BAG OF IB, PE AND CONSULTING ADMITS’
On the younger side, HBS admitted only one student with a single year of work experience, presumably at the age of 23. That comes out to a mere 0.1% of the class. A group of 24-year-olds did much better. They numbered 41 students, or 4.4% of the entire class, with two years of work experience (and of course Harvard’s deferred admission program 2+2 probably plays a key role here).
“Three to six years out of college seems to be the sweet spot, and my guess is, anywhere in there is OK,” observes Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. “Once you get to the Youth Wing (1-2 years out, with a total cohort of 42 ), that is probably the most selective, and who those 42 kids are is an interesting question.
“My guess is, premature application ejaculators from the usual suspects, e.g. IB and consulting. The Geezer Brigade (7+ years, with a total cohort of 117) strikes me a mixed bag of standard IB, PE, and consulting admits who just did not get around to applying, and some interesting sampling as well of military, late-bloomers, high-performing oddballs and NGO burn-outs.”
‘TRY NOT TO SEE THIS AS A TEMPLATE OR TARGET’
Leopold’s own sparse commentary on publishing these numbers shows that she didn’t want applicants reading too much into them. “Try not to see this as a template or target…seriously,” she wrote. “The common sense advice still holds: You need work experience to be at HBS, but there is no universal ‘right time to come. Looks like the mode (you know what that means) is four years since college. Plenty of incoming students coming before and after, but wanted you to see this.”
The biggest year-over-year change occurred among students four to five years from college graduation, though if you totaled those two categories you would see much less change. Still, 26-year-olds fell by 27 students in the Class of 2017 versus a year earlier, while the group of 27-year-olds jumped by 42 students during the same timeframe.
Back then, she also noted that the Class of 2017 included 94 students who had been earlier rejected by HBS and were reapplicants. That means that roughly 10% of the entering students held out after being dinged, obviously improved their applications and got a yes from Harvard.