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.

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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.