Timeout with Trav: An Older Candidate

Send your admissions questions to timeout@veritasprep.com.

Dear Trav,

I want to apply for a full time MBA program, but I am 32 years old. Am I too old for this type of program?

Deciding whether your age will be a damaging factor to your b-school application is an important question!

With a quick internet search, you’ll discover that the average age for most MBA programs is typically about 27 or 28 years old, so at 32 (and likely matriculating at age 33), you’ll be above average. But as we learned from our GMAT prep, averages don’t tell us a lot. Even looking at the middle 80% age range of full-time MBA programs, most students are between 25 and 31 years old. So yes, you’re going to be out of the typical range for a full-time program (and I’m sure this comes as no surprise to you).

For example, take a look at the age distribution of MIT Sloan’s class of 2014:







Understanding the Admissions Officer’s Perspective

The real question is why MBA programs admit most candidates with such a narrow age range of just five to six years, with a tight bell curve around the average age for each class.

First, one of the primary benefits of a modern MBA program is access to top-level recruiters. Within weeks of starting your top-tier MBA program, you’ll be bombarded by recruiters jockeying for talent. However, almost all of these recruiters will be hiring for positions that require about 3 to 6 years of work experience.  Candidates with significantly less or more experience than this will find the recruiting process more challenging. Since MBA programs want their students to find internships and post-MBA full-time jobs — and their rankings depend on it — they must admit candidates who will recruit well.  Since people who already have 10 years of work experience aren’t likely to want to go back and be an associate brand manager at this point in their career, age can become an issue.

Second, business schools have a very strong sense of culture, and they admit students who they feel will contribute to that culture.  Cultures at each school are quite different.  However, if a person is significantly older than the class average, they may not connect well with the rest of the student body and add to the culture of the program. Less than half of your “MBA experience” will be what you learn in the classroom, so connecting with your fellow students, participating in clubs, organizations, silly theme parties and other extracurricular activities will be a huge part of your MBA life.  Many business schools offer other programs such as EMBA, part-time and executive education tracks that may be better suited to candidates who will not likely take advantage of the immersive experience of a full-time MBA.

Make Your Case: Why MBA, Why Now, and How I’ll Fit

OK, now that we understand why full-time programs tend to have a high percentage of students that fall within a narrow age range, that doesn’t mean that every admitted student falls within this narrow range. Many programs have full-time MBA students in their upper 30s or even early 40s. However, these people are outliers. Just as a candidate with a GMAT score that falls outside of the middle 80% of a school’s range must justify how they will succeed academically, an applicant that falls outside the middle 80% in age range must specifically justify why they want an MBA, why now, and how they’ll fit with the program both culturally and professionally.

Admissions officers are going to see your age, your college graduation date and the years of work experience you bring, so there’s no sense in trying to hide or downplay this aspect of your profile.  Instead, make sure you have a clear and coherent response for why you want to get your MBA now, how it fits into your professional path, and how receiving a full-time MBA is the best possible path to achieve your goals.  Know that the admissions committee will be looking at this portion of your application with extra scrutiny.  I guarantee that every 42 year old who was admitted to a top-tier, full-time program had a very clear and compelling argument for why they should be there. Nobody stumbles into a top-tier program with 10 years of work experience who simply said, “I’m looking to expand my career opportunities and improve my management skills” without providing significantly more detail.

Also, don’t forget to do thorough research on each program to which you are applying.  For example, last year, the age range for the Kellogg School of Management was 25 to 31.  That’s it.  Kellogg is a program with a very strong culture and they know they aren’t looking for 23 year olds or 43 year olds. They offer a wide range of programs for candidates outside the narrow range for their full-time MBA class.  However, UCLA Anderson’s age range is 23 to 39, Tuck’s range is 24 to 36 and nearly one in every seven admits to INSEAD was over 31.  Talk with current students and recent alums who were a little older in their class and pick their brains on school culture, the ways they got involved, and their overall experience. Get on your target schools’ websites to find out what clubs interest you most and include these in your application essays to show the admissions committee that you’re serious about getting involved!  At Veritas Prep, we have expert consultants for older candidates and can help you refine your professional goals, why you need an MBA now, and how you will contribute to your class.

Consider All Your Options

I’m a huge believer that MBA admissions committees do a fantastic job of selecting candidates who will thrive in their program. Looking back in retrospect, I fully recognize that I was admitted to the schools where I would have fit best and was denied to programs where I was not a good fit. If you have 8+ years of work experience, be sure you are considering all of your options, such as EMBA programs, part-time MBA programs, the Sloan Scholars program at MIT, Stanford and LBS, and the variety of executive education options. Leaving your full-time job for two years is not always the wisest option for people later in their careers and will not provide the same ROI as for younger candidates.

I hope this advice helps you research the best programs that will enable you to achieve your goals.  Please feel free to reach out anytime for more individualized advice!


If you’re thinking about applying to business school, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.