An article on the site Poets & Quants discusses the difficulty candidates in their 30’s face in applying to top MBA programs considering the trend among these programs to prefer younger candidates in their 20’s.
A survey of the class profiles for the top full-time MBA programs indicates that the average age at Harvard is 27, while at Chicago, MIT, Kellogg, Columbia, Tuck, Berkeley, Michigan, and Texas the average age stands at 28. Wharton and NYU do not publish this data, but the average number of years of pre-degree career experience is 4.6 at NYU and 5.5 at Wharton.
The situation in Europe differs slightly, with an average age of 28.6 at LBS and about 6 years of career experience at INSEAD. IMD and HEC Paris are the only top-20 programs with an average age of 30 and above.
Of course these averages do not mean that there are no older class members – the age range of students at MIT and Tuck include 37-year-olds, and UCLA and Oxford have students in their forties, but there is no doubt that the majority of students are in their mid-late twenties. For example, 80% of the students at Columbia are between 25 and 30.
So why are there so few students 30+ at the top programs? One reason is that there are simply less applicants from this age group. Many people have reached a stage in their careers (in terms of seniority and salary) when an MBA is no longer necessary or worthwhile considering the two-year break in employment. Older candidates may also have families, which can make full-time study difficult. So, older candidates often choose EMBA or part-time programs. Almost all of the top programs, except Harvard, Stanford, and Tuck offer EMBA programs and will even recommend to some of their older general applicants to apply to these programs instead.
So what do admissions officers really think? Applicants in their 30’s with impressive backgrounds will always be considered, though the best candidates usually apply early in their careers. Top programs prefer younger candidates who can be molded and whose careers can be influenced, and may prefer to avoid older candidates who only wish to enhance their resumes in order to advance their already established career. Relatively older candidates who still succeed in getting accepted are often those with the best reasons for why they need an MBA, as well as realistic career goals, strong grades and impressive career experience.
Older candidates might find it difficult to fit in socially in a younger class, and demonstrate less motivation for group work. In addition, employers that recruit from top programs also prefer relatively younger candidates, since most positions require long hours and sometimes travel, which is less appropriate for older candidates, especially those with families. Another important factor to which admissions committees may not admit is that a program’s ranking is partly based on students’ post-graduation increase in salary, and this increase will be more significant for younger candidates than for older candidates.
So what then can older candidates do to improve their admissions chances? First of all, they must justify why they are applying now. A good explanation that stems from life circumstances (studies, military service…) and candidates’ career development can certainly put them in a better position for acceptance. In addition, older applicants must be realistic concerning their post-graduation career goals and compose goals appropriate for their age and career path to date. They must convince the admissions committee that they will not have difficulty finding a job upon graduating. Older candidates must also demonstrate fit to the program’s student community and willingness to integrate socially, possibly through community/social involvement.