Challenges Facing Older MBA Applicants

older MBA applicants

We’ve seen online forum posts that say there’s “no chance” of admission to a top b-school past a certain age. Certainly, older MBA applicants do face certain obstacles. But these applicants get into the top programs every year. If you know an MBA will advance your career, you can and should apply!

When contemplating business school in your mid-30s and beyond, the key is showing how you’ve progressed professionally, and what you’ve contributed on the job. As I recently shared with Seb Murray over at Find MBA, admissions officers are less concerned about chronological age than they are about leadership experience.

A 38-year-old candidate who has spent more than a decade in the same position without showing progression will have a hard time getting into a top MBA program. This is not because of age. Rather, it is because the candidate may not have demonstrated growth during that time.

If you’re applying to an elite school like Harvard, which values great leadership, you should’ve already developed terrific leadership skills. Many people with great leadership skills have achieved a lot by the time they near 40. By this point, they’re not interested in going back to school.

Proving that you are a strong and accomplished 40-year-old leader, and balancing that with the fact that you want to improve in order to get to the next step, is tough to pull off. That said, “old” people are admitted every season! If  they can demonstrate great achievement balanced with a legitimate need or desire to return to school, then they stand a decent chance.

 The downside of going to b-school mid-career

There is one major drawback to pursuing an MBA as an older candidate: opportunity cost. Mid-career professionals generally have larger salaries than younger applicants. Sacrificing that income for up to two years to do a full-time MBA might not be feasible in many circumstances.

Also, consider whether you might learn better from a more seasoned peer group of professionals. Getting an EMBA is a great option for older candidates. Many schools offer part-time programs for professionals who plan to continue working while studying.

SBC Client Case Study

When we worked with Claudine, she was in her late-30s and held an executive-level position in finance at a large consumer products company. She had reached a career plateau in her firm and wanted to obtain an MBA to take her to the next level, but any of the three format options could help her achieve her goals.

She felt excited by the range of social and extracurricular activities available in a full-time MBA program. But, Claudine had an extremely demanding family life with two small children. She didn’t think she could take advantage of the many social activities most full-time MBA students participate in.

Ultimately, her desire for a flexible way to expand her skills and tap into the network available from a strong program led Claudine to look most closely at an executive MBA. She ended up having great success at the joint EMBA program between UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and Columbia Business School.

To read more about the trend of older professionals turning toward the MBA, follow the Find MBA link above. And know that your age should never be the sole deciding factor of whether to apply to business school.

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