Advise for older candidates

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Advise for older candidates

by inters » Mon Dec 11, 2017 7:08 pm
HI! I will appropriate any feedback.
I have checked similar topics on this forum, but most of the are really old.
About me: 37, white male, originally from Ukraine, live in New York, undergraduate degree in finance, 10 years of post graduate experience . GMAT is 710. Working in trading related industry (I was a futures trader, now a product specialist in a small start up that makes trading application). Interested in switching to consulting. School targeting - "the usual suspects" - Darden, Duke,Columbia, Tuck, etc. but the list is not finalized.

Long story short I have talked to a few admission consultants (big names, frequently mentioned on this site). Most of them advise me not to pursue full-time program (age, experience, GMAT in a lower band), but try to apply for part-time/executive program. Unfortunately, it is not an option for a various reasons (it will be difficult for me to switch to consulting (or any other industry), I would probably loose my current job, the program itself is more expensive than full-time, there are only three reputable programs around NY, etc.).

As I understand my mission is not impossible, but difficult. Any advise in what direction should I move (schools that friendlier to older candidates or advisers who have experience working with similar situation)?


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by mbaMissionKrista » Thu Feb 22, 2018 3:36 am
Hey @inters
Apologies no one has responded to you sooner! If you are still in the process of applying, one program for you to consider is MIT Sloan Fellows. It's a 1 year residential MBA program geared towards older candidates where career switching should still be possible. I hope that helps and I wish you all the best for your apps.


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by ceilidh.erickson » Fri Feb 23, 2018 10:48 am
Here's an analogy that my friend Jeremy Shinewald (Krista's colleague/boss, president of mbaMission) likes to use:
Business schools want to be the bridge that gets you from where you are to where you want to go. A candidate with the wrong credentials (low GPA or GMAT, uninteresting work history) hasn't reached the foot of the bridge yet, so schools won't consider them. Candidates who can't paint a picture of what's on the other side of the bridge (their goals, their vision for the future) also won't be considered. Candidates whose goals don't line up with where they're currently standing also won't be considered - imagine someone standing at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, saying that they want to go to Queens. That's not the bridge for them! Queens isn't on the other side (without taking a circuitous route through Manhattan). (Forgive the very NYC-centric metaphor).

Very broadly speaking, top business schools take bright, high-achieving candidate in their early (or maybe early-to-mid) careers, and give them a bridge to promising middle careers. So for older candidates, it's harder to paint a convincing picture of why this is the bridge you need. If you're a strong enough candidate... it's likely that you've already gotten to a good mid-career without the need of that bridge. If you haven't, then (it's often believed) you weren't a high-enough-achieving candidate, or where you're trying to go isn't really on the other side of that bridge (at the risk of absolutely torturing this metaphor).

That said, business schools do sometimes take older candidates. Those candidates often have an explanation, though: they were in the army for years; they pursued a different career, but realized that they needed business skills at exactly this moment; etc, etc. It will take deep thought on your part to paint that picture convincingly.

Here's a question that business schools would undoubtedly ask you in an interview: why business school, and why now? If it's simply to make a career transition into consulting, could you do that without an MBA? Can you leverage the expertise you've built over 10 years to gain entry into consulting? What would you gain from their school that you couldn't gain otherwise, and what value would you offer to your classmates (many of whom will be in a very different place in life)?

If you have convincing answers to these questions and can tell a compelling story about why you need this "bridge," you might still be a viable candidate - but you'll have a harder task with that than younger candidates in your position might.

Good luck!
Ceilidh Erickson
EdM in Mind, Brain, and Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education


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by MargaretStrother » Tue Mar 13, 2018 7:03 am
This is always an interesting challenge: if you look at the age range posted by top business schools, most MBA programs appear to have a sprinkling of over-35s in their program, but possibly only one or two to balance out the bell curve. To approach this as a task, we need to think about actions you can take to maximize your chances of becoming one of those rare over-35s in the program you want.

Here are my concerns and suggestions -- as always, I am a maximalist and will suggest EVERYTHING you can do to enhance your candidacy; perhaps not all of them will fit for you, for any number of reasons.
1. GMAT: I'd like to see you at 720 or over. That number seems to count even more for over-30 applicants, in my experience; it's harder for people to do well on standardized tests as they get farther away from their undergraduate studies, and 710 is pretty neutral these days. So see what you can do to get yourself out of the neutral zone and into the strong zone on your GMAT; this will show that you're still intellectually agile and eager to learn.
2. Goals: It's essential for you to show that you have a clear idea of why you need a full-time MBA at this stage of your career. A career switch to consulting is a good start, but why the switch (your answer needs to be positive, not "I hate my job")? And where will that take you long-term? The more you research that, including hiring stats for over-30s at the consulting firms you're targeting for your first step out of the MBA, the better. Schools will be concerned about your hirability; several admissions people have told me that the pressure for younger MBA graduates is coming from employers.
3. Community fit: one of the areas we have the biggest challenge for older students is fitting in with the group. You can show how community-oriented and personable you are in a number of ways: first, highlight everything you did in undergrad, despite that having been quite a while ago. Involvement is a habit, and admissions will want to see that you already have this habit.
Second, show what you are doing outside the workplace now. Top MBA programs are looking for "joiners", people who will add participatory value to their community. So show that whether in weekend sports, community service, industry-specific organizations or cultural organizations, you're not just a worker-bee. Leadership roles will be particularly valuable, but any and all regular participation outside the workplace will add strategic value.
4. How are you going to pay for it? Economically, the older you get, the harder it is to take two years off of work to fully immerse in an MBA program. You want to show that you won't be working on the side, that your time is 100% committed to the MBA experience.
5. Added value: one thing that older applicants bring to the group is awesome professional experience. Your essays and application can make the most of this, showing how much you have to bring to collaborative ventures and classroom discussions.

Finally, target your schools well. Columbia has older students, Tuck I'm not sure about (do your research); you'll probably do better with larger classes such as Columbia's, where you are less likely to get 'pushed out' by one slightly stronger applicant; there is room for both of you. You might also consider the European schools, which tend to favor older students and have a lower community service expectation.

Hope this helps! It's great that you realize this is a long-shot, but I'm a big proponent of going for your dreams, so long as you do so realistically. Pay close attention to the concerns each top b-school admissions committee will have and take tangible action to address those concerns in advance. You can't assure the outcome, but at the very least, you know you will have given it your best shot. I admire your courage.

Good luck!
Margaret Strother
Margaret Strother
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Stacy Blackman Consulting

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by [email protected] » Fri Mar 23, 2018 7:36 am
In terms of older applicants I agree with much of the advice listed here. I would also add that programs like Stanford's MSX program dedicated to applicants with more experience but yet still providing a full time learning environment can also be an option. I agree that rocking the GMAT never hurts-- and if you are 20-30 points over the stated GMAT average you are going to start looking very attractive to the program-- and they may get so excited about your score that they forget to notice how old you are! Another key piece of being older-- is more that the school needs to be sure that they can place you somewhere. So either be very clear how you have the network to achieve your post MBA goal on your own or clearly explain what you want to do and how you can do this through this MBA program. Sometimes people with more work experience are almost "too" qualified for entry level MBA roles so you want to make sure that they are comfortable with the recruiting portion when looking at your application. If you have the option of being sponsored by your company-- that's a great thing because you literally take all the employment risk off the school. So if this is at all an option-- investigate it! There are always going to be a few older folks in every class-- but it will always be just a few-- so make sure you present one of the strongest applications so that adcom reaches for you when they are going to committee for decisions and advocating for candidates. Make an effort to get to know the school and show them that you are someone who wants to engage! Best wishes! If you do want help with this process-- you can reach out to us here at this link for a free consult where we can discuss your situation in more detail.