Older Applicants: Who They Are and How They're Viewed

by , Aug 24, 2010

At this point in your life and career, you're going to have to make a strong case for pursuing an MBA, and not an EMBA. It's simply assumed that men and women of a certain age are "too old" for a regular MBA, and that they're more cut out for an EMBA program because of their age and years of experience.

But as there's no official MBA age-limit, there's no reason why you shouldn't apply to b-schoolthat is, if you truly believe that it's the right place for you to begin (or continue) your business education and further your career. Realize also that level of experience is probably more important than age.

In order to optimize your chances of acceptance, you'll need to understand a few things about how adcoms view more experienced applicants:

Who do adcoms consider "older applicants"?

  • An "older applicant" is someone who is at least three years older than the average age at a particular school and usually with more than eight years of full-time work experience. In 2008 at Columbia Business School, the average age of matriculated applicants was 28. Applicants who are 31-years-old or older, in Columbia's case, probably would fall into the older applicant category.
  • There are several nuances to the "three-year rule" that beg attention: For one, adcoms don't judge all more experienced applicants equally. The reason why you are applying to b-school plays a significant role in your status as an older applicant. For example, if your work experience shows a lack of clarity in your career path (lots of career changes and zigzagging), then you'll be more likely to be less attractive than someone who has had a direct and straightforward career path.

What are some of the common concerns admissions committees have with older applicants?

  • Employability. More experienced applicants have a certain reputation as being difficult to place, post-MBA. In a tight employment market if two job applicants are equally qualified for a position, an employer in many industries is more likely to hire the younger candidate. MBA placement and recruiting programs are geared towards MBAs with less than eight years of full-time work experience. Schools fear they may have a harder time placing the student that doesnt fit the mold.
  • Lack of focus. Adcoms are concerned that since it took longer than usual for older applicants to find their career paths, and since they reached their newfound career goals by following a less-than-straight road, that they may suffer from a chronic lack of focus.
  • Set in their ways. Older applicants are reputed as being too set in their ways and not interested enough to fully absorb the "transformational experience" that MBA programs require of their students.

So now you know WHO an older applicant is and WHY his or her candidacy is challengednow what? What can you do as an older applicant to overcome these three obstacles and to prove to the adcoms that you're worthy of a seat in the next MBA class, despite (or maybe because of) your age and experience?

Stay tunednext week we'll present "How to Overcome the Three Obstacles Faced by Older Applicants."