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

by on August 24th, 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-school—that 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 doesn’t 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 challenged…now 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 tuned—next week we’ll present “How to Overcome the Three Obstacles Faced by Older Applicants.”


  • Hi Linda,

    If there have been personal reasons to not having applied earlier, like family illnesses/responsibilities, should that be highlighted in the applications or in the interviews?

    Also there is the feeling that having to explain your reasons for not having taken the MBA earlier, as starting on a backfoot, a sort of a defensive attitude which I do not want to project. Or by addressing it repeatedly in the why MBA essays and optional essay, it looks like the older applicant is giving the issue more focus than projecting the positives?
    How do you think applicants should handle that?


  • i have an experience of 1 year. and i am currently doing MBA from IBA. I want to apply for a double MBA from USA or UK. do i have a chance or do i need more experience to apply for the regular MBA program ?

  • App2010,

    That is a little difficult to answer in a vacuum. It might be relevant to mention, but the primary thrust in answering any question on timing would be why now is right.

    I would certainly recommend repeatedly providing reasons why you didn't apply earlier. If in one place you said that you have wanted to go for the last 3 years, but couldn't because of X. Now X no longer is an issue and furthermore in the intervening time you have prepared in A,B,C ways, confirmed your goal, and are more committed to your goal and this educational path. In other words, don't be defensive or complain. State the facts and then make lemonade out of lemons.


  • Masood,

    I don't know what IBA is and am not sure what you mean by a double MBA. Perhaps you mean a second MBA. If you are currently enrolled in an MBA program, whatever it is, it will almost certainly make it harder for you to gain acceptance to a 2nd MBA program in the US or UK.


  • Thank you linda for your reply.
    IBA(Institute of business administration) is a TOP Business school in Pakistan.
    Yes, by double MBA i meant a second MBA. i was planning to apply in a different Major in my second MBA.
    I thought my experience and my MBA academics will actually help me in getting an admission in a US or UK university.
    Is there any rule or policy which states that a second MBA is not encouraged?

  • Hi Linda,

    Thank you for the timely post. I am looking to enroll into a regular MBA in 2012 when I will be 34 years old. I will have 12 years full-time work experience by then and I am looking for a one year MBA from among the top ten european colleges.

    The trouble is I already have an MBA from India which I completed in 2000 right after my undergarduation (no work experience required in India). I have worked in the commercial real estate industry all along, beginning with back-office operations, moving to consulting, then to commercial banking and now in private equity.

    I think the MBA of 2000 has equipped me accademically but falls short on the other aspects like, networking, soft skills etc. Do you think I can make a decent case for a regular MBA or am I chasing a rainbow.


  • Some schools will accept applicants who have an MBA. Others (like Haas; it came up at today's Q&A.) will not. If the school will consider you, you need to make the case as to why you need a 2nd degree. Brand cannot be the exclusive reason. You need to confirm that the school is willing to consider you, but if you get a "yes," it can be done.

    I realize you are interested in European schools. You will need to check with them individually.


    • Linda,

      Thank you for response. It is really helpful.


  • Hi,
    I'm 34 now and taking GMAT in Oct and planning to apply for next fall.
    I did my MS in Engineering from US right after my undergrad in 1998 and worked in US on and off for about 7 yrs and have 11 yrs of exp altogether.

    What is the best strategy(personal/professional) that I should use for my essays as I did back and forth between US and my home country, not once, but couple of times?

  • Venkat,

    I can't tell you what your specific best strategy is based on this short post. For general essay strategies, I recommend "The Roadmap to Bold and Brilliant Essays" at http://www.accepted.com/mba/BrilliantEssaysWebinar.aspx, or "Essays that Stick"(http://www.accepted.com/ecommerce/essaysthatstick.aspx ). If you are looking for a good book on the subject, check out "Great Application Essays for Business School" at http://www.accepted.com/Ecommerce/MBA/applicationessay.aspx .

    If you would like to consult with an Accepted editor about your particular essay strategy given your educational background, professional experience, and goals, please check out our editing and consulting services at http://www.accepted.com/services/mbaservices.aspx

  • Linda,
    Thanks for the article- I am at the far end of the spectrum. I'm 48 and have been in some part of the Architecture/Construction industry for 25 years. Based on the economy, I've been thinking of getting a Green MBA. I'm concerned in two years I'll be 50, have lots of debt and unable to find a job because of my age. Also, do you think the EMBA program would be better even though I'm not working full-time right now?


  • Hi Linda,
    I am 29 years old women with 6 years of experience in IT.
    I am writing GMAT this month. My question is waht are my chances of getting into one of the top BSchool in USA?

    To give you a little background about myself, I hold a bachelor's in Computer Science from India. Married for past 7 years and a mother of 2 year old. I have been working in USA in IT field since 2004.

    Please advice if my age and being a mom of a toddler work against me or will be unfavourable for me to get into top Bschool such as Harvard, MIT, Wharton,Kelloges, Columbia etc etc

    I really appreciate your response....

  • Deepshihka,

    While I can't assess your chances based on the above email -- there's simply not enough information -- I can tell you that being a mom will not hurt your chances. Having significantly more experience than typical at your target school could hurt your chances. That could be the case at Harvard for example, but probably is not the case at the other schools you mention.


  • Hi,
    I am studying 9th class. I had a great interest in MBA. I had searched in internet to see if there was a chance to do MBA. Could you suggest me any way ?

  • Divyanjali,

    Are you in 9th grade in high school? If so, get great grades, go to an outstanding college, assume leadership roles in sports, hobbies, and community service organizations, and try to get exposure to business.


  • Linda,

    I m 29 years old and working for a top investment bank in new york as a programmer for one of their trading desks for nearly 6 years. I already have a CFA but want to go back to school for an mba. I was going to apply last summer but had a family tragedy (my dad died) that prevented me from applying. Would i be considered too old by the time my application goes in later this year? I would have turned 30 at that point. I also didnt have the financial stability till last year to seriously consider an mba, so i really didnt have a choice till now to consider applying. Appreciate your feedback.

    Sumat R

  • Sumat,

    Look into programs with average age at matriculation of no less than 28 and you won't be "old." If you aim for programs with an average age of 26, you might be considered "old," or too experienced.

    Linda Abraham

  • Thanks Linda. Do you think i should bring up my dad's sudden passing in my application to explain the extra yr?

  • I thought about that question when I wrote my first answer and don't think I have enough info to say definitively now.

    If you apply to schools where the average age at matriculation is 28 or more, I would say there is no need to go into why you didn't apply last year. Just discuss what a great applicant you are.

    If you apply to schools that seem to prefer younger applicants, your focus should still be on what a great applicant you are for this particular program and discussing the year's delay could cut both ways. On one hand, it will explain why you are a little older, and on the other hand, it would highlight that you are a little older. They will understand and appreciate your sense of responsibility and take into consideration circumstances. However, that explanation will not necessarily help you demonstrate fit with the program. They won't give you an acceptance out of sympathy for your loss.



  • Hi Linda,
    Please accept my appreciation for providing such effective professional guidance to students.
    I am 40 years old and have a very successful and accomplished military carrier for 21 years. I will just give you a brief overview of my humble achievement. I have As a captain, I have lifted the Junior National Basket Ball Trophy. I have commanded the world's highest military base as a volunteer. Served in United Nations Forces and earned an outstanding report. I have also conceived and conducted the biggest military research project of my country. Now I plan to switch carrier and come to business world. I belong to a business family, running a successful real estate business. But before joining any business or job, I want to equip myself with world's best business knowledge. Perusing the same goal I just did masters in Project Management (3.9 GPA) so that could run successful projects. What do you think are my chances of getting into the top 10 business school. I request your kind advice that what type of MBA should I be looking for regular or EMBA (my preference is regular MBA)? Will I have to do GMAT and what score will be enough? and which schools be a realistic priority?

  • First, the easy question: Yes, you will need to take a GMAT or GRE, depending on the school you want to attend (just check on their web sites if you want to get an MBA from a top program. At this point, most accept scores from both tests, but confirm.

    Regarding your chances, given your military background and the fact that you intend to join a family business so you will not be relying on the school's placement center for a job, you may be one of those exceptional forty year olds who does have a chance at a full-time program.

    I also encourage you to consider the Sloan Fellows programs at London Business School, MIT Sloan, and Stanford. Excellent full-time programs aimed at people who are more advanced in their career. They may be quite interested in someone like you and you may like the education provided better.


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