How to Overcome the Three Obstacles Faced by Older Applicants:

by on August 30th, 2010

Last week we discussed who falls into the “older applicant” category and mentioned the three common concerns adcoms have when considering a more experienced applicant’s candidacy. Today we’re going to discuss how older applicants can optimize their candidacies by overcoming each of those three concerns.

1. Employability.

An older job applicant may lose out to a younger applicant with the same qualifications when competing for jobs. Therefore, you’re going to need to show b-school adcoms that because of your age, you have a distinct advantage over the younger candidate and that they can cross out the “difficult to place” concern from their lists.

You’ll explain your advantage in two ways through your application essays:

  • Describe your plan. In practical and spelled out terms, describe step-by-step your post-MBA career plan. What are some companies or types of companies that you might work for? What are some of the expected responsibilities of your goal position? What are some of the expected challenges? How do you plan on overcoming those challenges? What is your plan of action?
  • Describe your resourcefulness. There must be something you’ve learned over the years that puts you at an advantage over your younger peers. For example, additional years out in the work force must have helped you build your contact list. Discuss how your wider network will aid your post-MBA job search. Demonstrate enhanced “employability.” Ease of placement is especially also important for older career changers—your description of your marketability and “positioning” could literally single-handedly save you from the reputation of “difficult to place.”

2. Lack of focus.

Maybe it took you longer than average to find your professional “fit,” but your point here should be that you found it. That along the way you’ve benefited from extra insight into your interests and passions, as well as into your strengths and weaknesses.

Here are some specific tips to help you counteract the notion that your zigzagging career path evidences lack of focus:

  • Why an MBA? Why now? You’re going to need to succinctly and convincingly answer these questions—and no, “desiring change” or “reaching a plateau” won’t cut it. You’re going to need to connect the why an MBA and why now questions with delineated, concrete goals. What are some skills that you need for your particular career goal that you will only receive through a rigorous MBA program? How will your target MBA program help you achieve your realistic goals?
  • Clarify in your goals essay. Your challenge here will be to link your career experience to your future career goals. Don’t just summarize your experience; you’re going to need to be selective and choose specific career experiences that link directly and logically to your goals.

3. Set in your ways.

Until this point I’ve talked about how important it is to prove to the adcoms that you have concrete goals; but since older applicants have a reputation of being too set in their ways and unwilling to budge, you’re going to need to express a simultaneous concreteness and willingness and openness to change. A challenge, yes, but a surmountable one at that. You can show your openness to new ideas when you discuss your goals or when you talk about your non-work activities. Also, needless to say, the fact that you’ve decided to pursue a full-time MBA at this point should automatically show that you’re open to change.

One final tip: Stay positive! If you follow the above tips to counteract the difficult reputation that precedes more experienced applicants, and if you develop a strong, effective essay strategy, then you’ll have no trouble turning these obstacles into assets and gaining admission to your dream MBA program.


  • I've actually found that many schools welcome older applicants because of the work experience they bring to an MBA program. A diversity of backgrounds adds a lot to the experience of all members of an MBA class, and the real-world knowledge and experience of older applicants can be a big part of that.

    H. Silverman
    Silverman GMAT Prep

  • great article Linda, thanks for the advice!

  • You're welcome Lodhi! Thanks for the feedback.

  • What is the line which set apart an older applicant? Thanks for the article.

  • There is no hard and fast definition. My personal guideline is 3 or more years of work experience above the average amount of work experience for the full-time MBA program that you are aiming to apply to. So if the average amount of work experience is 4 years and you have 7, you are an older applicant. If the average amount of work experience is 5 and you have 8, you are an older applicant.

    • Thank you Linda for the great article!! I just had a quick question.I am a bit older - will be 30 next month but have about 4/5 yrs of work experience. A few gaps due to personal reasons...will the no of years or age be the main criterion?

  • Roshni,

    No. The amount of work experience is the main criteria. It is illegal in the US to discriminate based on age. Also, amount of work experience is really the relevant issue, not age.


  • Thanks very much, Linda.Really appreciate your sharing your insights with us.

  • Thanks for the great article. As an older applicant, I have one question - aside from addressing these concerns indirectly in essays, is it important to address this directly in an optional essay?


  • Harini,

    That really depends on the specifics of your application and situation, but in general I would rather see you address these issues in the course of your required essays than end your essays with an optional that addresses them directly but also magnifies the age/fit issue.


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