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Am I Too Old to Get an MBA? What’s the Optimal Age?

Each year, millions of candidates prepare to secure spots in the world’s premiere MBA programs. The hard reality, though, is that only a handful get in. While factors like work experience, academic record, and test scores are some ways admissions panels distinguish between candidates, there are a number of other considerations.


For instance: does age matter? The short answer is no. However, your age might influence the way you present yourself in your application, so it’s absolutely something you should consider.


There’s no age limit on getting an MBA. You may be fresh out of college, or you might be twenty years into your career. No one is too young or too old to get an MBA, but your experience level is important.


For most business schools, your work experience matters more than your age. Admissions committees look for candidates who have a minimum of 2 years of professional experience. Work experience is gauged as a measure of how clear the candidate is about their motivation and career goals.


Is having too much experience a bad thing? The answer, again, is no. It’s actually a strength for more experienced candidates, if explained well in the application. There are many reasons why a candidate with a well-developed career might want an MBA. You need to show that in your application to prove your experience is valuable.


Business schools also look at the employability and career potential of their students. While this works well for students in their late twenties looking for a promotion or change, this is a more challenging factor for more experienced applicants.


Chances are that most MBA applicants in their 30s or later already have gainful employment, sometimes even in a senior role at their company. For those individuals, an MBA might not reap as many benefits as it would for their less experienced counterparts. Business schools will want to track your career growth as it helps their brand equity. With candidates already in senior roles, the possibility of an MBA giving you a significant push is lesser, and therefore, more risky.


So, when should you get an MBA?


Statistically, 27 and 28 year-olds make up the majority of class fellows in MBA colleges across the US. Europe is generally more open with age diversity when it comes to Masters programmes. The average age of an MBA candidate in Europe is closer to 30 or 31 years old.


That said, there still isn’t a hard and fast age to get an MBA. The questions older applicants need to ask themselves before beginning their MBA journey are just different. As an older applicant, what do you think the ROI on an MBA is, especially if you’re already employed in the field you want to be in? Do you have personal commitments you need to focus on? Will taking a two year break to study harm you financially?


As unfair as it can seem, older MBA candidates need to be twice as clear about how the MBA will actually improve their career. Business schools prefer students who know why they need the MBA and how it will help them grow. In this respect, younger aspirants are perceived to be more flexible and malleable in comparison to older candidates.


The positives, alternatives, and more…


If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking the odds aren’t in favour of older candidates. But if you are committed to getting a MBA, and if you are sure it’ll be of use in reaching your career goals, here are some sure advantages to be aware of that you’ll have as an older candidate -


  1. Your work experience, leadership positions, and extracurriculars all contribute to a great portfolio if you know what’s next for you.

  2. The network you come with is a major attraction for business schools. A good chunk of getting an MBA is also networking, and the network you come with can help fellow students build their careers.

  3. Your stories are your value. With the experiences you’ve had, writing an attractive SOP with great stories will be easy for you. Rest assured you’ll grab the eye of recruiters with your stories.


A major reason why 30-somethings make up only 1-10% of MBA classrooms worldwide is that many don’t apply to these programs. The reasons usually revolve around not being able to commit two years full time to an MBA course.


Top schools like Harvard have Executive MBA programs targeted at senior-level candidates. EMBA programs are usually not full time, and you get to learn while working, avoiding some of the usual demands of an MBA. Additionally, courses like Stanford Msx, MIT, and LBS Sloan are aimed at executives who are advancing to C suite positions, or who want to become business owners. These programs have emerged as great alternatives for traditional MBAs.


Remember, age should not limit you in your applications. Yes, for some schools there are optimal ages, but you need to look at programs that will do the most for you. Outline your goals and needs, and find the program that best helps you. Best of luck!


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