Advice for Older MBA Applicants
Who are “Older MBA Applicants?”
MBA candidates tend to have between 2 and 9 years of work experience when they matriculate (start the MBA program). The average is around 5 years. Using this context, "older" typically means someone with 5 to 9 years of work experience.
As an older applicant at the top of that range, your chances of an admit are slimmer. That’s because there tends to be a lot of older applicants competing over a relatively small number of places in the cohort. In this article, we’ll explain what you can do as an older applicant to maximize your chances of a successful admit.
Years of Work Experience, Not Age
There are ways to mitigate many potential negatives on your application, but you can’t fake your age. Luckily, calendar age is not necessarily as big a concern for MBA applications as some people think.
That’s because for MBA, it’s years of work experience that they care about. Specifically, how many years of paid, full-time work. As a result, you may have some flexibility when calculating your work experience. For example, depending on the criteria you may be able to omit some internships, part-time work, volunteer work, or other similar activities from the clock. Not sure what is OK to take out? Our consultants can advise you.
There are plenty of reasons why people might be older in calendar age and yet fit a standard profile (that is, they are not technically Older Applicants): for example, if they completed mandatory military service, extra years at undergrad, a Masters program in their field, etc.
Next, let’s look at some ways to use your age and years of work experience to your advantage in MBA applications.
Highlight Your Maturity
As an older applicant, you’ve spent more time in the working world. This means you have probably managed teams, budgets and projects. You may also have more soft skills. You will likely provide diversity of outlooks and opinions.
Furthermore, having to produce work in senior roles on a business timeframe (as opposed to the more relaxed academic timeframe) also speaks well for your performance in the MBA program. Age tends to correlate with responsibility, and that includes academic responsibility. Despite being out of school for a long time, older students tend to make conscientious, diligent students.
Finally, there is a real advantage to having an “adult in the room”. Emphasize this during your application process. The professors and AdComs know the advantages of mature students and want to see that you understand these advantages, because these can be your superpowers.
Focus on Your Skills, Especially Managerial Experience
As an older applicant, you should have more skills and relevant experience. Explain how this additional experience has led you to pursue an MBA at this point. Be clear, thorough, and reflective about these experiences: list concrete accomplishments, the more numbers the better. Demonstrate that you had managerial experience, ideally of people.
Managerial experience is particularly important for Older Applicants. It’s one of the few skills that, realistically, only older applicants can contribute. If you have not actually managed people, find something that you have managed, such as budgets or projects. If you haven’t got managerial experience, then it may be a good time to go find some. One option is to get some through extracurriculars, much as a candidate who is younger than average would.
Finally, older applicants are perceived to be less tech-savvy than younger applicants (even though this is not necessarily true). As an older applicant it’s good to show them that you’re still up to speed on technology. For example, by referring to the software you use in your resume or essays.
Why an MBA Now?
For older applicants, it’s especially important to demonstrate why you wish to pursue an MBA now. The implied question here, cruel as it is, is “why didn’t you do this when you were the normal age?” You need a bulletproof reason for why now is the moment to pursue your MBA.
For example: “This year, I was a part of the team that built the business case for our expansion into the oncology market. It was thrilling because I felt like I was making an impact, but also opened my eyes to my skill gaps, particularly relating to strategy. I need the strategic frameworks from an MBA to enable my transition into a full-time strategy role.”
Try to avoid vague statements about how you would like to broaden your horizons or expand your experience. The AdComs have heard all this fluff before, probably several times already today. Give them something interesting, memorable, and compelling.
Do Your Research
As an older applicant, it is especially important to select a program that fits what you want to do. Make sure that your career goals align with the goals and ethos of the school. Speak to alums and see whether the school seems like a place where it would be fun to spend a year or two of your life.
Consider 1-year programs. These don’t have a summer break for internships, and so tend to have older cohorts that know what they want to do.
Research the school’s culture, including extracurriculars, and suggest ways that you would like to get involved. When you find the right fit with a school, there’s a good chance you’ll find a good argument, based on your interface with the school culture itself, to turn your extra work experience into an advantage rather than a drawback.
Remember, ranking factors such as employability coming out of a program can also work to your advantage. If you can suggest that this particular program will allow you to find work more effectively than others, whether through internship programs or the alumni network, note this.
Consider Mid-Career Programs
If you’re an older applicant, you should also consider mid-career programs. These are programs offered by certain schools that sit in the middle between a standard MBA and an EMBA. Examples of popular mid-career programs include the MIT Sloan Fellows programs, the Stanford MSX, and the USC IBEAR MBA.
If you have even more experience but are looking for a full-time program rather than an EMBA, then the Sloan programs are worth looking into: they have an average of 19 years’ management experience.
It is true that extra work experience might make you something of an outlier within your cohort. Mitigating the potential downsides, in the school’s mind, of these extra years is important. But even more important is to highlight what you bring as a result of your wealth of experience, and how this will benefit the school.
Still wondering whether to apply or not? Then book a 20-min chat with any of our consultants and get some advice.