Some people plan out their lives with robotic precision, including things such as graduate school in a pre-determined place on the schedule. Others adopt a take-life-as-it-comes approach, and place graduate school on the back burner, waiting until it feels right to go back. But is there an ideal age to apply to business school?
The better question to ask is, what is your own ideal age to apply? When writing your applications, it is important not only to know the answer to this question, but also to be able to explain why, because schools are desperate to cut down on the applicant pool, and there is no better reason to cut someone than they can’t articulate why the time is right for them to come back to school. If you can’t convince them your application is age appropriate, you will quickly be invited to come back next year.
Unlike law school, medical school and virtually every other Masters level grad program out there, business school applicants rarely go back straight out of undergrad.
This essentially eliminates applicants of age 22-23 years. Now this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find admissions success if you are this young, it just means the stats are working against you. Again, if you can demonstrate why 22 is the best time for you to return to grad school, you might just get in, but because business schools like to see several years of full time work experience, you will face challenges.
Many applicants look to averages, not only for age statistics, but also for test scores, GPAs and just about anything else you can quantify. The average age of MBA applicants is around 27.5, so if you are between 26 and 29, you are right in the sweet spot. Applying during this window is generally a good idea, mostly because it’s what the schools expect to see. Even if you feel you may not be 100% ready for business school, you might find a more accommodating admissions committee during this age window because they expect you to be ready. It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy. This isn’t to say that a 28-year old with inadequate experience will beat out a better-prepared 30 year old, because the profile will generally trump the age every time.
But what if you are 30 years old already?
The 30-year old milestone has become a bit of a wall for business school. Especially among the top schools, there is a bit of a stigma against 30-somethings going back “so late,” because the perception is that they were not as aggressive or ambitious as they should have been to hit goals and progress in their careers. If it took them so long to get ready for school, how long will it take them to hit their post-MBA career vision? Schools don’t like taking the risk that their alumni will fail to make headlines and climb the corporate or entrepreneurial success ladder in a timely matter.
Despite this generality, there are plenty of successful 30+ year old applicants to business school.
In a way, schools having an age bias in the application process is a bit of a conundrum, since you’d think schools would value the extra experience and wisdom that assumedly comes with age. Applicants over 30 who do find success are typically those with a clearly articulated plan which included some extra time in the work force. Having good reasons for more time in the field can go a long way in the application process vs. someone who can’t articulate such and seems to be pulling out of the workforce and going back to school as a way to defibrillate a suffocating career trajectory.
How about folks who are far older than 30? Is there any hope for finding acceptance at a good school?
The short answer is absolutely yes, although it may limit your choices. There are schools with a more inflexible age bias than others. HBS and Stanford, for example, trend towards a younger average student body, so if you are 30++, your time spent crafting thoughtful applications would probably be better spent elsewhere. There have been MBA candidates in their 60’s at some top schools which, while definitely out of the ordinary, proves that schools are truly open to all possibilities in order to round out their class makeup. In the end, there is no true “correct” age from the admissions committees’ perspectives, only a “correct” age for each applicant. Ensuring you are applying at the correct age for you is what is most important.