We at mbaMission often receive panicked phone calls from applicants in their late 20s, asking if they are too old to get into business school. Why do so many candidates have this concern?
Over the past decade or so, several top schools have declared their openness to younger candidates and have even been courting them. Harvard Business School has welcomed “direct admits” (those entering immediately after completing their undergraduate degrees) and started the 2+2 Program to encourage undergraduates to consider deferred acceptance. Chicago Booth followed suit and launched the Chicago Booth Scholars Program, which grants deferred admission to undergraduate seniors from all schools, in addition to various Early Career Candidate programs to attract candidates with one to three years of experience. Such schools as MIT Sloan and Northwestern Kellogg also offer deferred MBA programs. Although the Stanford Graduate School of Business does not publish the average age of its students, it does state that its students have an average of approximately four-and-a-half years of work experience. So, if you are an “older” candidate at 27, 28, 29, or—dare we even write it?—30, should you even bother applying?
First of all, we must note that not all schools have jumped on the bandwagon with admitting younger candidates. Dartmouth Tuck, for example, states on its Admissions FAQ page that “typically,” it does not accept applicants without work experience. The average work experience of students at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business is listed as four years, with a range of one to ten—meaning that the school typically does not accept direct admits, though the school notes on its website that it does not have an official minimum work experience requirement. Michigan Ross requires that students complete their undergraduate degree before applying, meaning that college seniors are ineligible.
However, if you are focused on a school that is open to younger candidates, you should still think logically about the situation: you cannot get any younger, so you can either self-select out of the application process or let the admissions committee read your application and make its own decision. Further, applicants should not confuse an openness to younger candidates with an aversion to older candidates. If you have something special to offer, you are still in the running—no secret cutoff is in play that would immediately eliminate you from the applicant pool.
As we have written before, business schools are governed by self-interest. They want the best candidates they can get! If you are among the best, your age will not be an obstacle.