The average age of a first-year MBA student is 29—roughly the same as the average age of starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Yet at 43, Tom Brady secured his sixth Super Bowl win earlier this year. (Side note: As a New Englander, I’m still conflicted by the fact that Tom and Gronk play for Tampa Bay!) If Tom Brady can be a successful outlier, so can you!
If you are more than five years older than the average student in a top MBA program, you might be thinking, “How does the admissions committee think about me as an older candidate?” or “Is it going to be impossible or more competitive for me as an older applicant?”
Things to Consider as an Older MBA Candidate
Note: These align closely with how an admissions committee is evaluating your candidacy.
If you are in your mid-thirties, you likely have significantly more life experience than classmates who are five to eight years your junior. Similarly, you are farther along in your career and have cumulative professional experience to share with your classmates. But what will you learn from them? Will they push you to grow in ways that are meaningful to your personal and professional development? An MBA program is an opportunity to learn with and from your classmates. If you aren’t learning from others, you are missing out.
Let’s face it. You are much more mature now than you were in your late twenties. When your classmates are making plans for a beach or ski weekend that involves non-stop partying and late nights, would you join them? MBA programs are an opportunity to develop relationships both in the classroom and beyond the school walls. If you don’t engage socially with your cohort, you are missing out on building connections that you can leverage for years to come. I distinctly remember an admissions committee discussion about an older applicant who stood to the side during his campus visit and didn’t engage with any current students or other applicants. Despite his strong profile, he was not admitted.
Companies that recruit at top MBA programs have certain expectations regarding the job level into which they are hiring. With more than five years of experience beyond the average, what sort of role might you be recruited for? Furthermore, even if you are comfortable with taking a step back in terms of seniority in order to make a career change, how will you feel about having a manager who is several years your junior? Do you have the stamina to work the 70+ hour work weeks that are expected of investment bankers and consultants in their first years out of MBA programs? Admissions committees are considering this as they review your application. If you are one of the lucky older applicants, they might send your materials to the career center for insight.
If you have been out of college for more than a decade, chances are that you’re accustomed to a lifestyle that requires a certain level of income. Perhaps you have a partner or even a family. Are you ready to give that up and move into a dorm or apartment?
Nontraditional MBA Options
Because MBA programs are managed by businesspeople who are on the cutting edge of education, they are constantly evolving their offerings to meet the needs of their customers. Therefore, more seasoned applicants are in luck! Here are a few flexible options you might consider:
If you live in a major metropolitan area, it is likely that a local MBA program offers evening classes. Although it might take you more than two years to complete your degree, you won’t have to relocate, can continue with your job, will have opportunities to engage with students in the full-time program, and can leverage career resources to move your career forward.
Quite a few top MBA programs offer weekend programs. Your cohort will likely be based locally or regionally and include more seasoned professionals than a full-time program. With a smaller class, you will build very strong bonds with your classmates while also gaining access to school-wide resources such as clubs, conferences, career management professionals, and alumni. Depending on the school, weekend programs may meet on just Saturday or Friday/Saturday.
If you have roughly 10 years of work experience and are at the director level or above, there are a host of outstanding programs that you should consider. Some, like MIT’s Sloan Fellows and Stanford GSB’s MSx, are one-year, full-time programs. Others, like Duke Fuqua’s GEMBA and UPenn Wharton’s EMBA, are a mix of residencies and distance learning that allow you to stay in your current job while earning your degree. Regardless of the format, your peers will be seasoned executives like yourself.
How Do Nontraditional MBAs Compare?
Upon completion of these programs, you will get the same MBA degree that your younger peers receive from the full-time format.
Admission to flexible-option MBA programs is not as competitive as for full-time programs. In fact, in light of your more robust work experience, some programs even waive standardized testing requirements.
During your time in the program, you will take the same core curriculum and have access to most of the same electives taught by the same outstanding faculty. You will be surrounded by like-minded peers who are more advanced in their careers than the typical daytime MBA student.
Regardless of your age, Stratus Admissions Counseling can help you identify MBA programs that are the right fit and will move you toward your career aspirations. Keep in mind that Tom Brady has been playing professional football for more than two decades and has earned his spot on the Buccaneers’ starting roster; he isn’t just trying out for a starting position against players ten years his junior. Who knows… When Tom Brady retires from the NFL, perhaps he’ll want to pursue an MBA!