The average age of a first-year MBA student is less than 28—roughly the same as the average age of starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Yet at 44, Tom Brady is still playing the game that he loves. (Side note: As a New Englander, I’m still conflicted by the fact that Tom plays 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 wondering, “How does the admissions committee think about me as an older candidate?” or “Will it be impossible for me to gain admission as an older applicant, or will I be more competitive?”
Things to Consider as an Older MBA Candidate
Note: These align closely with how an admissions committee evaluates 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-plus-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 up your well-paying job and comfortable home to 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. For individuals in the Chicagoland area, both evening and weekend options are available. Consider exploring Northwestern Kellogg’s Evening & Weekend MBA program, which offers traditional and accelerated tracks, and Chicago Booth’s Part-Time MBA program, which provides similar flexibility to complete your degree on your own schedule. In northern California, look at the Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA; the school recently announced a new flexible option that doesn’t require you to be on campus. In southern California, check out USC Marshall’s MBA Professionals & Managers (MBA.PM) program, which offers options of Monday/Wednesday, Tuesday/Thursday, and Saturday class schedules. In the Metro DC area, the UVA Darden Part-Time MBA program typically holds classes on Monday and Thursday evenings, leaving you the weekends to relax (or study!).
Quite a few top business schools 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 on Friday and Saturday. If you are in New York City, Columbia Business School’s EMBA offers both a Friday/Saturday and a Saturday-only option, while NYU Stern has several options including Saturday only. Older professionals in the Metro DC area can consider Georgetown’s FlexMBA part-time program.
If you have roughly ten years of work experience and are at the director level or above, there are many outstanding MBA programs to consider. Some, such as MIT’s Sloan Fellows, Stanford GSB’s MSx, and USC’s IBEAR, are one-year, full-time programs. Others, including UPenn Wharton’s Executive MBA, with cohorts in Philadelphia and San Francisco, and Duke Fuqua’s Global Executive MBA, with periodic residencies around the globe, allow you to stay in your current job while earning your degree. Regardless of the format, your peers will be seasoned executives like yourself.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the availability of online curricula at many top business schools. Now it is possible to get an online MBA (with some in-person opportunities) at Michigan Ross, Berkeley Haas, and UNC Kenan-Flagler. These programs offer the maximum in flexibility as you retool to take your career to the next level.
How Do Nontraditional MBAs Compare?
Upon completion of these programs, you will earn 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 as your full-time counterparts and have access to many 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 or 15 years his junior. Who knows… When Tom Brady REALLY retires from the NFL, perhaps he’ll want to pursue an MBA!