For professionals who love to learn new things and continually look for ways to grow within their field, it’s normal to consider going back to school. Postsecondary education is an excellent way to fill gaps in your knowledge and elevate your understanding of topics within your industry.
Those who work in the business sector — be it consultants, financial analysts, managers, or anything in between — can turn to business school to pursue advanced degrees as a way to upgrade their skills and make themselves more competitive when applying for promotions or negotiating a raise.
However, returning to school to advance your skills can be daunting, especially if it’s been a while since you were last a student. This article will answer the question “Am I too old for an MBA?” and help you determine which type of MBA program is the best option for you. You’ll also receive tips on how to make your application stand out as a mature applicant.
Do I Need an MBA?
Possessing an MBA can have significant benefits for your career. For starters, MBA programs are an excellent way to upgrade your skills and improve your on-the-job abilities. Skills acquired through an MBA program can result in better performance reviews and open the door to promotions within your company.
The networking opportunities available within MBA programs also allow you to create valuable connections to others within your industry and potentially lead you to senior management or C-level opportunities at other organizations.
Along with increasing your competitiveness when a promotion comes up, an MBA is sometimes a requirement to be considered for the position. MBA holders also tend to receive significantly higher annual compensation compared to their non-MBA colleagues
Different Kinds of MBA Programs
There are a few types of MBA programs you should know about to determine which program is the right fit for you. The traditional MBA is a full-time program found at most, if not all, business schools. Most students in these programs are in their 20s and have significantly less work experience compared to applicants over the age of 30.
Traditional MBA programs are a full-time commitment, which makes it incredibly challenging to work a full-time job at the same time. As a result, most MBA students don’t work full-time while in school and can fully immerse themselves in the MBA experience. The programs are typically two-year programs.
Since the programs are full-time, it makes it impossible to hold a full-time job at the same time. For this reason, the programs are more appealing to younger students who seek higher academic qualifications before entering the workforce.
Executive education, such as an Executive MBA program, is another way to pursue an advanced business degree when you’re a seasoned professional. An Executive MBA is a program designed for individuals who already have well-established careers, significant work experience, and who will continue to work full-time throughout their studies.
These programs hold in-person classes only on Friday nights and weekends, with classes typically being held every other week. Most of the top programs incorporate global study periods where you spend a week in another country gaining hands-on experience with business practices in that country.
Executive MBA programs are more expensive than traditional MBA programs, but since you’re working full-time throughout the program, your company may be willing to sponsor your education and pay for some or all of the cost. Executive MBA students are typically older since most programs require a minimum number of years of work experience to be considered for admission.
Deferred MBA programs are an option for those who are not ready to enter an MBA program but want to have a space waiting for them. These programs allow you to apply for an MBA program during a regular application cycle but defer your starting date upon acceptance.
However, these programs are typically geared towards young professionals who do not yet have the required work experience and will begin the program once they have the experience. This means it’s likely you would be in class with individuals significantly younger than you.
Another option that may be more desirable than deferred programs is a part-time MBA program. Unlike a full-time MBA, you do not need to put your career on hold to pursue the degree. These part-time programs are sometimes called Professional MBAs or Full Employed MBAs and are designed for students who hold a full-time job but are not in a senior leadership position.
Part-time programs allow you to better balance your personal life and allow you to keep your full-time job, with some rearrangements to meet the needs of your class schedule. Some of the top part-time MBA programs include Booth, Berkeley Haas, and UCLA.
Average Age of MBA Applicants at Top Business Schools
Anyone of any age can be considered for admission into an MBA program as long as they meet the academic and professional requirements established by a given school. That said, there will still be average ages of those admitted into the program, which tends to be in the late 20s for most full-time MBA programs.
The table below provides information on the average age of new students in some of the top MBA programs in the country.
Am I Too Old for an MBA?
Although most incoming MBA classes have an average age in the late 20s, you’re never too old to apply to business school. Age is not a criterion considered in the admissions process. If you have the academic and professional experience required, you’re old enough to apply for an MBA.
Your age and experience can also give you a couple of advantages. You will have more time in the workforce, which means you will have more experiences to draw upon to answer essay and interview questions. Younger applicants will be limited in the number of experiences they can discuss, so your stories can really impress the admissions committee.
Factors to Consider Before Applying
There are many factors to consider before applying to any MBA program. It is a huge commitment of your time, energy, and finances, so you have to make sure you select the most promising programs to get you where you want to go while providing you with a worthwhile experience along the way.
Your initial response to the factors outlined below can help you decide which program is the best fit for you.
All business schools will need an unofficial test score to accompany your application to an MBA program. Typically, business schools will want a GMAT or GRE score, but this depends on the school and program preference. Some schools may prefer that you take the Executive Assessment, particularly if you’re applying to an Executive MBA. All of these tests will require a significant time commitment to prepare adequately.
Schools will generally accept scores from tests taken within the last five years, so you will have some time to schedule a test and establish a study plan leading up to the date. However, you will need to consider the time commitment the standardized test(s) require and whether you can dedicate the study time required to get a good score on the GMAT or any other test you plan to take.
Educational and Professional Background
Your educational and professional background are factors to consider when contemplating your MBA options. You will need at least an undergraduate degree to apply to an MBA program. The grades on your transcript also matter; business schools, especially the most competitive schools, will want to see high grades and a strong cumulative GPA.
Each school makes the average GPA of each incoming class available, so you should check the schools you want to apply to see their average GPA. If your GPA falls within that average or above, you’re in good standing to compile an impressive academic portion of the application.
The business schools you apply to should also be a compatible fit with your industry. For instance, if a school you’re considering has a high percentage of students from the IT and engineering fields and you work in healthcare, it may not be the best use of your time to pursue that program. It would be wiser for you to apply to schools with more to offer healthcare professionals and offer specialization opportunities in healthcare management.
If you don’t want to leave your current job in the next year, then a part-time MBA may be a more viable option for you, as you wouldn’t have to give up your job within a few months, if at all. This will help finance your education.
MBA programs are incredibly costly to attend, and the price tag only goes up if you want to attend an M7 or Ivy League business school. You will need to ensure you have the means to pay for the program, which includes saving up, applying for loans or scholarships, or asking your organization for partial or full sponsorship.
However, companies will only consider sponsorship while you’re currently employed, so this option would not work if you attend a traditional full-time MBA.
Tips for Applying to Business School as a Mature Applicant
It’s still possible to be accepted into business school even if you are above the average age of the incoming class. Still, it’s only possible if you put together an impressive application that reflects your knowledge, abilities, and accomplishments. Below are some tips that will help you put together a strong business school profile as a mature applicant.
1. Clearly articulate your career goals and what you hope to get out of the program.
As a mature applicant, there will be great expectations that you know what you want to do upon completing the MBA, so it’s important you formulate a clear plan and articulate it throughout your application.
2. Have realistic goals for your post-MBA career.
Setting these goals is especially pertinent if you plan to use the MBA to change your career. Temper your goals immediately following graduation, as changing careers will likely require you to take a lower-level position and, therefore, a lower salary. If your goals right after the MBA program are too lofty, this may deter the admissions committee from accepting.
3. Select interesting stories to tell in your applications and interviews that also highlight your accomplishments.
Similar to having a clear post-grad plan, the admissions committee wants to hear intriguing stories while you answer essay and interview questions. Your experiences will provide you with a large repertoire of examples to draw on, so use that to your advantage and pick the best ones to elaborate on.
4. Explain why you’ve decided to apply for an MBA now.
Admissions committees will be curious about why you waited to apply for business school, so you should satisfy their curiosity. Every mature applicant has their reason(s) for applying later in their career, but these reasons will range from military service, small business pursuits, and pursuing other advanced degrees.
5. Demonstrate your eagerness to learn.
Admissions committees may worry that older students are too set in their ways and may not be receptive to change, making it difficult to teach you and place you in a co-op or internship. You want to put the admissions committee at ease by showing them you are invested in the learning opportunities within the program.
6. Focus on the positive aspects of why you’ve decided to apply.
The admissions committee will be more receptive to hearing that you want to better yourself to achieve larger goals or that you want to make an impact in a new industry. They won’t be impressed to hear that you’ve tired of your current role or industry, and bringing this up won’t improve your odds of being accepted.
1. Can I apply for a school’s MBA program if I’m older than their average admission age?
Yes, you can apply for an MBA even if you’re older than the school’s average age. Business schools have academic prerequisites and work experience requirements you need to meet to be considered. As long as you have those, you’re eligible to apply.
2. When is the right time to apply for an MBA program?
Although most full-time MBA candidates pursue the degree early on in their careers, there is no hard and fast rule regarding when the right time to apply for an MBA is. The right time to apply for an MBA is when it makes the most sense in your life. You will likely need to explain your rationale for waiting to pursue an MBA after many years in the workforce and having a compelling reason will help your application shine.
3. What do I need to do differently for my application as a mature applicant? Are there additional documents I will have to submit?
It is not a requirement to submit additional documents as a mature applicant, but there are some differences in how you should approach the application components everyone must complete. Your resume should highlight your achievements in each position listed, and your essays should describe the most compelling stories you have from all of your years of experience.
4. Will I seem unfocused by applying for an MBA over the age of 40?
Some admissions committee members may think this when reviewing your application. Still, this concern can easily be put to rest by sharing a compelling and persuasive story outlining your professional development, leading up to your decision to attend business school.
5. What’s the most important job skill I should focus on in my application?
Admissions committees expect older applicants to possess exceptional leadership skills, so this should be at the forefront of your application. You’ll want to ensure you have strong leadership stories included in your application. Showing how you’ve progressed within your organization will also demonstrate your leadership development.
6. How can I be sure that I am using my experience to its fullest advantage?
While reviewing your application, you’ll want to ensure your profile is competitive, and that the admissions committee will be intrigued by what you wrote. That said, consulting an expert is the best way to ensure your experience is showcased in the best possible way and to awe the admissions committees.
The bottom line is that you are never too old for an MBA. Lifelong learning is crucial for skill development, and your pursuit to be better in your line of work will not go unnoticed or unappreciated. However, there are some key distinctions in how you frame your MBA application as a mature applicant.
Your resume should highlight your achievements within your roles while also demonstrating your tenacity and growth as a professional. Your letters of recommendation and essays should indicate your potential for further growth, whether it’s in your current industry or a different one.
It is also a good idea to have an admissions expert review your application to be certain you’ve put your best foot forward. Now that the question of “Am I too old for an MBA?” has been answered for you, you’re ready to begin preparing applications for the MBA programs that best suit your needs.
About Inspira Futures
At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.