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The Age Question- Can you be too old or young for an elite MBA?

One look at the beauty aisle of your local pharmacy will show you just how much modern society values youth over age. Products scream “anti-aging!” and vow to make you look 10 years younger in two minutes.

Models are young and beautiful, and Photoshop is always there to do away with even the slightest wrinkle. The anti-aging sentiment is powerful (it’s also problematic, but I won’t go into that here.)

Instead, I would like to talk about age and the MBA. I have had so many students approach me, essentially asking if B-Schools are the same as the pharmacy beauty aisles. Do they value youth over age? Is there an ideal age to apply to an MBA program? When are you “too old”?


In two words, the answer is, “it depends.” I know that’s frustrating. Most people just want me to give them a number, but it’s not that simple. The average age of an MBA candidate tends to hover around 27. However, there are so many successful candidates who fall further from that average, on the upper and lower end of the spectrum. If that describes you, you are far from out of the running. You should, however, take a closer look at the programs you are applying to and how you are presenting yourself.

Older candidates (30 and above) might want to consider programs whose age range tends to skew upwards, such as IMD Business School, where the average student age is 31. One-year programs tend to have a slightly older age range, and can also make more sense for professionals who are established in their career and do not want to take too much time away from it. Younger candidates, on the other hand, might be better off considering traditional two-year programs, where they will be able to gain summer internship experience.

In addition to informing your list of schools, age should play a role in how you tailor your application. For older candidates, admissions officials are going to wonder why you have not gotten an MBA before and why you want one now. These candidates must clearly show the thought process that led to their decision, and precisely articulate what they hope to get out of the experience. You need to have a defined idea of where you have been and where you are going.


For younger candidates, admissions officials will question if you have enough experience to truly add value to their classroom. If you are a few years younger than average, you will need strong leadership qualifications and experiences, and your application should show maturity for your age. Leadership positions, independent projects and community involvement can all help to make up for fewer years work experience. If you do not have such qualifications yet, it might be best to wait a year or two before applying.

Ultimately, schools simply want the best possible students, and as with other types of diversity, they value diverse age ranges. Old or young, applicants must prove that their experiences are on par with other students, and that they will bring an interesting, valuable perspective to the discussion. If you can prove that, then age truly is just a number.

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