Are You Too Old For An MBA?

Am I too old for business school? Not necessarily! In this video, Angela Guido breaks down the logic that top business schools use to match candidates to their programs, and yes, that includes deciding whether an applicant is just a little too long in the tooth. But we’ve coached successful candidates well into their 40s! How does that work?

If only there were a video where you could find out? Oh wait!!! Now there is.

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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Hi, I'm Angela Guido, the founder of Career Protocol, and if you're new to our channel, what I'm doing here is debunking all the MBA nonsense that's out there in the universe. So naturally, I'm going to help you decide if you are too old for business school because this is one of the biggest myths that's propagated by just about everyone, including a lot of admissions consultants, including alumni, including the interwebs. There's a lot of misinformation out there about age and the MBA application.

Age Is Just A Number (Irrelevant In the MBA Admin Process)

So, the first thing to understand about age and the MBA is that chronological age is virtually irrelevant to the application process. Schools will know your age. They ask questions about when your birthday is and all that, but they literally do not care how old you are. What they care about is that you are going to be a contributing and benefiting member of their community. And since business schools tend to converge around a student body (this is full-time top MBA programs), or full-time top MBA programs tend to converge around a student body that has between three and five years of pretty serious work experience. To be a contributing member to that community, you need to have some work experience. You don't have to have worked in business. You could have been a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, an opera singer. You could have had any career to date, but you need to have had some serious experience that is business-adjacent. Musicians, for example, frequently apply to business school because they've actually begun their own entrepreneurial endeavor, either with a school, they're teaching music, they're trying to brand themselves and scale their operations, etc. They're involved in commerce in some way. Otherwise, the MBA wouldn't be useful to you. You could think of it as like a finishing school for people who've already begun a career in business. You have to have worked already for the learnings of the MBA to really sink in and be meaningful to you.

It Comes Down To Experience, Rather Than Age

So this is why we see most full-time programs have a student body around three to five years into their career. So what does this mean? If you are twelve or fifteen years into your career, if you're on the older side? What it means is, that if you have too much experience, you're likely not going to benefit as much from the MBA program because some percentage, let's call it 50% of your learnings (at some schools it's even more than that) is happening peer-to-peer. You're actually learning from your classmates. So if you are double the length into the same career as someone who has only four or five years of experiences, if you've continued on that trajectory and you've doubled that amount of experience, the question is, really, what are you going to learn from someone who's so junior to you in their career? So, this is why executive programs exist. Because there are people who work hard, advance their career, and then later in their career, they wake up and they say “Wait a minute. I want more education, I want to uplevel myself.”, and so that's the reason that executive programs exist. So if you have been in a serious career for ten, twelve, fifteen, twenty years, then you're going to want to look at the executive MBA programs and not the full-time programs.

Sometimes Career Advancement Naturally Happens More Slowly

Now here are the exceptions. So this is why chronological age really, really doesn't matter. So there are certain fields where advancement just happens more slowly. This is true in a lot of technology companies or engineering roles. The progression is a bit slower. You're not moving up the ranks every one to two years, it's more every three to five years, and so you actually are building a strong career as an engineer slowly, slowly. Likewise, in law and medicine, it sometimes just takes a while for you to build that track record of experience that's going to make the MBA relevant to you. Likewise, military applicants. Some of the chronologically oldest successful candidates that we've worked with are in the military, because military experience is not business experience, it's leadership training. That leadership training is universally applicable in any job you're going to get post-MBA but it's not like working fifteen years at McKinsey, where at that point, there's just no point in getting an MBA because you've already pretty much learned everything that you would learn from your peers in a full-time program.

MBAs Can Be Beneficial To People Of All Ages

So no one is too old to get an MBA. The question is really, which MBA program is going to give you the most valuable experience vis-à-vis what you've already learned in your career. So, calibrate yourself against the years of full-time, legitimate hardcore work experience that you've had and map that with the averages of the schools that you're applying to, and that will give you a really good sense of which MBA programs are going to be the best fit for you, given the amount of experience you have, irrelevant of your chronological age. One last thing to consider is part-time programs. So there's like executive programs, which is for people that are deep into their career. There’s full-time residential programs, that's for people who are a bit more green, first three to five years of their career, maybe six or seven years. Then there's the part-time programs, which is a broader range. Part-time programs typically include people that are earlier and also later in their career. They're a bit more flexible in terms of how they think about the class mix vis-à-vis experience, because the experience itself is more diverse anyway. So don't neglect part-time programs if you are a little bit more on the experienced side and don't feel like you're ready for an executive MBA program.

So that's it. The answer is no, you are not too old to go to business school. You just have to choose the program that fits your experience set best and therefore is going to give you the most of what you need to advance your career in whatever direction you want to go, that's inspiring you to pursue the MBA in the first place.

Let’s have a conversation!

Talk to us.

Angela Guido

Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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