“It might be better for you if you did not apply to our MBA.”
That’s what representatives from two MBA programs told one prospective candidate.
Now, I am a firm believer in being clear about the people you don’t want on your program and, in many cases, communicating that forcefully. However, what shocked me was the reason they gave for their assessment. They assessed that the candidate was of an age when it would be difficult for their career services to place him in a job within 3 months after graduation, or place him in a job that would give him a sufficiently high salary increase. Their main concern was the impact that this would have on their school’s rankings.
Coincidentally, Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times replied today to someone who has been rejected by several MBA programs because he was too old (he is 61).
At this point, I should say that I can’t comment on either candidate. But it does seem to me that MBA rankings have become such a powerful signal to candidates of a school’s quality they are now driving admissions behaviour in unhealthy ways. While schools owe it to their students to offer strong career services infrastructure, a blind focus on rankings at the admissions stage can only lead to a decrease in diversity as schools only admit students who have the necessary credentials to move into high-paying industries.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we should ignore a candidate’s career goals when making an admission decision. However, the admissions decision has to revolve around questions regarding the candidate’s overall quality and what he or she would bring to the class, rather than the impact on the careers aspects of rankings. In many cases, a candidate’s quality (however you choose to measure it) is linked to their possible careers outcome, but in admissions, I distinguish between the two factors. In cases where we are happy with a candidate’s quality and feel they would make a strong contribution to the class, but are unsure if he or she could meet their career objective, we typically extend an offer of admission and I personally call the candidate to explain our concerns. The candidate is then free to make their own decision whether to accept our offer or not.
As a last thought, while I am not making any assessment of the 61-year old candidate, I would like to say that we have had students in their late 40s on our MBA who brought interesting work experience and insights to the programme.