Can you be too old for an MBA?

“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.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

2 Responses to Can you be too old for an MBA?

  1. Hi Conrad,
    thank you for these informative posts. I am very interesting in doing my MBA next year, and I’ve been offered a scholarship from my company (state-owned, large, and multi billion organisation). now I am doing my MSc in Engineering Mgmt at Warwick. I already have five years of extensive work experince (projects management role), I did chose this route (MSc then MBA) for purpose; instead of doing a traditional TWO year program in the same place, why not divide them into TWO programs from different institutions (bigger network), especially that I’ve been supported by my employer to do that. My question: I will finish my MSc in Sep’11, Do I have enough time to apply (and therefore start) for Cambridge MBA? (say in the last round).
    the alternative option is to do this at one of the schools where the admission is on rolling basis.

    • Sultan

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t see a problem per se, based on what you have written. Our staged admission process should not be a factor because if you apply before the last deadline, we will make a decision before your complete your MSc. if we do make you an offer, you have to be in Cambridge to start our MBA by 19th September 2011.