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Younger, Older, Just Right: The Widening Age Range of MBA Students

May 17, 2019 :: Alex Collazo

Last season, we encountered a novel problem with one of our deferred admissions program clients. The young man had written about his desire to attend networking events on campus, and we encouraged him to get more specific.

We suggested a happy hour series in his industry that he could research and mention in the essay. Our client replied “This looks like a cool event, but are you sure I’ll be allowed to attend? I don’t turn 21 until December.”

After taking a moment to feel shockingly old, we told our client it would probably be fine. Our consultants hadn’t been carded at the door of any MBA event, and even if the client was, he would be able to attend after December. It worked out: the client recently accepted an offer at a top five deferred admissions program. Our young man will start his MBA in September—at the age of 20.

This is not common, but it is becoming more so. MBA programs open to college seniors are still fairly new: Yale introduced Silver Scholars 18 years ago, a response to Harvard’s first deferred admissions program. For the first decade or so, the number of admitted students was very small (at Yale, a half dozen students or less). But things began to take off around 2010 with the introduction of the Harvard 2+2 program and the expansion of Silver Scholars. College seniors are now a significant percentage of the admitted MBA class at many elite U.S. B-schools.

What does this mean for the classroom?

Career professionals with years of experience are still the vast majority of MBA students, but they now occasionally share group work and discussions with peers who may have no experience in the workforce. One could be forgiven for assuming this would result in some tension, but a recent article in the Financial Times describes how the opposite may, in fact, be true. B-school’s increasing age diversity may actually bring some refreshing idealism to the sometimes overly corporate MBA bubble.

It helps that the students accepted for elite deferred admissions programs are genuinely extraordinary college seniors. This year we worked with at least 20% of the admitted Yale Silver Scholars class, work that gives us a unique insight into the types of people applying to straight-out-of-college MBA programs.  GPA and GMAT averages are often higher, but the real magic comes from these students’ extracurricular activities.

Top deferred admissions programs are looking for business experience, even in applicants who haven’t worked yet. For college seniors, this often takes the form of entrepreneurship. For example, HBS’s 2+2 program originally targeted STEM majors with impressive business concepts already on hand, and while there are now other pathways into program, it still describes the typical admit. If you started a company before you could enter a bar (in the U.S.), chances are you have a shot at these ultracompetitive programs.

B-schools love to talk about how diversity improves the classroom experience, and as any graduate of an elite MBA can tell you, they’re right. It’s nice to see them putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to diversity of age. 


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