Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Harvard age curve

A reputation that business schools project is that they value work experience more than some institutions such as law or medical school. While this is certainly the case, not all business schools weigh work experience equally. The bias towards younger candidates at Harvard and Stanford in particular is very strong. HBS posted in their admissions blog the undergraduate year of completion for their MBA Class of 2010:

To really relate to these figures, I’ve converted the data into ages under the assumption that the average undergraduate student completed school at age 22. While there may have been those that worked for a couple of years first or took longer to finish school, there are certainly also those who finished in three years. Regardless, taking the average to be 22 I think is a pretty fair assumption. Furthermore, I changed the age from age at matriculation to age at time of application. Since nearly all applicants hit the submit button 8-10 months before matriculation, it is also fair to say that the average applicant will have hit a birthday in between the time he submits his application and the time he matriculates. Taking these considerations into account, we come up with the following results:

Out of 900 successful applicants (at time of application)

  • 1.2% were 30 years or older
  • 11.3% were 27 or older
  • 71% were 25 or younger
  • The “sweet spot” to apply is between 24 and 26; representing over 3 of 4 admitted students

While this could theoretically result from a skewed applicant pool, consider that Wharton reports 40% of its matriculating students have 7+ years of work experience, versus 5.4% at HBS.

The point is not that applicants in their late 20s or early 30s can’t get into HBS; but it is extremely competitive since they are essentially competing for a sub-set of 50 seats out of 900. Applicants that have made career choices that naturally postponed matriculation are probably in the best position to compete for these few coveted slots. These I assume would include those with a PhD, MDs, military, athletes, and others with very non-traditional careers.

Please note that this is my personal conclusion based on published data, not the expressed position of the Admissions Office.

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