How old is too old for a full-time MBA program?

Originally from the United States, Brendan Burke spent six formative years working in the social enterprise and non-profit industry in Cambodia. When he was 36, he moved to Barcelona, Spain, to complete his full-time MBA at the Esade and now works at Amazon’s Munich office. He discusses why his age did not matter when applying to do his MBA at Esade and how he knew their program would be a perfect fit.

In short

From Cambodia to Barcelona to Munich

Brendan’s professional and academic life has already taken him all around the world. After finishing his undergraduate studies, he was living in New York and realized “he needed to live abroad.” (00:25)

While on vacation in Cambodia, a chance encounter led to him moving back for work, eventually staying “for the entire seven years [working] in the social enterprise field.” (00:52)

Even though Brendan “loves Asia [and] still thinks of it as home,” (07:13) he ultimately decided he wanted a new challenge that didn’t involve staying in Cambodia or moving back to the United States. The possibility of moving to Europe had been on his radar for a long time because “it was sort of a fresh start.” (07:40)

Brendan ultimately landed on doing his MBA at the Esade in Barcelona. During his studies, he was able to land an internship at Amazon. This was perfect for him because “[he] knew [he] wanted to be at a multinational in a German-speaking country that would sponsor his visa.” (15:43)

He’s now working in solution consulting and project planning at Amazon’s Munich office.

Why it’s difficult to enter a full-time MBA program in your 40s

Although Brendan admits identifying a specific age that’s too old for a full-time MBA program is “a personal decision,” he believes that “after 38, 40 it gets hard.” (11:45

Brendan started his full-time MBA program at Esade when he was 36. Although he ended up having a great experience and making lots of close connections with other students, he explains that “for the first term and a half, [he] was really out of place.” (12:07

Brendan believes that this disconnect stemmed from the lifestyle associated with younger age groups.

“Let’s be honest, [an MBA program] can be a party culture. You know, people want to go out, they want to go drinking, they want to stay out late…I did all that in my 20s. You know, I’m married, I brought my dog with me to the MBA…my life was different,” he tells us. (12:18)

Initially, Brendan also felt stress and pressure to make sure that “his investment was worth it [and] that [he] would land a full-time job.” (12:54)

Fortunately, once he achieved his goal and secured his job at Amazon, Brendan felt more comfortable socializing and enjoying his MBA experience. He ultimately found “some of the most wonderful friendships from Esade…It worked out.” (13:08)

Be very clear about what you want as an older student

Brendan was in his mid-30s when he started applying to MBA programs, but he didn’t expect “how blatantly difficult it would be for an older student to form a relationship [with an admissions committee].” He had “multiple schools flat out tell [him] ‘you’re too old for a full-time program, here’s our executive program.’” (08:43)

If you’re an older student weighing your MBA options, Brendan recommends being extremely clear about what you want. Indeed, he believes “for some older students, the executive program would be the correct path, particularly if you are staying in the same country or region where you’re already working.” (10:22)

On the other hand, Brendan was certain that a full-time MBA program would be the right choice for his academic and professional future because he was aware of “the tremendous benefit to having a full-time experience.” (10:33)

Brendan was also in a unique situation because he was making a jump in his career, country, and industry. He says, “I was going into [a] new geography, I needed to do everything I could to build a profound and helpful network. I believed then and [I still believe] now that the only way for me to accomplish that [was] with a full-time program.” (10:41)

Basically, older MBA students need to identify whether their ultimate goal is career advancement or pursuing a totally fresh start professionally. If they opt for the latter and start applying to full-time MBA programs, they’ll need to be confident and persistent to find the right match for them. 

When Brendan got in touch with Esade, “it was a world apart” from other schools. “I wasn’t just another candidate to work through, I was a person,” he explains. “There was just a warmth and a humanity to the process that I had been missing so far.” (09:48) That’s how he ultimately knew he wanted to complete his MBA at Esade.

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