The decision to go to business school is no joke! Getting your MBA is costly (in terms of both monetary costs and opportunity costs) and it is time-consuming. Figuring out whether it is the right path for you requires some deep introspection and hard core soul-searching. Here are some things to consider before getting your MBA.
1. Where do I see myself in the future?
It’s really important to understand what your professional goals are and to research them thoroughly. Do you have a dream job in mind? Is there an industry that you would love to be in? Still trying to figure things out? Talk to your friends, your family, your colleagues, or even strangers at the bar! Ask them about their career paths and how they got to where they are today. Even if they’re not in an industry or role that you are remotely interested in, you may be able to pick up on something that resonates with you, and that will help you shape your own goals and ambitions.
Business school is not going to help you figure out what you want to do with your life. MBA programs are going to offer a lot of options, choices, and customization. It’s okay to not know exactly what job you want, or exactly what company you want to work for. But if you don’t have somewhat of a focus, it may be hard to sort through all of the opportunities you’ll be bombarded with in school. Plus, the schools that you apply to will ask what your short-term and long-term goals are, so by answering this question up front you’ll get a head start on your applications!
2. Would an MBA help get you there? How?
Once you know where you want to be professionally, the next step is to figure out how you can get there. As you do your soul-searching, you may actually find that you won’t need an MBA to get you where you want to be. But if you do need an MBA, what are you hoping to get out of it? Are you looking to hone in on existing skills? Are you looking to develop new skills? Are you looking to make a career change? Do you want to grow your existing business? Understanding what you want out of business school will help you determine how important it is to get your MBA and it will also help pinpoint what kind of program to look for.
3. What program would best fit my needs?
Once you have an idea of what you want business school to help you achieve, you can start looking at programs that will the best fit for you. There are quant-focused schools and general management schools. There are full-time programs and part-time programs. There are schools that offer strong entrepreneurship opportunities and others that will put you on the fast-track to the big consulting firms.
4. How much is it going to cost and what is the return going to be?
Business school ain’t cheap! Harvard’s full-time program cost $66,348 in tuition and fees for the 2013-2014 school year, and that wasn’t even including housing expenses. Even the best “value” MBA program, BYU’s Marriott School of Business, comes in at $11,620 for LDS members and $23,240 for non-LDS members, which is not cheap either! There are student loans and scholarships available, but you should evaluate your financial situation and make sure that you are comfortable with the sacrifices you’ll have to make to get your MBA. You may decide to do a part-time program so you can continue to work full-time.
You can also do research on post-MBA job placement and salaries to see if the return on investment will be worth it. Most business schools will publish employment reports on their websites that list the industries their graduates go into, as well as job functions and average salaries. You can also reach out to current students to get a behind-the-scenes perspective on how they make business school work financially.
5. Am I prepared for the application?
The application process for business school is rigorous and comprehensive. Schools will evaluate your undergraduate transcript, your GMAT score(s), your job experience, your letters of recommendation, and your extracurricular activities. Before you even begin the application process, see if there are any gaps that may need to be addressed (more soul-searching!). Most schools like to see proof that you have strong quantitative abilities to make sure you’ll be able to keep up in class, and if your undergrad transcript shows otherwise, maybe you can take some math classes at a community college. If you don’t do much outside of work, try finding activities or community service that you get involved in. If there isn’t anyone at work you really feel comfortable asking a letter of recommendation from, you can focus on building some strong relationships. Identifying these gaps and actively addressing them early will help you round out your package before you even start the application process!