An MBA may seem like the next step in your career plan – a credential you need to advance your career. However, that doesn’t mean an MBA is the right choice. What if the MBA is necessary to follow your dream job or move into a new profession? You may not be ready for the MBA and the opportunities it opens up.
If you’re not sure whether you’re ready or not, here are 6 things you should know first.
1. Your Intended Career Path.
College students really shouldn’t use their years in undergraduate studies to find themselves. However, graduate school is definitely not the place to “find yourself”. You should know how the MBA furthers your career plans and be confident in your decision.
On the flipside, you shouldn’t earn an MBA in the mere hope it will help your career. For example, an MBA from a top school won’t matter if it doesn’t apply to your next job. You may also want to earn a specialized degree like an MBA focused on human resources, international business, finance, marketing or big data to move into the area you want to work in.
Know what you’re getting into and determine if an MBA is necessary. If an MBA is necessary, you will want to identify which schools teach what you need to learn and offer a degree valued by employers for providing that expertise.
2. Your Job Experience.
Earning an MBA right after earning a bachelor’s degree is not always the best option. An MBA may be necessary to work in finance, investment banking, and a few other roles. In most other cases, it isn’t useful until you’re ready to move into management.
That’s why the average age of MBA students is 28. Employers want to see career experience in addition to the credential. In fact, business schools want to see job experience, too. Top business schools want to see several years of work experience. Some schools will welcome entrepreneurs, while others prefer future managers.
3. Your Finances.
MBA programs can be expensive. Online MBAs may eliminate the need to travel to school, arrange childcare or live on campus, but tuition fees remain. Furthermore, you must dedicate yourself to studying to succeed in the program, which is time you might otherwise use to earn money. So, understand all of the costs involved, then compare the costs relative to your ability to pay.
Can you afford to attend a program full-time? Could you find a comparable program that lets you attend part-time? Also, will you see a decent return on the investment? Don’t earn an MBA in the mere hope of a pay raise; know how this credential will translate into higher pay. Your employer may automatically give you a raise if you have a master’s degree, or you may be able to move into a higher paying position once you have the credential. Do research on the post-MBA job placement rate and the average salaries for these graduates, because this information may help you determine which school or MBA program is best for you.
Also, learn employer tuition reimbursement programs. Ask about scholarships and grants, but don’t treat loans as if they’re free money. If you must take out a student loan, shop around and do everything you can to keep the debt to a minimum. A part-time program is the best choice if you want to work while attending school.
4. The Networking Opportunities.
One of the benefits of an MBA program is that it connects you with other highly motivated professionals. The question is whether or not the network is valuable to you and will aid you in your career. For example, someone who wants to go into nonprofit management should seek out a school that connects you with others working in the nonprofit sector.
If your goal is to work at a big consulting firm, you’ll want to attend the schools they recruit from. Then you can use the alumni network to help you get a job there. Someone who wants to work in international business may want to attend a program known for its international student body or students who’ve worked abroad. Talk to the alumni as well as current students.
Don’t limit yourself to online research, however; tour the schools or find events where you can talk to people face to face. The MBA Tour, for instance, lets you meet people from top business schools. Consider visiting one of these events if you aren’t sure if a school is a culture fit or offers classes that are related to your intended niche. They will also give an opportunity to ask about your odds of being accepted and get advice on what you can do to improve your profile.
5. The Application Process.
Let’s suppose an MBA will result in a higher pay grade or allow you to move into your dream job. You’ve determined how you’ll pay for it, but are you ready for the application process? The application process for graduate school is rigorous and time-consuming – a mistake here will result in rejection.
You’ll need your undergraduate transcript, a resume outlining your job experience, letters of recommendation and a list of extracurricular activities. Depending on the program, you may have to pass the GMAT and get a high enough score to be considered. You may need to go back to school to be a serious contender for an MBA, too.
For example, business schools want to see that you have the necessary quantitative abilities. You may need to go back to school to complete some advanced math classes, and you may want to take a few business classes. Foreign students may need to pass the ESOL or otherwise demonstrate fluency in English. Identify gaps and address them as soon as possible before you begin the application process.
6. The Work You’ll Need to Do to Get the Most Out of the Program.
Don’t assume that attending class or logging into online sessions is enough to see the benefits of an MBA program. Know how you can get the most out of the MBA program. Identify classes that will teach you what you need to know if you want to start your own business or be a better team leader. Bring up problems at your employer and ask classmates for advice in solving them.
This has the side benefit of helping you be seen as a problem-solver at work. Ask professors about real-world examples when they’re discussing a topic. This allows you to better understand the concepts, and it gives you great examples to cite when you’re explaining these ideas to others. Get to know your classmates, since these are the people most likely to help you in class and after graduation.
On the other hand, you need to know what you need to do to get the full value of the program. Have a list of questions to ask about business case studies and content. Complete the required reading before you attend class and take notes on what you read so you can keep up with the discussion and ask questions about the material. You can reduce that workload by taking collaborative notes with classmates. Read linked articles in the syllabus, too. In short, do all the prep work, and know what that means before you sign up.
However, what if you aren’t getting what you expect out of the program? In this case, you can hold the professors accountable. If that isn’t good enough, you may need to change classes or programs.
A good MBA program continues to offer a good return on the investment. However, there is far more work involved than many appreciate if you’re going to achieve that high ROI. Make sure you’re ready if you want to see these benefits.