We regularly receive queries from MBA applicants who desperately want to go to business school. In fact, they want to go to a particular school and only want to know how we can make that happen for them immediately. They are focused on a very specific and ambitious goal. However, as we probe a bit deeper and discuss post-MBA goals, we come to question whether the MBA is actually the right step for them.
Many candidates believe that the MBA is the cure-all degree. It’s what their friends are doing. It’s what their parents want them to do. It’s what they want to do until they figure out what they really want to do!
As you go down the road of MBA application, it is easy to imagine about the name of a Harvard MBA program or a Stanford MBA program appearing on your resume and how it will open any door that you want. However, the reality is that the MBA is not an end game. It is just a means to an end, and certainly can be very effective tool if used well and if appropriate for you.
So a question that an MBA applicant should always ask: Do I really need an MBA?
An easy way to decide whether the MBA is right for you is to take stock of your short-term and long-term goals and figure out if the MBA will truly be an asset in helping you to get there. Admission committee often ask this question to an MBA applicant and one of the easier ways to receive a “reject” is to discuss a set of goals that are not just applicable to an MBA degree. For example, perhaps pursuing a degree in accounting, arts, or law will help you in achieving your goal.
We come across many people who do not know exactly what they want to do. Because the MBA is a flexible degree, it can appeal to an individual who wants to take a break, reassess, and then jump back into her or her career. It can also be helpful to cite more ambiguous reasons such as leadership training or an alumni network. However, not everyone wants to be a leader, and not everyone needs an impressive network in the business world. Be honest with yourself as your consider your goals.
As you decide whether an MBA program is right for you, it is important to be realistic about what an MBA program can provide. This is different for everyone. For some, it may be a chance to join a dream company. For some, it may be the credibility it brings to your resume when you raise money for a new venture. For others, it may be the opportunity to learn functional skills required to effectively run a business.
Be honest about what are seeking from the MBA and decide whether it can really provide what you need. This is a good time to do your research, network with business school students and alums, and speak with individuals in your target career. Find out what they think of the MBA experience. Decide if the experience they are describing sounds like a good fit for you.
Because there is no checklist of reasons for wanting an MBA, and because the MBA can be valuable in so many different functions and roles, this can be a confusing step. We find that many people know in their hearts whether they really need an MBA.
When applicants aren’t truly excited about pursuing an MBA, they are not driven to work hard; they procrastinate on GMAT prep and take their own time in writing their essays.
MBA is a long and expensive process, and certainly not worth it if it does not make sense for your goals and personality. Moreover, the admissions committee will likely be able to understand your indecision and your application will then be unsuccessful.
Once you have convinced yourself that you really want an MBA, you may be surprised to find that there are many people who want to understand “why?” For example, the MBA admissions committee, your office colleagues/managers, and MBA interview panelists etc. are going to ask this question a lot over the next several months. So you need to come up with a good answer. Actually several good answers, each tailored for distinct audiences.
MBA Admission Committee: Show them that you appreciate the value of learning opportunities and have taken advantage of them. Explain how the MBA program will be a better place to develop your skills and further your interests that your current job or even your likely next job would be.
Colleagues/Managers: There are many firms such as consulting, investment banking where young professionals regularly exit to attend MBA programs, and a fresh batch of MBA graduates join in every year. In other firms, some colleagues might view an exit as “giving up on the team”. You don’t want your MBA admission to leave a bad feeling over you final few months in your current job. If you explain your MBA as a tool to prepare yourself for opportunities a decade or two down the road – rather than as a route to get a better job than you could get from your current job – your manager/colleagues may be more supportive.
MBA Admission Interviewers: MBA admission interviewers may probe deeply on why you are applying. They even go far and say to applicants, “you don’t need an MBA to do what you want to do”. Applicants who want to stay in the same field (or return to the same firm) after graduation and those who want to enter the not-for-profit or government sectors often hear the same stuff. You can show your preparedness of pursuing an MBA by counting with a list of a half dozen world-renowned MBA professionals in your chosen career path.
The Doubters: Then there are people who don’t see the value of business schools at all. After all, business people usually don’t need accreditations like doctors, lawyers, and some other professionals. You should be prepared to talk about why this will not just be another degree to you.