One of the most pertinent questions asked is whether this is ever a right time to apply for an M.B.A. Many prospective b-school applicants confront this question when they feel that their current career trajectory has stalled. For others, pursuing an M.B.A. straight out of undergrad is a no brainier, as they can pass up on keeping their lives on hold for two years and forgoing a potentially considerable salary while doing so.
The business school application process is severe, and with good reason. Getting an MBA is a major investment in time and money. Going into the process without giving it a lot of thought beforehand is a recipe for disaster. If the student is not prepared for the b-school experience, then he will not be able to take full advantage of the opportunity. When the student goes into it deliberately, after a lot of careful thought, then an MBA can be a life and career-changing move. There are a lot of elements required to apply for an MBA: GMAT or GRE scores, letters of recommendation, resumes, transcripts and essays. Getting an outside perspective can be incredibly helpful, whether it’s having a trusted friend look over the application materials, or signing up for MBA application assessment from an admissions consultant.
Nevertheless, how does a person know whether he is really ready to tackle the intense demands of a full-time M.B.A. program. Whether he is wrapping up his final year of college or has already done three to five years in the workforce, there are several factors that one should evaluate to determine if it is time to take the M.B.A. plunge.
Here are some questions that the aspirant needs to be able to answer “yes” to, before he is ready to apply:
It’s not a good idea to go to business school in order to figure out oneself, or to get away from the working world for some time. Most MBA programs move very fast, and if the student wants to take full advantage of the experience, then he needs to have a plan. He must think about where he wants to be in five years. Not just in his career, but where in the world he wants to be, and what he wants his life to look like. He should know whether he wants to work globally, start a business of his own or move into higher management positions within his current organization. He must make sure that his head is in the game. Between classes, quizzes, team meetings, recruiting, clubs, and a veritable smorgasbord of special events, the life of an M.B.A. student can seem like a nonstop circus act. Taking two years to get an M.B.A. is not just a business decision; but it is also a life decision that may include the interests of boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, and children. The aspirant should have the discipline to balance the grueling workload of an M.B.A. program with his existing work or personal obligations.
Lower-tier schools and diploma mills may be happy to admit anyone who seems interested and can foot the bill, but top business schools want to know that the aspirant has given a lot of thought to the prospect of getting an MBA. They are looking for students who will take the opportunity seriously, and reflect well upon the school as alumni. When the aspirant knows how an MBA will help him achieve his career goals, he will be ready to apply to b-school, and ready to ace his admissions essays and interview.
When people get excited about the prospect of a big change, they often only talk it over with people they know will support them. While a support system is vital, so is a dose of reality. Before deciding to apply to business school, the aspirant must do his homework. Talk to alumni of schools he is considering, to see what their post-MBA career has been like. He should talk to HR or senior employees to find out about the value of an MBA within the industry and career path he wants to pursue. Once he has done his research about the realities both positive and negative of getting an MBA, he will be ready to decide if applying to business school is the right choice for him. He will also be in a better position to defend his MBA aspirations.
Things like campus location, program length, alumni network and support, available courses and areas of concentration, teaching style, and family support are all significant considerations when it comes to decide upon the perfect b-school. It is essential to be practical about what is really important and what the aspirant is willing to compromise on, when it comes to learning. It doesn’t matter how highly a school is ranked. If it isn’t the right fit for, then the aspirant will have a miserable couple of years, and will be less likely to take full advantage of his time there.
The final piece of the puzzle is determining whether the aspirant is really ready to put together an outstanding b-school application package.
The aspirant should have a clear idea of what it is going to cost him. Assuming the cost of an M.B.A. program is one of the most expensive academic decisions he will ever make once he factors in living expenses, course-related travel expenses, and, for older applicants, the loss of two years of income while pursuing the degree full time. However, most applicants to the elite schools should brace themselves for six-figure debt at least for a while.
The question of work experience
Deciding whether the aspirant has enough work experience is a trickier issue, as more schools roll out the welcome mat for younger applicants. Most M.B.A. programs still require at least two years of work experience, but not the five or even seven years that used to be the norm. If the aspirant can demonstrate maturity, highly focused career goals, leadership skills, and enough life experience to contribute to an incoming class, then his age or his minimum work experience become far less important. It’s no surprise that an M.B.A. expands the skill set and the network of contacts, as well as significantly increases the aspirant’s long-term earning potential. Candidates should talk with family, friends, and mentors and maybe even an M.B.A. application adviser early on in the application process to find out whether they fall in the preferred window in which business schools take their students from. However, only the aspirant can truly know whether all of the crucial elements have come together to make the time accurate.
When should one ideally do MBA?
The immediate answer is that idyllically, one should work for at least three to four years before doing an MBA.
What difference does it make? Why should one work?
Work experience makes a huge difference and is extremely important. Many concepts related to leadership, organization management, change management need work experience. The aspirant will not be able to absorb much out of many classes if he does not have experience. For instance, the questions like dealing with your team, solving conflicts encountered as a team manager or member can only be answered with conviction by one who has some work experience. Hence, it is imperative to have work experience.
One could pursue MBA for couple of reasons, either to change careers or move into leadership roles. In first case, an MBA is recommended when one is planning to move into leadership roles or he has started a leadership role and needs help to do well. Especially for leadership roles, the golden rule is that, one must have to work for few years before doing an MBA. In fact, some of the best business schools in the world necessitate professional work experience, as a requirement to even apply to their courses.
In the second situation is one where the aspirant is doing an MBA is to transform his career path. One of the things an aspirant can do is get admission to a good MBA school, do it full time and also pursue internships in his preferred field. This gives him an option to change careers. The key thing to do is internships; otherwise he may end up where he was and will not be able to change career paths easily.
There are quite a number of important things one can do during his prep time. First and foremost, one of the most important things to do, is to make sure to perform well in exams like GMAT, GRE, or any other test taken for admission. It is important to focus on the key areas like Verbal, Quantitative, Writing skills, etc. One needs to start to research about schools that could fit into their passion and goals.
The second thing, will help one be knowledgeable and will help one in his MBA classes an even later in his career. Depending on the background, one can start studying books in finance, leadership, innovation, articles in Economist, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, etc. One can do many of the online courses on leadership on Coursera or LinkedIn that can help him increase his business acumen.