Monday, April 25, 2016 at 10am

Are You Ready for an MBA? 3 Questions to Ask Yourself

Are You Ready for an MBA? 3 Questions to Ask Yourself main image

Just because you think an MBA is the natural next step in your career path doesn’t mean you’re actually ready to make the leap. A great deal of business school wannabes consider the degree a part of their general progression and are eager to get right to it after undergrad. After all, their mentors, their professors, and those that they admire all seem to have MBAs from top business schools. These factors weigh heavily when you ask yourself, "Should I get an MBA?"

However, there are a several factors to consider, and they aren’t all under your control. Many articles seem to present the idea that you’re ready to get your MBA when you are sick of your job and you’re looking for something greater, but I caution you that this should not be the most important factor when answering ‘should I get an MBA?’. Here are three questions to ask yourself if you’re trying to decide. 

1. Do you have enough experience under your belt to be accepted to your top business schools?

Of course you can apply to any program you wish, but can you match your experience (and most importantly leadership) level with the desired qualifications of the top business schools that appeal to you based on your career path? The average age of MBA students is 28, and this is no accident – most schools want to see significant career progress before they will consider your application. 

Looking at Harvard Business School, for example, around 20% of successful applicants have already founded a business, and a whopping 57% have worked for at least three months outside of their home country. Are you really at the point in your career path where a quality program will take you?

2. Are you SURE you know why you want to get an MBA?

Grad school is not like undergrad; this is not a place to find yourself. Grad students tend to be people who are already quite confident in their chosen profession and are looking for ways to augment their network and their skills so as to reach for a higher rung in a wider career path. If you are still even slightly unsure of what you are hoping to do with an MBA, then wait to get it. Don’t do it just to get letters after your name. No one cares that you have an MBA from any of the top business schools if your work doesn’t apply. Make sure you know what you are getting into and then follow these steps:

See if an MBA is necessary

Does everyone else who has your desired job have an MBA? I have a friend who is a high-powered actuary – he didn’t need an MBA and instead started taking the actuarial exams directly out of undergrad. An MBA would have been wasted time for him and now he’s moved significantly up the corporate ladder while others who stopped for an MBA are not as advanced.

Make sure you choose the right program

Don’t just the apply to the programs that seem most prestigious. Though top business schools like Harvard and Wharton seem exciting, they may not have the program that aligns specifically with what you want to do. Take a look at the faculty core and what kind of jobs graduates get from each MBA program. You may find that a lesser known program actually has the best curriculum for your specific course of study, such as if your MBA wants to follow a digital, environmental or nonprofit path.

Talk to alums

Find people who have been through the program and touch base with them – see if they are like you and what the character of your potential peers will be. Do you think you will fit in? Remember that 50% of the MBA experience is about networking – make sure you will be in the right place.

3. Do you have the financial stability?

MBA programs are often expensive, and they require a great deal of studying when you might otherwise have been working and making money. Have you looked closely at the finances required? These programs can cost upwards of 100k in total expenses – is that a burden you are able to take on, even with the understanding that you may be able to get MBA scholarships? In addition, if you have a family, are they prepared for this and can you afford to be (ostensibly) out of the workforce for the years that you are getting an MBA while your peers continue to gain more practical experience?

If you feel your résumé demonstrates a good amount of leadership potential, you are ready to take on the expense, and you are secure in your career path, then I would say it’s time to research your MBA options. If you aren’t sure, even though you might think your current job is a slog, keep working it out before sending that application.

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Ryan Hickey is the managing editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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how hectic is an online program because i have to keep my job while taking an MBA