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Thursday, October 13, 2016 at 12pm

Got Career Goals? Research Your MBA Program Options First

The right MBA program for you will depend on your specific career goals

So, you’ve decided you want to get an MBA? As you know, getting an MBA can be really hard work, but the benefits of having this advanced degree will pay off in the long run, especially if you have specific career goals in mind. On average, those who get an MBA are better prepared to advance their career, meaning employers are more willing to put people with an MBA into management positions and higher-ranking roles. Likewise, those with MBAs tend to get paid more than those without, even with less work experience. And if you are looking to start your own business or be an entrepreneur, an MBA is surely your first step.

Don’t get ahead of yourself

MBA programs are hard work and can be expensive, so it is important to prepare in advance. This includes putting away money to pay for your degree, ensuring you will have enough time to set aside each day for studying while enrolled in the program, and studying in advance of applying to an MBA program so that you are sure to get accepted into the one you want. MBA programs have become increasingly popular, so preparing at least a year in advance is advisable.

Your financial situation should weigh heavily on your decision as to when the right time to get an MBA will be. Full-time MBA programs can cost anywhere from US$20,000 to US$150,000, depending on where you want to study and what type of program is best suited for you. Online programs, for example, tend to be more flexible and cheaper, but they can also be considered less valuable than traditional programs in the eyes of certain employers. It all depends on what your career goals are after graduating. Ask your professional mentors for advice before making your final decision.

Study well in advance of taking the required exams

Acquire a GMAT and/or GRE prep book and register for one or both of the tests. The program you want to get into will determine which test you should study for more. Some schools require one or the other, some schools may require both. Regardless of the test, plan on studying for four to six months before taking the actual test. These tests can be extremely difficult so you don’t want to rush it. Also, if you take a couple of practice tests and you feel that you aren’t doing as well as you should be, hire a tutor. Sometimes simply learning strategies from someone else can greatly improve your score and help you understand core competencies.

Understand what it means to be a successful MBA candidate

You need to get to know yourself, both in your profession and out of it. Truly understand what it means to be an effective leader and what you bring to the table that others might not. Prepare yourself mentally for a potentially stressful (but rewarding!) two years if you are planning on opting for a two-year, full-time MBA. Take some time out of your work and personal life for reflection on your past and your future. There is no better way to prepare than to ensure you are mentally ready for the journey to success.

Speak with your mentors

Along with reflecting on your own life and career goals, get in touch with professional, personal and/or academic mentors, and ask them questions - not only about what it takes to get an MBA, but also why it might help you to achieve your goals. Also, ask them to give you some insight about the types of things they see in you, in terms of being a leader, what skills you have that are unique and even what skills you are lacking. Mentors can be helpful to ensuring your successful acceptance into an MBA program. Plus, you will want to have some people who can write letters of recommendation for you when the time comes to submit your application.

Check online for legitimate MOOCs

MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses that are typically intended to help people who want to obtain knowledge in a specific field, whether its a for-credit course or not. Some MOOCs are designed for MBA candidates who want to gain business knowledge before getting into a traditional program, and some can even help you obtain a fully-fledged MBA degree or certificate. Some are even free, but don’t take everything a website says at face value.

Be sure that you research what the MOOCs can offer you before signing up and investing all of your time and/or money in something that may not help you fulfill your career goals. For example, if you are looking to get an MBA so that you can move up in your company, be sure to ask your higher-ups if any of these courses will help you do so. There truly are some really great online programs out there, just be sure to do your research. Ultimately, the path is up to you and will depend on your specific career goals.

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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.