This is the kick-off of a new writing series on Levo League by our friends at Admit Advantage. Over the next few weeks they will be helping us to explore the path of pursuing your MBA. Should you get it? How do you apply? Where should you apply? What will help you get into the best programs? All of these questions will be answered by experts. We can’t wait!
Somewhere along the line, people started to believe that that a master’s degree is required for entrance into the professional class. According to a recent New York Times article, the master’s is now the fastest-growing degree. Many job postings, outside of entry-level positions, state that they require or prefer candidates with a master’s degree. The pressure to get a graduate degree comes from all sides.
The MBA, in particular, is proving incredibly attractive, even for people who have absolutely no interest in business. As a former MBA admissions consultant, I have spoken with people planning to work in international diplomacy or public education who are seriously considering an MBA. There are many reasons that the MBA degree is growing in popularity, including the prestige afforded to people who work in business (versus the nonprofit or public sector) as well as the changing prospects of medical and legal careers, which were previously “safe” and lucrative.
However, as a former MBA admissions consultant who worked with hundreds of young professionals and made a living helping people get in to business school, I am the first to say that an MBA is not for everyone.
Given that the average cost of a two-year full-time MBA program can approach $200,000, this degree is not one to be entered into lightly. And given that, understandably, most scholarship money is directed towards undergraduates, the bulk of the fees for an MBA are borne by students, who typically rely on a combination of savings and loans. In a still sluggish global economy, company sponsorship is not a common as it once was.
In addition to direct costs, it’s reasonable to consider the “cost” of the forgone income associated with a full-time MBA program. In addition to a very significant financial cost, which may impact your ability to take the job you want or purchase a home, business school is a multi-year investment of your time and should be thought out carefully.
Here are some things to think about when deciding whether an MBA is the best next step for you:
Is this the right time for you to apply to business school?
Some people apply to business school because they think, “it’s time,” skipping the often difficult process of introspection. This process requires thinking through their career goals, the skills and experiences they have (and need) as well as considering the life and career stage they’re in. Or they complete a multi-year analyst program and are told, “it’s time for an MBA,” and so they apply—almost as if on autopilot.
I worked with a client who ran his own business and he was accepted to multiple selective business schools. When it was time for him to accept the spot in his top choice school, he realized that he didn’t actually want to go to business school. What he really wanted to do was continue working on growing his business—full-time—not simply as an advisor (which he would have been relegated to if he pursued a rigorous full-time MBA). He declined since deferral was not an option. Imagine the time, money, and energy he would have saved if he had initially taken the time to think through his priorities before starting the nearly year-long application process.
Even if, like my client, you succeed in the application process, entering an MBA program without thinking through your needs will not allow them to take best advantage of the vast (and often overwhelming) resources offered in business school.
Do you plan to pursue a career in which an MBA is required, necessary, or valued?
It may come as a surprise, but not every field requires or even necessarily values an MBA. I have met people deeply passionate about public education who are applying to business school. Depending on the type of work they want to do within the field, a degree in education or public policy may be a better choice. It is important to speak with the people working in the field you are interested in to determine whether an MBA will provide you with the fundamentals required to be taken seriously in the industry. I would also ask yourself whether an MBA provides access to the type of people you need to know in the field you want to enter. Determining the value of an MBA for your dream job is particularly important for people interested in working in non-traditional post-MBA fields including the arts, government and even certain business functions like sales.
One important point I need to make is that it is not a good idea to go to business school because you have no idea what you want to be when you grow up and mistakenly believe business school will bring clarity. As I have mentioned, an MBA is a very significant investment in time and money. You could certainly invest much less than that in books, courses, a good career coach and oodles of informational interviews for far, far less than the cost of business school. And truth be told, many people graduate from business school unclear about the kind of work they want to do.
Are you applying to business school because of pressure from others?
If you are planning to attend business school because of pressure from friends, family or coworkers, I would take a breath and pause. I was advised to pursue an MBA by people who didn’t know what my professional goals were and didn’t even bother to ask. Ultimately, these “advisors” should not be the driving force behind such a major decision. These people will not be in class with you nor will they be repaying your loans. You will have to manage the workload and often overwhelming experience of business school, which includes internships, travel, projects and networking. If you don’t truly have an interest in the endeavor, you’re probably not going to do very well and may even spend a miserable couple of years in business school.
If your goal is entrepreneurship, do you need an MBA?
Many people who apply to business school do so with the goal of starting a business. Business school can be very helpful for people interested in starting a venture-backed company because of the network and access to investors it provides, in addition to general management training. However, you certainly do not need an MBA to become an entrepreneur. In fact, most entrepreneurs, the majority of whom own small businesses, do not have an MBA. They learn on the job, grow in their field, assume greater amounts of responsibility and take a risk to offer a product or service they see a need for in the market.
If you want to start a relatively small business, rather than one you plan to IPO or sell in fairly short order, there are many networking and training resources you could take advantage of including Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses or Entrepreneurs’ Organization which may be a better use of your time. You can use your savings to invest in your business. Business schools don’t teach you how to get a small business loan – they teach you how to read a term sheet. Neither is better than the other, but it’s important to understand what kind of business – and life – you want.
The bottom line is that, while an MBA can be incredibly valuable, business school is not right for everyone. Attending business school will likely have long-term impact on your life beyond the two years you are there, including the jobs you can afford to take in order to pay back your loans. It’s something you should consider based on your own needs and priorities rather than accepted wisdom or advice from others.