Monday, November 12, 2012

Is The MBA Right For You?

Deciding to pursue an MBA is not a decision to be taken lightly.  The costs and resources that go into the actual pursuit of an MBA require careful thinking before even the first page of a GMAT prep book is opened. Some of the costs that I can think of, right away are:

·         Application costs: Application fees cost anything between 50 dollars and 300 dollars or more, not counting the little things like mailing, travel, and even phone bills.

·         Time and Energy: Putting together your application (essays, interviews, campus visits, meeting current students etc.) takes a huge amount of time.

·         Standardized tests: Depending on your aptitude these tests take a lot of prep time while holding down a full time job and family/social commitments.  Some people even take them more than once to get the right score for their desired school.

·         When you are admitted, you sacrifice time with your family (you will be in school, networking, recruiting or on a job hunt most of the time); you possibly uproot your entire family into a new community for the period.

·         Quitting your job, and losing 1 to 2 years of work experience and income.

In thinking about pursuing an MBA it is most important to take time by yourself or with your significant other to count these and many other costs that may weigh on your decision. 

I think I put the cart before the horse here, but knowing your objectives is very important when you are considering if the MBA is the right graduate program for you.  Think about what you want to achieve in life, professionally and personally, and research that area thoroughly. Ask yourself some searching questions, some of which are in the bullets below.

·         Is an MBA required to get you to your objective? Look at highly respected people within the field that you want to excel in. Do they typically have MBA’s? 

·         Where are you in your career at the moment? Have you reached a plateau in your job and want help getting a promotion?  Do you want to learn to lead people?   Do you want to start a business? Do you want to change careers into a sector which hires mostly MBA’s (If you want to switch from engineering into medical research , the MBA may not be the option to take)

·         Can you achieve your objectives with a graduate degree other than an MBA? Is an MBA a thing of prestige for you: everyone in your social circles has one or expects you to have one? Is it an end in itself, something you always wanted?

·         Do you even like business? I recommend taking one technical business course and one managerial type course, like accounting and business strategy either online (iTunes U is a great place for free MBA type lectures online) or at a local community college. What were your impressions of these courses?  Read books on business, there are lots of recommendations on Amazon. Did you have an Aha moment, where it all starts to come together? An MBA might be perfect for you.

This seems like a lot of work, even before you start, but would you rather be in the middle of the school year and stuck continuing on a track you hate and have no passion pursuing? Imagine feeling trapped, sitting in an accounting class 70,000 dollars in debt, hating it, and waiting for another year to pass so you can go on to study for that PhD in Physics that you should have followed your heart on.

Asking these questions is important not only to make sure that you make the right decision, it also informs the type of school you will choose to attend, when you should attend, which type of program to choose(full-time or part time)  and what type of experiences you want take away from the program.

To conclude, I’d like to list a few bullets on why you should NOT pursue and MBA

·         I hate my job so I will take a 2 year holiday in school.  This will be a very costly and potentially disappointing holiday. 

·         I can’t figure out what to do with my life, so let me explore with B school. What if you find your passion elsewhere and end up hating business school?

·         Rankings and some survey shows that the average starting salaries for MBA’s is 100k and above, and so this is the way to go. This is not guaranteed for all, rankings show averages. Excellence at what you do and continuous professional development can also get you there.

Approach this decision with careful thought and planning. Avoid being cookie cutter and following the crowd, no matter what everyone is doing. Do the right thing for you.  An MBA can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience which will benefit you for a lifetime. You owe it to yourself to make sure that it is the right step to take.

Ackun Aba, Forte Fellow
MBA 2014, Darden School at University of Virginia

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