If you’re in a field like marketing, finance, consulting, or sales, you’ve probably at least toyed with the idea of going to b-school. Sure, it’s hard work, but an MBA will fast-track your career, get you an in with your dream company, and put a permanent gold star on your resume, right?
Well, no. The MBA is a versatile degree, and it can get those results. But it’s also not for everyone. And with today’s sky-high tuition fees and volatile job market, you need to make sure that the graduate program you choose is the right fit and investment for your career.
There are plenty of reasons to go to b-school. Here’s how to make sure yours are the right ones.
4 Good Reasons
1. It’s a Good Investment
The first step is to do your research and a little quantitative analysis of the pay-off. (If you’re groaning already, that’s not a good sign.) Have you looked at all the positions you aspire to in the next five to 10 years and determined they require or prefer a graduate degree, and specifically an MBA? Can an MBA fast-track your specific desired career path by acting as a substitute for years of experience? Further, have you calculated a positive ROI on the cost of your education by estimating your post-MBA earning potential?
If this sounds like a lot of in-depth analysis—it is. But you need to fully understand the financial impact of pursuing this degree before you go (and your ROI calculations will be good practice in Excel, too!). In many cases, an MBA can substantially increase your title and pay. And if it does—might be a good move.
2. You Need to Build Experience Outside Your Expertise
If you have upper-management aspirations, you’ll need an understanding of all areas of business to be successful. For example, many technical professionals get an MBA to hone their people skills and business acumen. After graduation, they’re able to leverage their well-rounded education, experience, and skill set to land a management position.
B-school’s broad curriculum allows you to gain experience outside of your comfort zone by working on projects and subjects that you wouldn’t be exposed to in your daily job responsibilities. So, you can fill gaps in your experience much more quickly with an MBA than you could by working jobs in the same variety of positions and industries.
3. You Want to Get Back to the Basics
Want to learn how to make business decisions from a high-level, executive perspective? The academic environment allows you to consider a problem from all angles, without the “noise” of the real world. You can stretch your problem-solving skills by thinking about the big picture, without budget, time, and resource constraints. You have the opportunity to fail without significant repercussions, and to receive feedback from classmates and professors to improve your future performance. Going back to the building blocks of successful strategies will improve your ability to create them once you’re outside the classroom, too.
4. It will Build Your Network
After-class social events are there for a reason: B-school students love to network. And they are often much more open to discussing opportunities and helping their fellow classmates than they are with their colleagues.
Beyond deepening your professional network, you’ll broaden it with people from all fields and industries. Plus, you’ll have access to professors, university alumni, and the campus career center. Particularly if you plan to stick around the area, the networking opportunities offered at b-schools are a huge benefit to your career long after graduation.
4 Not-So-Good Reasons
1. You’re Out of Work
The high unemployment rate has caused an upswing in graduate program enrollment. But, while “well, I’ve got nothing better to do” might be great rationale for taking a class or two, the same does not apply for a two-year program. Tuition, fees, and stress make b-school an expensive proposition, plus, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a job.
Ask yourself some important questions: How will you pay for school without an income? What are your job prospects after graduating—realistically? What if you get a great offer in the middle of the semester? Business school should be a great decision on its own, not a “plan B” if you aren’t currently employed.
2. It’s a Golden Ticket
It’s a pretty common presumption: Get into a big-name program, and be guaranteed the perfect position at a dream company afterward. While b-school does open a lot of doors, it’s not a substitute for experience and hard work within an organization.
So, instead of thinking about what the degree alone will do for you, consider it in the context of your entire resume, and realistically evaluate whether an MBA will complement and enhance your prior experience.
3. You Want to Specialize
Do you see your career at an ad agency or school district? Even if you want to be an executive, b-school might not necessarily be the right fit. The MBA is a broad degree, so if you’re looking to gain in-depth knowledge about specific subject or pursue a specific career path—public policy, communications, or education administration, for example—you may want to look into more specialized graduate programs. Business schools don’t usually focus on research, mentorship, or job placement in such specific subjects, so a master’s or doctoral program dedicated to your field may be a better choice.
4. Everyone Else is Doing It
If you’re a couple years in to a consulting or finance gig, it may seem like everyone is going to business school. And of course you don’t want to be left behind or passed up for a promotion because you don’t have an MBA! But remember to focus on your own goals, not everyone else’s. While your peers’ career path may require b-school, yours may be better suited for a different type of education or experience. Make sure you’re choosing your program based on your aspirations, not because it’s what everyone else is doing.
B-school students and alums…was the MBA the right degree for you? How did you know? Any advice for prospective students?