To go to B school or to not go to B school—that is the question. Or at least, that’s probably the question you’re weighing in your head right now (or why else would you be reading this?).
Too many times I’ve seen people jump into the business school application process without reflecting upon why they’ve chosen to go down that path. And often it’s prompted by seeing friends and colleagues get their MBA degrees and thinking, Hey, maybe I should get an MBA, too.
Let me be clear: That is not a valid reason to go to business school. There are so many better reasons why you might want to go down this road, and just as many reasons why maybe you shouldn’t.
While business school could very well be the best next step for you, it’s important to take the time to engage in introspection and delve into the costs and benefits of an MBA. Doing so will help to clarify your own thought process before applying, and ensure you can reap the rewards of whichever decision you make.
Here are three questions you should ask yourself before embarking on your MBA application journey.
1. What Are Your Career Goals?
While this answer is crystal clear for some people, rest assured that most people applying to B school don’t know exactly where they see themselves in the next five to 15 years (and that’s okay)! However, you should have a general sense of what you would potentially like to do since this is a key aspect of the business school journey.
Connect the dots between what you’ve done in the past and what you’d like to do in the future. As you do this, think about how an MBA fits into the picture (and use your professional network to get more insight into how an MBA could come into play).
For instance, what’s your salary now and what do you project it to be in the future—both with an MBA and without an MBA? What’s the total cost of pursuing an MBA (consider not just tuition but other factors such as housing and supplies, plus the fact that you’ll be out of a steady income for a couple of years), and does the return on investment make sense given what you expect your salary will be post-MBA? (Yes, you’ll need to crunch some numbers!)
Additionally, consider whether an MBA is even required to enter or excel in the field you’re aspiring to be in. For example, in finance, private equity is a field where an MBA is highly valued, and it can be difficult to transition into it or move up without one. An MBA may easily cost someone $150,000, however, relative to what this person can earn and accomplish as a senior private equity professional after getting their MBA, this is a small chunk to pay.
On the other hand, if you’re interested in pursuing a government-focused role in the future, an MPA or MPP may be a more suitable degree that won’t hit your bank account as hard.
And if you’re seeking out a career path where the skills you learn and the connections you build in B school won’t be any more beneficial than skills and connections you could build in a job, internship, online course, or through other less expensive and time-consuming means, it’s probably not worth it.
2. What Do You Hope to Get From Your Business School Experience?
Business schools want to understand why you’re interested in getting an MBA degree—and why now specifically is the right time for you. This will be a key part of getting accepted into your program of choice, so you can’t just brush over it.
But it’s also a question that you should be asking yourself to decide if the intangible benefits and costs of business school are worth it.
As you formulate your answer, think about the knowledge, skills, and resources that an MBA degree will give you and what you actually want out of the experience. What are you hoping to learn? Develop? Discover? Refine? Build? Better understand?
One clear benefit of an MBA is the relationships that you’ll form with peers, alumni, and professors. These can be invaluable throughout your career. Beyond that, getting an MBA degree can also provide more credibility when seeking out leadership opportunities.
As an example, I started my career in finance, but always knew that I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial post-MBA. As an entrepreneur today, I wear many hats, and the cross-functional knowledge that I gained in business school—in disciplines such as strategy, marketing, and operations—has been priceless. Moreover, I’ve been able to reach out to classmates for advice and be introduced to people who’ve been able to help me grow my business. Thus, the ROI for me has been extremely high.
On the flip side, if your only reason for pursuing an MBA is because you don’t know what else you want to do in your career, you may want to go back to the drawing board to figure out what you’d want to get out of it before taking the leap.
3. Are You Willing to Invest the Time and Energy Required to Apply and Get the Degree?
Applying to business school requires a large investment of time (and money, applications are expensive!) in order to make yourself stand out in a very competitive pool. This includes time to bolster your skill set and profile if there are weaknesses, study and take the GMAT or GRE, research and visit schools, and of course, craft strong application materials. There are no shortcuts, so you’ll want to be sure you’re ready to take all these tasks on with vigor!
Also, think about the time and energy that’d be required to actually pursue your degree once you get in. For example, if you’re a parent, getting an MBA degree means spending less time with your family not only as you study and take classes but also as you immerse yourself in the business school environment and extracurricular activities (many of which will be prime networking opportunities). Or if you’re also working during school, this can mean sacrificing your limited free time after work and on the weekends.
On the flip side, one of the biggest benefits with respect to time can be the acceleration in your career. In other words, you may reach higher managerial levels faster with the skills and knowledge that you gain in business school, depending on your field and company. Take the time to assess your particular circumstance to figure out if this will be the case.
I recently worked with a consultant who applied and was accepted to one of his dream business schools. In the interim, he got a strategy role at a startup, which is exactly what he’d wanted to do post-MBA. Given that he was already on the path to pursuing the career that he wanted, he decided not to invest the two years in an MBA since he felt that would be redundant and interrupt his momentum.
While getting an MBA requires plenty more research and self-reflection than this article can get into, by asking yourself these three questions, you lay a solid foundation for weighing the pros and cons of a degree. Whether or not you decide to go to business school is a very personal choice—you have to figure out if it’s right for your career and no one else’s.
Photo of person thinking at desk courtesy of Compassionate Eye Foundation/John Wildgoose/Getty Images.
Shaifali Aggarwal is a graduate of Harvard Business School, an MBA admissions expert, and the founder of Ivy Groupe, a boutique MBA admissions consulting company. Shaifali’s philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out. With this approach, Shaifali has successfully helped hundreds of applicants gain admission to top-tier MBA programs. Follow Ivy Groupe’s blog, or Shaifali on LinkedIn or Twitter.More from this Author