Going to business school full time is a significant investment in yourself. Between lost income from not working and high tuition rates, you have to consider whether an MBA will provide a valuable return on investment. So, let’s look at the “who, what, when, where, and why” to figure out if it’s the best decision for you.
Websites like Buzzfeed and Reddit have turned us into a list-loving population. There are probably hundreds of steps to deciding whether to go to business school and then applying to business school. I’ll let other blogs cover those details. So, here is my 5 step roadmap for deciding whether business school is right for you, based on my experience and opinion.
1) Think about what you want
Let’s start with the obvious: if you don’t want an MBA, don’t go to business school. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the purpose of an MBA and what you get out of it. On the surface, an MBA is designed to help you develop critical business skills and prepare you for the challenges you will face in the business world. In addition, business school puts you in a position to network with people you would have never otherwise met. While professors may disagree, I think the latter is the most significant part of the education. If you want to go to business school simply for the joy of learning (not to say this isn’t incredibly important) and not for the ultimate goal of advancing your career, you may not find as much value as you would in other masters programs.
2) Think about where you want to live
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was this: “Go where you want to go and everything will follow.” I can’t say that Washington, DC was my first choice of where to go, but the other options weren’t too practical. From what I’ve learned so far, the companies that recruit at local career fairs are either large companies with huge recruiting budgets or smaller companies in close vicinity to the school. Because of that, there is a concentration of certain industries at job fairs (i.e. finance in New York and government contracting in DC). If you don’t know exactly where you want to work or what exactly what you want to do, you aren’t alone. But, since you have an industry or vague direction in mind (otherwise you wouldn’t be going to business school, right?), look at the companies that recruit at each school. If none of them interest you, think about whether that’s a place you want to live.
3) Think about asking for recommendations
While asking for recommendations is sometimes the most awkward part of applying to business school, it’s one of the most critical. I was lucky enough to work with people who were more than happy to give me fabulous recommendations. In some companies this is not the case and could be part of the reason for applying to business school—getting the heck of your current employment situation. I’ll try to put this as lightly as possible. If you are uncomfortable approaching people you know—coworkers, clients, colleagues, and/or superiors—will you be comfortable talking to and networking with people you don’t know?
4) Think about whether this is the best time
There is never a perfect time for anything. Ask people who have made investments (since education is technically an investment in yourself), and there will never be a consensus that they made their decisions at exactly the right time. For this question, I surveyed a few classmates who are in various stages of life. Some are recently married or engaged, some are changing careers, some just moved to the United States for the first time. Overall, everyone made sacrifices to invest in themselves. Obsessing over this question will do more harm than good. It will never be a perfect time. Trust yourself to make a leap of faith.
5) Think about why you are listening to me or anyone really
This was my favorite section to write mainly because I fell under this trap when I was thinking about getting an MBA and looking at business schools. In general, people go to business school once. I can’t imagine a situation where someone would need two MBAs. During the application process, everyone was so excited to give me advice and I took it without challenging its validity or relevance. I also searched Google for any bit of information I could possibly find. So here is my advice about advice (the hypocrisy is not lost on me). Hear what people say, read the plethora of blogs (including the Forté blog!!), and take all of it with a grain of salt. Take advice as an à la carte menu, not a prix fixe dinner.
So here’s my closing statement. No one has all the answers, especially you and I. Trust yourself, be introspective, and avoid the slippery slope of excessive advice. Since I don’t have all the answers, please add comments to enlighten me and others about your experiences preparing for the business school application process. Who knows, maybe I’ll decide to get a second MBA.
Lara Donato is a first year Global MBA student at George Washington University in Washington, DC and Forté Fellow Class of 2016. She is originally from New York but took a jump down south for college at the University of Virginia. After spending a semester abroad in Sydney, Australia, Lara caught the wanderlust bug and now takes any opportunity to travel the world. In the limited free time she has, Lara enjoys reading Wired magazine, playing volleyball, and spending time with friends and family.