Our guest blogger is Ashley Wells, a member of Forte's MBA Launch program for MBA applicants. She is excited to share her perspectives on the process of pursuing an MBA. Whether you were inspired to pursue an MBA from your college accounting class, Lipstick Jungle (but seriously, why was that show cancelled?), or your most recent career inspirations, many of you out there are in the preliminary stages of considering one basic question: Should I go through a grueling application process, two more years of school, and $100,000+ in debt for the MBA? Every individual’s answer will inevitably differ, and diverse career paths will offer contrasting recommendations or requirements to pursue the degree. However, there are five people that each of us should speak to while deciding if the MBA is right for us. Leaders in your current field. For those of us looking to stay in our current industry (hand raise anyone?), you are likely in one of two positions: It is required for you to pursue the MBA in order to move up. It may seem like a no-brainer. Everyone at a certain level takes off for the MBA and you are expected to file suit. Before you start penning your applications, take a breath and think about who you look up to in the firm or organization. Regain the enthusiasm of your first year in the workforce and your energy for networking, and take time to meet with these individuals to ask them about: their MBA path, how expectations of you will be different post-MBA, and what skills you should be looking to gain through the MBA experience. This guidance can be helpful to you during the application process and will help you keep perspective throughout your MBA experience. It is not necessarily a requirement to move up. This is a slightly tougher position to be in, as the path is less defined. In most cases, there will be executives and partners in your field who don’t have MBAs, and who pursued interesting life paths to get where they are today without the degree. There also may be an “unspoken” skew towards the MBA degree, where these “interesting” leaders are actually the exceptions to the rule and in fact most leaders in your field do have the degree and have found it useful. Talk to both those who do and don’t have the MBA under their belt to offer you contrasting perspectives on the necessity or advantage of the degree. Leaders in the field you want to move into. Approximately half of those pursuing an MBA are looking to switch careers post-graduation. If you are in the same “career switching boat” as many of your future classmates, it is essential that you speak with people in your dream job field to understand: how the MBA can be beneficial to that career track, if most leaders at the top of the industry have MBAs, whether or not it is the “norm” for people in the field to have MBAs or other degrees, and if the MBA is a prerequisite to getting hired. You should also ask what other qualifications (different degrees, PMP certification, etc.) you can pursue in lieu of the MBA that are recommended alternatives to a business degree. People who pursued other degrees you may be considering: As complex, multi-faceted citizens of the world, many of us have more than one interest when it comes to pursuing a graduate degree. When weighing your options, there is only so much reading you can do to help you decide what your best graduate degree fit is. Your best bet is to actually track down people you know (either personally or through alumni networks) to talk to them about their degrees and use them as a sounding board for the options you are considering. As a Political Science undergraduate, I was very interested in an MPP or MPA degree because of the excitement I took in the coursework, but I also felt strongly that the MBA would be the more “practical” option to enhance my skillset and build my business network. To help me sort out my thoughts, I spoke with several trusted mentors and recommended leaders in my firm with MPP, MPA, and MBA degrees. These individuals offered me critical (and free!) advice that ultimately helped steer me towards the MBA choice. Women with MBAs. I have spoken with many smart females who possess MBAs on the topic of business school. Many women have the perspective that in an increasingly competitive workforce and in a job atmosphere where a male-female income disparity still exists, the MBA is critical because it offers credibility. These female business leaders have found their MBA to offer them authority in the board room, while speaking to public audiences, and with clients. This is a subject up for debate, but I’d encourage you to speak with some female MBAs you know on this topic to offer you first-hand perspective on how this may apply to you. Yourself. Yes, it sounds cheesy. I hate that this section has to be in here, but as many of us people-pleasing, career-ladder-climbing, type-A, high-achieving women can be distracted from the most important thing—what WE think—this section merits a few lines. Amidst all of the conversations you are having, with the people above, and your friends, family, and significant other, the most critical conversation you must have is the one with yourself. Is this the right move for you? Are you willing to assume risk and debt in light of a higher payoff in the end? Will the MBA help you pursue the career path you really want to be in? Are you ready for a location change and career move? These are questions you and you alone can answer. Happy MBA Deciding, and may the odds be ever in your favor! I’d love to hear your feedback and questions in the comments section below. Ashley Wells is a Strategy and Operations consultant at Deloitte. She is currently enrolled in Forte’s inaugural MBA Launch program for women. She is an MBA 2014 candidate hopeful and is excited to share her experiences and insights throughout the MBA application process. She has a degree in Political Science from The George Washington University.