Provided by Erin Ernst, MBA Admissions Director, Foster School of Business, University of Washington.
Part I of this blog focuses on preparedness. Have you done your homework? How well do you know yourself? Are you financially and academically prepared? Next week, we’ll focus on how you can know if this is the right time personally for you to pursue an MBA.
Just like many big steps in life, there is no “perfect” time for the MBA that makes sense for everyone. Regardless of the average age or the average years of work experience represented at the different schools you are considering, the most important thing to consider is your own readiness for the MBA. While you do want to be aware of a school’s profile, and understand their selection criteria, there are a number of factors to consider before you begin diving into the application process. Following are some important questions (in no particular order) that you should ask yourself if you are thinking about an MBA.
How well do you know yourself professionally?
Rather than simply thinking about how many years of work experience you have, and whether that matches up well with the schools that you are interested in, instead think about how well you understand your own professional “personality”. What specific skills do you have? Do you enjoy working with people? Do you like working with numbers? Are you good at giving presentations? Do you like giving presentations? Generally if you have a very limited amount of work experience, it can be difficult to answer some of these questions. Oftentimes two or three years of experience can bring much more clarity to the types of jobs or career paths that might be the best fit for you. The MBA offers a fantastic opportunity to target particular areas of development, become a master at the things you’re currently just “pretty good” at, and fill in some of your knowledge gaps. Unless you have some understanding of your professional personality, it can be difficult to figure out just what you want or need from an MBA.
Have you spent time researching your career goals?
MBA programs often involve a lot of choice, customization and prioritization. It can be difficult to choose between the multitudes of opportunities offered to you throughout the MBA if you don’t at least have some ideas about where you are hoping to take your career in the future. You don’t have to know exactly which job you want, at exactly which company, but the MBA should be looked at as a means to an end rather than the goal itself. The best way to research your career goals is to ask lots and lots of questions. If you’re not sure where to start, begin by asking friends, family members and colleagues about their career paths. See if something resonates with you. Once you have a career path in mind, find out if the MBA would help get you there. Ideally by the time you are actually applying to programs, you know for sure that you do in fact need the degree, and you know what you would like to gain from it.
Are you academically prepared for the MBA?
Try for a moment to forget about whether your undergraduate grades and your GMAT will get you admitted or not, and think instead about whether you are actually prepared to handle the rigorous (often quantitative) coursework. You will have a stronger application and you will have a much more successful MBA experience if you target any academic weaknesses prior to submitting your application. Most MBA programs don’t require you to have taken business classes, and many do not have math prerequisites; however, the MBA curriculum moves very quickly. If you struggle with math, consider taking a class at a community college. If you have never taken accounting before, look into opportunities to learn the basics. Brushing up on a few key areas can be a great way to prepare yourself for school and to assess whether you have what it takes to keep up with the challenging MBA coursework.
Are you financially prepared for the MBA?
There are many loans and scholarships available to students, but make sure that you are comfortable with the financial sacrifices you would have to make in order to pursue an MBA. If you feel strongly that you need to keep working full-time for financial reasons, consider pursuing a part-time MBA program. If you are trying to make a major career change, though, you will likely need to be highly involved and engaged in the MBA program, both inside and outside the classroom. If your career goals would best be served by going back to school full-time, research your financial options and above all make sure that you’re comfortable with them. And definitely talk to current students about how they make it work – you will likely learn a lot more than by simply reading the school’s website. Current students understand how you are feeling because they were in your shoes not too long ago, and they can offer you some great tips and suggestions as you prepare to pay for the MBA.