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How to Know Whether B-School is Right for You

So much has been written about when you should apply to business school. There are tons of articles about the average age for US schools (27-28 years) and international schools (29 years). A lot has been written about when to apply, round one versus round two. And articles abound on the transformative impact of the MBA degree.

All these articles have shaped the topic of applying to business school a bit narrowly. It’s more than whether you are the right age. Without a doubt the degree can be life-changing for many applicants. But that isn’t necessarily the case for everyone. Also, figuring out the right round to apply is an important question but before you even engage in that question, you first need to figure out whether Business School is right for you.  You also need to have a realistic picture of what the degree can do for you.

What do you really want?

The important question you must answer is what you want. The last thing you want is to apply to business school, get admitted, enroll, and then discover to your disappointment that you are not ready. Or even worse, that you don’t want to go to business school after all.

I urge you to ask yourself some key questions and answer them honestly before applying to business school. You will save yourself a lot of money and angst by taking the time to consider the questions below:

Are you applying because everyone around you is applying to business school?

This is a common trap that many applicants fall into. Take a moment to reflect on why you are really considering pursuing an MBA beyond the fact that many people from your industry do the same. Be honest with yourself. Your reflection here will help you to identify your own motivations, and this can only differentiate you from many others in similar situations who have not invested in the thoughtful reflection required in making this significant investment.

One way to explore this question is to imagine your career without the MBA. Consider what your career would look like without the MBA—will you still be able to achieve what you desire. If your answer is a resounding “yes”, then you may want to explore further whether you want to make the investment in an MBA.

Are you applying because you are stuck at your job and you want to escape?

One of the things I’ve observed in MBA applicants is a desire to “escape” their reality. Some applicants are frustrated with their jobs and see the MBA as their escape hatch. While the MBA degree can be powerful in helping applicants to expand their career opportunities, it isn’t a panacea for a disappointing career. Applicants should maintain a healthy expectation of what the degree can do for them. They also should think from an adcom perspective. The adcom wants to fill their class with individuals who have positive career contributions to add. If your mindset regarding your career is primarily negative, you will find it difficult to deliver a compelling career story that would interest the adcom.

But more than that, applicants should consider ways that they can make adjustments in their current situations to have a more fulfilling career. Taking such steps prior to applying will help applicants gain greater clarity regarding whether they should pursue the MBA.

Are you applying because you think b-school will give you your dream job?

You should accept that there are no perfect jobs. While you can gain broader opportunities as a result of an MBA degree, it will not automatically give you the perfect job. Avoid being unrealistic about your expectations. For example, just because you want a career as a venture capitalist doesn’t mean you will land a job as a VC post your MBA. It is extremely difficult to get into. And it depends on your skill set. So do your homework to look at what is reasonable, what career changes others in similar situations have been able to make with their degree. The more you are armed with concrete information about what is possible and what isn’t, the better positioned you will be when you apply and the less likely you will be to be disappointed after you earn your MBA degree.

Do you think you will figure “it” out in business school?

There is a lot of exploration that takes place in business school. In fact, every business school worth anything has excellent career services offices to facilitate students’ career exploration. However, it is naïve to not invest in your own introspection to get a general sense of what you want to do with your MBA before you attend business school. Business school applicants will be stronger candidates the more insightful they are about why they are going to business school. Failing to reflect on why you want the MBA can be a simple reason your application may be rejected.

Business schools cost a great amount of money. I think it is a worthwhile investment for many people. But the reality is that it isn’t the right option for everyone. Make sure you consider the questions covered here to ensure that the investment you are making in your business school education is right for you.