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Is an MBA right for you?

To answer that question, you ought to consider:

  • Students’ common motivations for obtaining an MBA
  • What your career goals and purpose are
  • Whether you are a competitive applicant for an MBA

Common motivations for obtaining an MBA

Students pursue an MBA for five reasons:

  1. Brand: The MBA degree and/or the degree from a prestigious business program provide a strong signal to future employers of your intelligence, ability, and business acumen.
  2. Salary: A Financial Times report found that MBA alumni who were 24 or under when they started their degree reported that their salary increased by nearly $69,000, up 145% over their pre-MBA pay. Alumni who started their MBA programs when they were 27 and 28 reported salary increases of $67,000, roughly doubling their pre-MBA pay. Older students who enrolled at the age of 31 or above had a pay increase of $56,000, or a 70% rise over pre-degree salary.
  3. Industry or Functional Skill Pivot: Data from TransparentMBA, an MBA career platform, found that 87% of MBAs switch either functions or industries in their jobs directly before and after B-school. Some 69% switch both functions and industries. Individuals using a full-time MBA from an elite business school to accelerate their current career paths are in the significant minority.
  4. Network: An MBA expands, enriches, and deepens your global network. According to multiple, peer-reviewed studies, simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success. In fact, one study shows that half of the predicted difference in career success (i.e., promotion, compensation, industry recognition) is due to this one variable.
  5. Learn: Not to be forgotten, an MBA allows students an opportunity to learn hard quantitative skills and subjects, to practice managing and leading diverse, multicultural teams, to open their minds to new ideas, business models, and leadership styles, and, perhaps most importantly, to step back from the daily grind and think big about themselves, their careers, and their purpose.

Your career goals and purpose

Across every MBA application there is a variation on the question, “What are your career goals?” According to MBA Prep School, when schools ask “What are your career goals?” they are really trying to learn much more – they are asking:

  • Is this applicant passionately interested in the field he or she plans to work in?
  • Do the applicant’s career goals address a significant problem?
  • Is solving this problem personally meaningful to the applicant?
  • Will solving this problem benefit others in a meaningful way?
  • Does the applicant have the leadership capabilities needed to help solve this problem?
  • Is the applicant’s career action plan sound?
  • Does the applicant present evidence that he or she understands his or her future industry?
  • Is the applicant connecting the dots between prior skills/experiences and post-MBA career goals?

Most importantly, your career goals and purpose are deeply tied to your motivations for pursuing an MBA.  How do you identify your career goals and purpose? Start by answering these four questions:

  1. What industry/field are you passionate about working in?
  2. If you were a leader in that field, what is a significant problem that you would want to tackle?
  3. What motivates you? Why does this problem matter to you personally?
  4. What leadership role can you play given your unique set of capabilities, skills, and knowledge?

Once you answer those four questions, your objective is to:

  • Identify your ‘dream’ role (not the role you want (or are qualified for) now but the role you want to hold to solve the significant problem you identified);
  • Inventory the capabilities, skills, and knowledge you’ll need to acquire or strengthen in order to secure that role;
  • Develop your career action plan to secure that role!

Once you develop your career action plan, you may realize that the value (and cost) of a business school is not necessary. That’s okay! If you do need an MBA, continue reading.

MBA degree requirements

At this point, you know the common motivations for an MBA and whether you are interested in receiving one. But are you a competitive applicant? According to MBA Prep School, the common MBA selection criteria includes:

Academic Profile

  • High cumulative GPA and GPA in major
  • Above average performance in quantitative or business-oriented courses
  • GMAT score above the school’s median
  • TOEFL score above the school’s median (if applicable)
  • Undergraduate degree from a school with an excellent academic reputation

Career Progress

  • Extensive evidence of career progress
  • Visible progress made in the direction of career goals
  • Employer is known to have very high standards for hiring
  • Excellent references/recommendation letters
  • Plenty of evidence of managerial potential

Leadership Portfolio

  • Evidence of leadership at work
  • Evidence of leadership outside of work
  • Self-awareness of leadership capabilities and development needs
  • “Servant-Leader” leadership style as opposed to autocratic or self-serving

Career Goals

  • Defined career goals
  • Career goals reflect a sense of purpose: passion, meaning, and significance
  • Admissions committee can connect the dots between prior skills/experiences and post-MBA career goals
  • Convincing motivations for pursuing an MBA
  • Rock solid case for pursuing an MBA from the school(s) you are applying to
  • Career goals reflect a global perspective

Other Qualities

  • Evidence of self-awareness
  • Evidence of maturity/life-experience
  • Dimension (e.g., not too much of a “poet” nor too much of a “suit”)
  • International/cross-cultural experience
  • A great fit with the school’s culture

Of these criterion, according to MBA Prep School, the five common reasons applicants are rejected are:

  1. Generic Reasons for Applying
  2. Vague or Unconvincing Career Goals
  3. Limited Career Progress
  4. GMAT Score 30+ Points Below Target School Median
  5. Low Grade Point Average (usually below 3.25)

The majority of these criteria are manageable. Awareness, planning, and clarity of purpose are key. But what if you have a low GPA? Take online math class and build a supplemental academic transcript. There are typically creative solutions to address each of the above criteria. Whether you are still a student, just landed your first job, or have a few years of work experience, the key is to start now!