Wanting an MBA is a good thing. It suggests that you are ambitious and willing to push yourself to achieve a goal. But before starting on your application, you should examine what an MBA means to you. Be clear of your motivations and goals before embarking on the extremely challenging and expensive application process.
All top business schools will expect you to address why you want an MBA. They each will word this question differently, but what they want to understand is what your career goal is and whether an MBA is necessary to help you achieve it. Equally important to the MBA Board is understanding whether your career aspirations reflect your true passion or whether they are simply the way for you to get your ticket punched. The issue of fit is also a very important one to business school Admissions Boards. They want to ensure that their program is right for you and that you are right for their program.
The justification for an MBA will vary from one applicant to the next. The important thing is to remain true to who you are when presenting your rationale for pursuing an MBA. In
this chapter, I will examine the four most popular reasons applicants cite for wanting to attend business school and how the Admissions Boards view these reasons. I will also review the benefits of obtaining an MBA and the different variables that candidates use in selecting a business program.
Applying to business school will cost you a fair chunk of money. The average application fee is $200, and given the acceptance rate of 10 to 20 percent, most applicants apply to
four or more schools. In addition to the cost of the application
fee, there is the Graduate Management Admission Test
(GMAT) to think of. With average GMAT prep programs
charging about $1100 to $1500 (not including one-on-one
tutoring), you should expect to shell out at least $2000 just to
apply to business schools. If you decide to hire an admissions
consultant to guide you along the way, this figure can increase
significantly. The MBA itself is a very expensive investment,
with costs north of $140,000. And I haven’t even touched on
the opportunity cost of leaving a lucrative job and forfeiting a
salary and bonus for two years. If you include the lost income,
the MBA price tag can easily be more than $200,000. So before
you take the application plunge, make sure the MBA is necessary to achieve your career goals.
The good news is that although the MBA costs a considerable amount of money, the payoff can be substantial, with many graduates from top programs earning twice what they used to earn prior to receiving an MBA. But the payoff isn’t only monetary. Many MBAs receive other perks, such as greater career exposure, contacts, skills, and so on. Before delving deeper into the benefits of the MBA, which I will further examine in this chapter, let’s take a look at two major admissions traps that applicants fall into jumping on MBA bandwagons and applying because they are unemployed.
AVOID MBA BANDWAGONS
The MBA Board will be checking to make sure you are not simply getting on the MBA bandwagon because all of your friends are applying to business school. The MBA Board also wants to ensure that you are not applying simply because your firm has a structure where employees complete a two-or three-
year analyst program and then have to leave. Analysts and
consultants in investment banking and strategy consulting face
this issue the most. It is understood that a majority of analysts
and consultants will “move on” after two to three years and a
significant number will end up pursuing their MBA degree. But
this expectation of going for your MBA is not a strong enough
reason to convince the MBA Board that you are serious about
the degree. Candidates in these categories need to make a clear
pitch for what their specific MBA goals are and how the partic-
ular program is best positioned to help them achieve their
Be wary of jumping on career bandwagons. Someone once
asked me whether I thought she should join a private equity
(PE) shop after working two years in consulting in order to get
a PE stamp. My answer was that it depends on what you wish
to do in the long term. If your passion is to start or lead a PE
company, then making the leap now is fine. On the other hand,
if it is simply to get a stamp, then it isn’t the right path to take.
MBA Boards can also see through someone’s ploy of
leaving a consulting or engineering job to join a nonprofit
organization right before applying to business school specifi-
cally to get a social enterprise stamp of approval. On the other
hand, if social philanthropy is a genuine interest, then make
sure you connect the dots to other evidence in your profes-
sional and personal life to show that social enterprise isn’t just
a passing fancy.
Quite frankly, there is no set profile or work experience that guarantees admission to a top business school. So, at best, simply jumping on trendy bandwagons will signal to the MBA Board that you are not authentic about your career goals.
Because each candidate’s story varies, it is important to embrace your unique circumstance and articulate how the MBA fits with your goal and how it will transform your career.
GAIN ADMISSION DESPITE A PINK SLIP
Another potentially flag-raising reason applicants give for applying to business school is that they lost their job and have nothing better to do. Obviously, this situation is likely to yield an unfavorable outcome. Many casualties of the dot-com disaster contributed to the unprecedented application volumes seen at many leading business schools in 2001. Not surprisingly, many of the applicants did not gain admission to business school.
From 2002 to 2004, many individuals received pink slips as a result of a slow economy. The 2007-2008 subprime problems have led to job cutbacks in positions in mortgage-backed securities. Many financial services companies have announced layoffs and some have shut down entire mortgage business
units. Not surprisingly, some of those receiving pink slips will
view business school as a viable option.
Should you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of
being unemployed, avoid saying that you are pursuing the MBA
as a way to get back into the job market. I know, it sounds very
obvious, but I have come across this rationale enough times to
know that the obvious isn’t always “obvious.” Even if you don’t
explicitly state this reason for why you want an MBA, if you
receive a pink slip and do not find alternative employment, the
MBA Board will still likely conclude that you are seeking the
degree because you do not have anything better to do.
However, unemployed candidates are not necessarily
doomed to rejection.
For instance, if you were a varsity squash player and have always been interested in community involvement, now that you are not working a one-hundred-hour workweek, you can join an organization like StreetSquash to lend your skills to empower inner-city kids through athletics. Better yet, if you are trying to make a switch from finance to marketing, you can lead marketing initiatives to help this organization secure funding. The brief marketing experience you gain can provide insightful material for your essays and reinforce your justification for the career change.