Deciding if Business School is Right for You
An M.B.A. can prepare you for a wide range of fields and industries. To figure out how your experience could help further your progress toward a specific career goal, consider whether you have the skills and abilities required of someone in your desired dream job. Then find out how many graduates are placed in your targeted profession by the school(s) you like. If you’re thinking about business school, have a clear sense of why and what it will do for you. Do you have the desire to lead and manage organizations? If you’ve ever been in charge of anything, did you like it? Better yet, talk to an OCS adviser about how to determine if your background, skills, and interests match what you’d like to do after business school.
Talking with people (with or without M.B.A.s) currently working in fields that interest you can be extremely helpful as you consider your future career options. Be sure to ask how an M.B.A. is viewed by the industry and if an M.B.A. improves your chances of being hired and moving ahead. If that person has an M.B.A., ask about their experience in the program they attended. Your conversation can help you put into context how applicable the program will be to your career goals. Also, speak with current students or those who have recently completed an M.B.A. program. Inquire about their experience in the program and how it has influenced their careers.
What can you do during your undergraduate years to prepare?
There’s no magic formula for the perfect undergraduate concentration, set of academic achievements, pre-M.B.A. work experience, extracurricular accomplishments, essays, interviews, or recommenders. Nor is there a common career goal or industry in which you can aspire to work. What M.B.A.s have in common is they find opportunities to take initiative, they are motivated, have a strong awareness of themselves, and have a desire to learn and grow.
Business schools look for leaders. In what ways have you demonstrated initiative or translated a vision into a reality? Bear in mind that it’s not about the size of your accomplishment, but the passion with which you invest in and pursue your goals.
Business schools tend to focus on impact more than scale. Make sure, therefore, that the academic and extracurricular choices you make truly reflect your interests, demonstrate initiative, and give you opportunities to play a leadership role in the organization. A strong undergraduate academic record and GMAT (or possibly GRE) score are also important parts of your application to business school. Many schools allow you to sit in on a class to gain insight into what a typical course looks like. Take advantage of this opportunity!
What can you do during the summer?
Summers provide you with opportunities to enhance the skills you’ll most likely want to use in your work, to explore various industry options, and build on your professional network. As with your academic and extracurricular choices, anything you do in the summer that adds value to your credibility as a leader or someone with a strong sense of initiative will be useful to your candidacy for business school. That can be anything from starting a swimming program to teaching ESL.
Researching Programs and Schools
There are over 7000 graduate business programs worldwide. Find and compare different business schools on websites such as the Official GMAT Website. Narrow the field through The Graduate Management Admission Search Service® (GMASS®), developed by the Graduate Management Admissions Council. When you create an account, or when you take the GMAT exam, you’ll be asked if you want business schools to contact you. If you choose “yes,” then your information will be entered into the GMASS search service database, so schools can find you.
Over the years, the media and M.B.A. program brochures have elevated the significance of business school rankings as one of the most important benchmarks for choosing a school to attend. However, school rankings often depend on which publication you read and what research methodology was used. In some cases, information is subjective and may include results that are not checked for accuracy. Most importantly, rankings do not take into account the unique elements of certain programs and how these attributes might meet your individual needs. Rankings tell you what schools are “best” but do not take into account “best fit.”
When to Apply
Undergraduates work for at least two years before applying to an M.B.A. program. Many decide to apply only after knowing:
- That they had enough career experience and insight to set practical goals, and
- How their M.B.A. investment would pay off personally and professionally.
Business schools do not favor one industry over another for work experience, so look for opportunities in an area that most interests you where you can demonstrate accomplishment and leadership in that field.
Many of the top business schools have deferred or early admission programs. Though each program is unique, they generally allow college students to apply for admission in the spring of their final year of study. Students then work for a minimum of two years full-time, before matriculating to business school. Business schools with deferred admissions include:
- Harvard Business School 2+2 Program
- Stanford GSB Deferred Enrollment
- MIT Sloan MBA Early Admission
- Columbia Business School Deferred Enrollment Program
- Chicago Booth Scholars
- Wharton MBA Advance Access
- Northwestern Kellogg Future Leaders
- Yale SOM Silver Scholars Program (allows you to begin your MBA directly from undergrad)
A joint or dual degree program is a full-time M.B.A. program that is combined with another full-time graduate program of study, such as:
- healthcare administration
- international studies
- public policy
You will typically apply separately for each program. While both programs are usually at the same school, some cooperative relationships between schools do exist. The second program determines total program length, but joint degrees generally take three to four years to complete.
- Joint degree programs are most attractive to individuals who want to work at the intersection of both professions. For example, an aspiring healthcare entrepreneur may seek a joint degree for a career developing new healthcare resources or managing a healthcare organization.
- Students who want to make a career transition may like that the joint or dual degree option allows them to earn two degrees faster than if they pursued the degrees separately, because some courses will fulfill requirements in both programs.
- Joint degrees require an extensive absence from the job market—usually three or more years. Therefore, this may not be the best choice for those who plan to continue along a career path and need to maintain current job skills and professional knowledge.
- Prospective employers may not have a clear understanding of why you chose to pursue either or both disciplines.
Most U.S. business schools have three rounds of admissions deadlines:
- fall (September/October)
- winter (January/February)
- spring (March/April)
Check each school’s admissions schedule. When a deadline arrives, the admissions committee reviews all completed applications submitted by the deadline. All subsequent applications are held until the next deadline, or “round.” Some business schools operate on a “rolling” calendar, reviewing applications as they arrive and continuing to admit students until all spaces have been filled.
Most M.B.A. programs require at least one graduate admissions test score.
Consult the individual school website for requirements. Many graduating seniors complete their graduate school admissions test during their senior year when they are most comfortable with testing and have the flexibility to adequately prepare. Most applicants prepare on their own using one of the test-preparation publications available at most bookstores or on the test website.
Essays and Personal Statements
Most business schools require one or more essays in their application. Essay prompts may include a range of subjects such as leadership, long-term career goals, professional accomplishments, and community engagement. When preparing your essays, make sure that together they tell one story. You, as the candidate, are the story. Your essays should reflect different aspects of your character, accomplishments and aspirations that will allow the admissions committee to know you better.
- Write to express, not impress. Admissions professionals can tell when you’re just writing what you think they want to read. If you have done your homework, you know why you want an M.B.A. degree and how that fits into your overall career game plan.
- What will you bring to the classroom? Being part of a business school community is a give-and-take proposition. It’s not only about what you can gain from business school, it’s also about what you’re willing to share. Candidates are often judged by what value they can bring to the classroom and the community experience as well as how well they match entrance requirements.
- Why this school? Much like applying for a job, know why you want to pursue an M.B.A. at a particular school or program. Show that you are familiar with the given school and why you are a good fit.
- Reality check: Is this the right time for you? You’re going to business school to advance your career, right? Your job success as an M.B.A. graduate may rely to a large extent on what you did beforehand. Find out what M.B.A. employers look for in candidates by talking to students, alumni, and the school’s career office. If you don’t have enough experience right now to benefit fully from an M.B.A., further define your goals and apply later.
An important part of your application will be your recommenders. Each business school has different requirements for how many recommenders you can have, and what information they will be asked to provide. Some schools will ask them to submit a letter of recommendation, while others may ask them to submit answers to short answer questions. It is important that you review each school’s website for requirements. Your recommendations need to:
- Support how well you can manage the academic demands of the MBA program and your potential to succeed in your chosen career.
- Validate or expand on your credentials, strengths, and aspirations.
- Help the admissions office to get an overall sense of you as a candidate.
Choose a good cross-section of people who can attest to your dependability and who know about your plans for MBA study, such as employers, colleagues, and in some cases faculty. Check with each school you are applying to before you select your recommenders. Don’t exceed the required number of recommenders without prior agreement from the admissions staff. Recommendations are valuable only if they reflect relevant professional skills. Avoid getting recommendations from people with important-sounding job titles who do not know you or your work.
Many schools conduct admissions interviews and most offer advice about how to prepare on their admissions website. Each program varies in format and location of the interview. Generally, an admissions interview provides an opportunity for you to review your accomplishments relative to your interest in the program.
You can find information about determining the “real cost” of your MBA as well as financial aid resources at the official GMAT website. In general, financial aid may be available to you through grants and scholarships, loans, and Federal Work Study. In some cases, pre-M.B.A. employers may offer to re-pay all or a portion of the cost of your program once you return to work for them. Total costs including tuition, room/board, and fees can range from $90,000 to almost $110,000 per year.