As we transition out of undergrad and sail through our first few years on a job, we often question whether business school makes sense, career wise. While there isn’t one cookie-cutter answer, here are a few points to consider as you make your decision.
What skills will you gain?
- Awareness of new opportunities: At the end of high school, many of us don’t usually know what career options we have. We’re too young to appreciate what a day in the life of an accountant will look like as compared to one in the life of a software engineer. We go with the choice of our parents/peers/society. An MBA gives us the opportunity to learn about the different career options that exist and opens the door to shifting fields if one so desires.
- Identification of resources: The time in business school may be too short to gain expertise in any one subject, but a business degree gives one the knowledge of where to go to solve a problem. For instance, a course on pricing will identify the industry experts and relevant reading material that could then be referenced when one is pricing a product. For what it’s worth, these resources are also widely available online now; if this is the only reason a B-school appears attractive, it’s not worth it.
- Networks: This is the undisputed primary advantage of B-schools; one generates a tight-knit network of professionals across several industries. This helps broaden one’s perspective (most of us are otherwise limited to just one industry). Also, this provides lifelong assistance for career moves, both through advice and connections.
Related read: 10 career decisions that make more sense than an MBA
What career options will open for you after the program?
- Move around in the same industry: I was able to move from software engineer to financial analyst to product analyst to chief of staff to product manager @ Google. However, not all companies provide this latitude; business school helps one gain the necessary skills to try out different positions.
- Promotions: Some roles require skills one cannot acquire in a day job. A business degree is necessary to be able to climb some ladders.
- Move to other industries: I’ve had a B-school friend move from the Army to investment banking and then to tech. Such moves are generally harder to make without a B-school degree.
- Move across locations: If you would like to settle in another country, usually going to school and acquiring market savviness is a sure-shot way of ensuring the move while maintaining a great salary. This is particularly true for the US.
- Salary increments: Some of us can benefit from a huge leap in salaries through a business degree.
Can you afford it without longer term handcuffs?
Business schools are expensive. You shouldn’t be in a situation that forces you to make sub-optimal career decisions (take up a higher paying job that interests you less, go back to your old employer you didn’t like or stick to a new employer even if you don’t like them) because the loans are huge. You should either look for scholarships or be in a financial situation that allows you to make financially non-prohibited decisions.
What is the opportunity cost?
Dropping out of the workforce for one to three years is a non-trivial decision. What will you lose financially? Also, would just working for that period get you to the career options you desire?
- Go with your gut about what field you’d like to pursue after B-school. Talk to several current students and alumni to understand their day-to-day jobs and see if you’d like to become them. Having a broad sense of whether you want to consult or i-bank or market can give you a leg up when you get to school. It is perfectly okay to change this once you’re exposed to more information at school.
- Identify schools that are strong in your top two field choices. Forbes US and international lists are a good start.
- Establish the criteria you’d make a decision on. Some examples are school rank, average salaries at placement, expense, location, quality of a given course, professor reputation, school reputation (eg: CMU is an engineering school), alternate courses offered (e.g.: can you take a course from the school of arts) etc.
- If possible, visit the schools to take in the campus culture. If that’s not possible, at least talk to current students to get an idea of how things there work. This also has the advantage of building your networks early and across schools :)
- Apply to the top 10 of your choice, and choose wisely amongst options based on the above criteria.