What to consider when getting an MBA
Understanding the basics of business is helpful for any type of worker, since business is a part of much of what we do. But depending on their career path, some workers may benefit more from studying business management and earning a master's degree in business administration.
If you're thinking about getting an MBA, you may not know where to begin, especially if you've been out of school for a few years. To help, here are some tips for kick-starting your MBA pursuit:
Think about how it will benefit your career
Before making a move toward getting your MBA, consider why you want one and how it would affect your future. For instance, if you're unhappy at your job and aren't sure what to do next, you may think it's worth getting an MBA while you figure it out. But if you don't pursue an MBA for the right reasons, the costs may outweigh the benefits.
"First, determine that you have a professional goal that requires an MBA," says Linda Abraham, co-author of "MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools," and founder of admissions-consulting company Accepted.com. "There are many applicants that say, 'I want an MBA' but haven't a clue or perhaps only a vague idea what they want to do with the degree."
Abraham also says you should calculate if the expected increase in salary is going to pay for the
cost of education in a reasonable period of time. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council's 2012 Alumni Perspectives Survey, the median annual starting salary for all full-time MBA alumni in the survey, regardless of graduation year, was $95,000. Starting salaries will vary based on a variety of factors, including school attended, location and occupation, so take those factors into consideration when doing your calculations.
Make sure you're prepared to go back to school
"Before starting an MBA or any other graduate degree, one should be sure they are ready for the rigors of learning and managing multiple priorities and the time involved in doing so," says Lisa Shacklett, associate dean of Lipscomb University's College of Business in Nashville, Tenn. "Many students have been out of school for years and are now working, managing family or other relationships and often think that a graduate class will be just an extension of a professional development class or seminar. They have forgotten what it is like to study, and if they were like a typical undergrad student, their undergrad experience was an exercise in managing study and fun. Not so when going after an MBA."
As Shacklett points out, getting an MBA requires spending much of your time reading, analyzing data, working in teams, preparing presentations and writing papers, which is more time-intensive than a weekend seminar or daylong professional development class offered by your company.
Research the different programs available
When considering what type of program to pursue, take your schedule into account. Will you be working full or part time? Or will you take time off to go back to school? Do you need a more flexible course schedule, or are you comfortable with a more rigid curriculum?
"There are hundreds of programs around the world that offer an MBA," Abraham says. "There are the traditional two-year programs, part-time programs, accelerated programs -- typically 11-18 months -- and executive MBA programs. These programs are offered in a traditional classroom setting, online and in blended formats, but the traditional classroom is probably the most common."
To see what different types of programs are offered, visit sites such as DegreeDriven.com, where you can search by location, school or focus area.
Take time to prepare
After you've determined which direction you want to take, and you have an idea of what program to pursue, it's time to take the necessary admissions tests. Most schools require that prospective students take the Graduate Management Admission Test, while some may ask for a Graduate Record Examinations score. Request information from potential schools about the test scores they require for admission.
When it comes time to apply, every school has a different submission and review process. "In addition to completing an application, most schools ask for letters of recommendation, an essay to assess writing skills, official transcripts from all universities attended and GMAT scores," Shacklett says. "Some schools require an interview as part of the process. A review committee selects candidates for admission, and then the student is generally asked to make a deposit to reserve their spot in the class. Depending on the university, the application process can take a few weeks or several months."
Consider your priorities when picking a school
Abraham says you should think about the following four factors to help determine what school is right for you:
- Career support: Does the school place graduates in the positions and at the companies at which you're aspiring to work? Does the school have resources for budding entrepreneurs?
- Curriculum: Are the courses formatted in a way in which you're accustomed to learning?
- Extracurricular activities: Does the school have the clubs, activities and events that will help you achieve your goals and complement your formal curriculum? Does it offer activities that match your nonprofessional interests, too?
- Personal preferences: Do you want a big or small school? Urban or rural setting? Are you set on living in a specific location or are you willing to relocate?
Debra Auerbach is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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