While the desire “to make more money,” “to go into consulting,” or “to get a better job” leads many professionals to consider an MBA, these desires make for unconvincing arguments on an application essay. Your reasons for attending business school need to be more compelling both for the sake of your application and your career ambitions.
“The worst thing anyone can do is pursue an MBA to ‘get it out of the way’ or ‘get letters’ behind their name,” says Dan Bursch, the program director for the University of North Carolina Kegnan-Flagler online business school. An MBA is costly both in time and money, so treat it as a carefully thought-out investment, not an obligatory next step.
How do you evaluate whether an MBA will pay off for you and your goals? Consider how the true benefits of an MBA – what you really get out of those two years and thousands of dollars – will help get you where you want to go in your career.
According to Ed Batista, an executive coach and instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, an MBA provides three main benefits: leadership and management skills, a “signal” in the market, and access to an influential community.
Let’s look at each of these benefits. It will be your job to determine how much each will help you achieve your career goals.
Soft skills to complement the hard
The analytical skills that were once the calling card of an MBA are now commonplace – every business school graduate is expected to have them. According to Batista, the more coveted skills today are less teachable, namely soft skills like leadership and effective management.
While quantitative analysis, finance, and accounting are still cornerstones of an MBA education, programs are increasingly offering classes that temper analysis with interpersonal ability. According to Stanford Dean Garth Saloner, “…the softer skill sets, the real leadership, the ability to work with others and through others, to execute, that is still in very scare supply.”
A signal to the marketplace
Your MBA will send out a signal to the market. Future employers, employees, and other stakeholders related to your career will respond to your degree in different ways. In many business environments, an MBA will be viewed positively as a credential of your intelligence and ability. However, don’t expect this signal to be universal. “There are many fields and organizations in which MBAs are viewed with skepticism and even disdain,” Batista notes.
In short, make sure you know how an MBA is perceived in your desired career. The same applies to where you complete your MBA as different programs broadcast different signals across markets.
A community and network ready to help
You’ll learn much from your fellow students while in business school and they’ll become some of your best allies after you graduate. Yet classmates and “alumni networks aren’t created equal,” says Batista. You need to consider the type of people you’ll be surrounded by and how they may influence what you’ll do after you graduate. Some alumni networks are very regional, which is great if you plan to stay in that region upon graduation but perhaps a disadvantage should you hope to go elsewhere.
Some questions Batista encourages prospective applicants to ask when considering programs is “what do I know about the alumni networks of these programs? How active are they? Are they concentrated in geographic areas and professional fields of interest to me?”
You’re the only one who can decide if an MBA is right for you, so be sure to use a little business acumen in weighing the value of an MBA. You can check out Ed Batista’s complete article here.