Many university students already know they plan to go to business school before they even enrol as undergraduates. The MBA (the Masters in Business Administration degree, which we will focus on here, though there are several other advanced business degrees, including Masters programs in Finance and Management) is increasingly becoming a ubiquitous part of the landscape for careers in business. Many successful businesses are still founded and operated by people without advanced degrees, in business or otherwise. But there are only so many Mark Zuckerberg's in the world (the famous Facebook founder who dropped out of Harvard as an undergrad in order to run his business).
SO, ASSUMING AN MBA IS A PART OF YOUR FUTURE, WHEN’S THE RIGHT TIME TO THINK ABOUT GETTING ONE?
In short, the answer to that is right now. That is, it’s never too early to start thinking about getting a master’s degree in business. But as to the right time to actually apply for and enrol in an MBA program, the answer to that question is different for everyone. Some people, including those who already run small businesses, enrol in MBA programs for the advanced business knowledge and skills to be learned there. Other people enrol because they want to advance through some obstacle in their professional development. For these people, most of whom have already left school, the best decision is probably to enrol in an MBA program as soon as you can afford it— both in terms of your finances and your personal situation.
But many, if not most, business students get MBAs for the general purpose of launching a career in business. This makes sense— getting an MBA can increase employability, employment ceiling, earning power, and general prospects for a stable and successful career. For these students, we suggest that the best time for getting your MBA is as soon as you can get into a great school.
RANKINGS MATTER, SORT OF
For better or worse, the measurable benefits of an MBA degree for those seeking a career in business or mostly enjoyed by graduates of top-ranked MBA programs. Therefore, if you are looking at an MBA as a general means to a successful business career, you should take the time necessary to make yourself the best possible MBA applicant, and get into the best possible school. Of course, this comes with the disclaimer that the best possible school will be very different for every individual. And this isn’t based solely on ranking— the MBA is not a one-size-fits-all application. This is another reason to take your time in applying to MBA programs— taking your time gives you more time to learn about yourself, including what your needs are, which will help you determine which program is right for you.
SO HOW DO YOU BECOME THE BEST POSSIBLE MBA APPLICANT?
Like the choice of MBA programs, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. This will depend largely on how you look to MBA programs’ admissions committees based on their selection criteria. These criteria differ from school to school (and applicant to applicant), but they do have some things in common. First, most MBA programs require applicants to take the GMAT and weigh GMAT scores relatively heavily in their admissions decisions. This is a good reason for patience in your application process, as taking more time to prepare for the GMAT will ultimately help you get into a better MBA program. In general it is recommended to spend 6-8 weeks to prepare for the GMAT, but there are some GMAT prep courses who claim to help you within 4 weeks.
Another reason for patience: most MBA programs tend to look favourably on candidates who have valuable and relevant work experience. Historically, taking time away from school after earning your undergraduate degree— to experience the world, to grow and learn, and to gain professional experience— has made for better applicants. There is a recent trend in the world of MBA programs to try to identify superior applicants coming straight from university (see, for example, Harvard’s 2+2 program). But as the landscape currently stands, the average full-time MBA student enrolls in b-school with 4.3 years of work experience.
WHAT CAN YOU DO WHILE YOU’RE STILL AN UNDERGRADUATE?
There are plenty of benefits to planning a business education as an undergraduate, including for those students who decide the best route for them is to get an MBA as soon as possible. Getting a head start can help you design your undergraduate curriculum to prepare you for business school in general and even for some industry in particular.
It’s also a great idea to start prepping for the GMAT as early as possible. Most GMAT students take the exam more than once, and most students underestimate the amount of prep time required to maximize your score. Starting when you’re an undergrad can put you at a big advantage - especially because you can connect the concepts you’re learning for the GMAT, what you’re learning in your undergraduate education, and what you’re encountering in your daily life.
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