Five Questions You Should Ask Yourself about Business School

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Consuela Knox

An MBA can help you develop the skills you need to take your career to the next level.

Consuela Knox is Director of Admissions Operations & Diversity Recruiting Manager, Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management.

1. How do I know when it’s the right time to apply?

Determining the right time to apply is a difficult but very important consideration. If you enroll too early, you will not gain the most from the program. If you enroll too late, you delay entry into more challenging, fulfilling, and perhaps lucrative career opportunities.

If you feel that your career is not advancing as quickly as you would desire, enrolling in an MBA program can help catapult your professional advancement. If another year in the same position will likely not enhance your skill set and overall profile in a way that supports your goals, now may be the time to enroll in business school. In certain fields, an MBA is a qualifier to advance in the organization and industry norms determine when to earn an MBA. Ultimately, you need to be sure that have obtained the right mix of experiences that, combined with an MBA, will help you achieve your post-MBA goals.

2. How can I best prepare for the application process?

The first step of preparing for the application process is to visit a school’s webpage. Here you can find the basics required to apply: GMAT score, references, essays, evaluative interview, work history, etc. You can usually find a class profile that will indicate the type of application you need to build to be competitive.

The two aspects of the application process that require the greatest lead time are typically the recommendation and the GMAT exam. Prepare early for both.

You have a limited level of control over when a reference will submit the required information, so initiating this process as early as possible is beneficial. Schedule time to meet with your references to explain your educational and professional goals and to remind them of your career highlights.

Regarding the GMAT exam, some candidates spend more than 100 hours studying. Many applicants take the GMAT more than once to achieve the highest score possible and to show a pursuit of excellence.

Finally, I suggest speaking with current students and alumni of MBA programs. They can speak to you about the culture of the schools and other details of their experiences. The best applications are submitted from individuals who have intricate knowledge of a school and can articulate why the school is a good match.

3. How do I decide between a traditional MBA and a specialized master’s?

Specialized master’s degrees are just that: specialized. These degrees prepare you to be an expert in the given field. While you can typically study the same focus area as the specialized master’s in an MBA program, the MBA discipline provides a much broader foundation in general business principles. Also, the MBA degree generally has a stronger focus on leadership.

Some individuals switch majors late in the undergraduate experience or, for some other reason, do not gain the necessary knowledge or secure relevant internships in their areas of interest. In this case, attending a specialized master’s program can provided extended training and better job opportunities.

Many specialized master’s programs are one-year long, while most MBA programs are two years long. Individuals sometimes choose a specialized master’s program to save time and money, while still experiencing an educational and professional boost.

4. What if I'm not a strong test taker? What should I do to get a good GMAT score? 

If you are not a strong test taker, you can still be successful in the MBA application process. An admissions committee uses multiple indicators to evaluate your candidacy. If your verbal test score is not strong, we can look at your essays, evaluative interview and email communication for a better indication. If your quantitative score is not strong, we can look at your academic records and work responsibilities. Perhaps you don’t have evidence of strong performance in quantitative courses on your transcript. Most schools will take into account performance in post-graduate courses taken at a college local to you.

To obtain a strong score, plan to spend 100+ hours studying for the GMAT exam. Try to look for trends in the types of problems that are most difficult or take the longest to solve. Then spend time focusing on these types of problems to improve your proficiency. Again, you can take the exam more than once, but be mindful of how your schools of choice will view your scores (e.g. take an average of your exam scores, take the highest exam score). And study between the exam sittings; don’t just take it again without more and, perhaps, different preparation!

5. What are the benefits of investing in an MBA or other graduate management degree?

The MBA can impact you personally and professionally. You develop leadership skills and decision-making skills. You can learn how to manage investments and negotiate. Your view of the world and all its complexities can be enhanced through interactions with a diverse set of peers. While no one should choose a program solely based on a potential post-degree salary, the significant financial gain can certainly add to the return on the time and money invested.

The MBA is one of the most versatile degrees and remains the most popular degree in the world. All types of professions (like doctors, teachers, and athletes) in all types of industries (like health care, technology, and entertainment), can benefit from a strong management skill set.

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