I am a couple of years out of undergrad and am planning to pursue an MBA in the next year or two, what should I be thinking about/focusing on as I plan for an MBA?

Sep 12, 2011
Tags: Applications, Choosing the Right School, Early Career MBA, MBA, School Selection, Work Experience

Provided by Pat Harrison, Associate Director of Admissions at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth University

Take quantitative classes while you still have the opportunity – an MBA program is very quantitative. If you haven’t taken many, or any, quant classes, consider taking some while you are still in school or after you graduate.  Helpful classes are financial accounting, statistics, and microeconomics.  Taking classes demonstrates your ability to handle the work and having familiarity with the concepts will make you a more confident student once you start business school. 

If you are still in school, take the GMAT your senior year or as soon after graduating as possible.  Your scores are valid for 5 years so get it out of the way while you are still in school and still in test-taking mode.  If you are out of school, take it as soon as you can and well in advance of your application. If you find you need to take it again, you will have plenty of time. 

Follow your passions and do what you really want to do, even if it’s non-traditional.  Every year I get questions from college students asking what job they should take to get into business school.  My advice is: don’t take a job just because you think it will help you get into business school.  In the eyes of the admissions committee, work from one sector or profession does not have more value than another.  If you do what you are really interested in and have a passion for your work, you are more likely to be successful, and that is what is important. 

Develop your career.  When you start working, work hard and challenge yourself. Take the stretch assignments, volunteer for leadership opportunities, take initiative and look for ways you can contribute. 

Develop relationships with mentors. They are valuable advisors and there is a lot to learn from them. Plus, these are the people you will look to for letters of recommendation when you are ready to apply. You want them to know you and your talents well. As you move on to other jobs, keep in touch with past supervisors and colleagues. 

Get involved/stay involved in the community.  We like to see people who have been active in their communities and are likely to be involved when they get to Tuck. When you graduate and start a new job, it’s easy to get caught up in work, but try to make time to stay involved in outside activities. It’s a good outlet for you, an opportunity to develop additional leadership skills and something valued by schools. 

Get your finances in order.  Business school is an investment.   But don’t be put off by the price tag. There are ways to finance your education. Schools offer scholarships, there are student loans available, and the return on investment is definitely worth the cost. BUT right now, work on your financial health. Save money, pay off credit cards, don’t buy an expensive car, etc. Loan opportunities may be better with a better credit history and you don’t want cost of attendance to be the deciding factor for where you can go to school. 

Research schools.  Do your homework to figure out which school best meets your needs. There are lots of ways to do this, and I caution you against just relying on rankings, though they are a great way to start.  Talk to alums and current students from lots of different schools, attend school information events and fairs, and absolutely visit the schools you are applying to. 

Give yourself time. The application process is not easy and should not be rushed. The things we’ve talked about take time, and you should also make time to do some serious self-reflection. What do you want from your career, your life, why do you need an MBA, why now? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How will your past experiences help you on this journey? This level of introspection really pays off when you do start the application because you will have a better sense of your personal story.