This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com
As a prospective MBA, you’ll benefit enormously from taking time at the beginning of your application process to contemplate the path you’re about to take. This is a great time to ask yourself critical questions, as self-evaluation and reflection are crucial to any MBA application journey. Setting aside some time for heavy thinking before you start writing your essays will prepare you for a solid and strategic application.
Question 1: What are your career goals? As you contemplate applying to MBA programs, the very first step in your self-evaluation process is to consider where you want to be in your career. Ask yourself what you would do if you didn’t need to work for money and what your core values are.
If your career goals are not immediately revealed, ask your friends and family what they see you doing. This process should reveal good ideas and a spark of passion for your career path.
If you are in a field where MBAs are not traditionally required, you may still benefit if your career goals include rising to senior management within your company or starting your own company. As a first step, look around at the people you most admire and want to be like within your target company or industry. Read their bios to see their skill set and educational background.
Talking to people who are pursuing your target career, at any level, is also a great way to understand what you need to do to accomplish your goals.
Question 2: Why do you want an MBA? While an MBA is a great experience, ultimately it’s a tool to advance your professional aims. The degree is highly focused on practical business applications, not intellectual curiosity.
Preferably when you answer the question of your career goals it will be clear why an MBA is the right degree for you. If your career path doesn’t immediately reveal the need for an MBA, yet you know you want one, you may want to delve into your motivations.
Consider your expectations for the degree and critically evaluate whether your hopes match the reality of an MBA program. If you know current MBA students or alumni, sounding them out first is a great way to start your research and make sure you are committed to the MBA application process.
Question 3: Is an MBA the right degree for you? Evaluating your professional goals might reveal that a different type of graduate degree would be useful.
Those interested in finance might also consider a master’s in finance, which typically prepares students more specifically for a career in corporate finance, financial analysis or investment management. That degree may prepare you to be the chief financial officer of a company, but may not be the ideal degree for a general manager or CEO.
If you’re interested in public policy work or managing in the nonprofit sector, you might look into a law degree, a master’s in public policy or master’s in public administration. On top of those options, you could pursue a joint J.D./MBA or a joint M.P.P./MBA or M.P.A./MBA.
While any one of these degrees can help you achieve your goals, you may want to consider the environment of each school, the academic focus, the time you will spend pursuing the degree and what works best for you personally.
Question 4: Are you competitive in the MBA applicant pool? As you think about entering an MBA program, you should be aware of the competitive pool of candidates who apply every year. Evaluate yourself against successful candidates to the schools you are considering.
The easiest first step is to see what the mean GMAT and GPA is for a successful applicant to your target programs.
If your “numbers” are much lower than the mean at your dream schools, you may want to consider taking classes to build an alternative transcript or retaking the GMAT. While no candidate is perfect, minimizing any red flags in your application will ensure that you have a strong chance at admission.