Tuesday Tips – Ten Questions, Part 1

The past year was tumultuous in many ways, and you may have found that your professional path took a divergent twist. If you are now considering your next steps, and contemplating an MBA application this Fall, this is a great time to ask yourself ten critical questions before you start the process. Self-evaluation and reflection is a crucial component to any MBA application process, and starting the heavy thinking before you start writing your essays will prepare you for a solid and strategic application.

This week we will start with the first five of the ten questions:

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.

Ultimately, while an MBA is a great experience, it’s a tool to advance your professional aims. The degree is highly focused on practical business applications, not intellectual curiosity. If your career goals require an MBA, then this is a course worth pursuing. 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: What are your personal goals?

The MBA is a degree meant to enhance your career path and provide tools to lead in a business environment. However, your personal life path is also worth contemplating as you consider an MBA. If you have a family or partner you will need to consider what is best for everyone. Questioning what is best for your personal life may impact the type of degree you pursue, the locations you would consider or the amount of time you want to devote to an MBA program.

Question 3: Why do you want an MBA?

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, that is a great way to start your research to make sure you are committed to the MBA application process.

Question 4: Is an MBA the right degree for you?

Evaluating your personal and professional goals might reveal that a graduate degree will be useful, but you may find that a J.D. or Masters of Finance are also of benefit in the career path you are following.

Those interested in finance might also consider a Masters in Finance, which typically prepares students more specifically for a career in corporate finance, financial analysis or investment management. The M.Fin. degree may prepare you to be the CFO of a company, but may not be the ideal degree for a general manager or CEO.

If you are interested in public policy work or managing in the non-profit sector you will likely see that those with a J.D degree or a Masters in Public Policy or Masters in Public Administration. On top of those options, you can pursue a joint J.D./MBA or a joint MPP/MBA or MPA/MBA. While any one of these degrees may 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 5: 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. Businessweek.com has a great resource with data on most of the schools you may be considering.

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 re-taking the GMAT. While no candidate is perfect, minimizing any red flags in your application will ensure that you have a strong chance at admission.

In the next post we will consider five more questions, including “what matters most to you?”

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