This decision really applies to any sort of post-graduate academics pursuits, but I will focus on the MBA since that is the choice I had to make and where I have the most firsthand experience.Here are a few key questions to answer as you go through the process of determining if business school is the right move:
1. Why are you considering going back to school?
As simple as this question is, many people don’t have a clear understanding of why they want to go back to business school or the benefit they expect to receive from obtaining an MBA. Many companies focus in organic growth and place little emphasis on having an MBA. If you have been frequently promoted and are considered a high performer then going back to school may not be the right choice for you.
That being said, if you are looking to get to the next level (and/or senior leadership positions) within your company and all of the people currently holding those positions have MBAs, it may be a sign that you should start looking for some quiet places to study.
On the other hand, if any of the examples below explain your reasons for why you want to pursue business school, I’d recommend you focus your attention elsewhere.
a. I’m not sure what I want to do with it
b. I think it’d be good to have
c. My parents think I should go back to business school
d. All of my friends are doing it
I think you get the idea so I will move on to the next question.
2. Who is going to pay for it?
With the rising cost of education, gone are the days of deciding on schools without taking finances into consideration. The debts that many students incur are life-changing and if you don’t have a clear vision of what this means and how you will generate a return on your investment, you can cause yourself some unnecessary financial strife down the road.
If you have any an employer or sponsor that is going to help share the burden of you graduate education, you need to be sure that you understand what will be required of you in exchange for that support (e.g. 2 years of service following completion of graduate coursework) and determine if it’s an acceptable trade-off.
3. Where are you going to go?
There are some different schools of thought on this topic and I will share my view. If you are going back to business school you should be targeting a school generally considered to be a top 10 program and definitely not consider any schools outside of the top 25.
A large part of the value you get from business school is outside of the actual education you receive. It’s the network that you build with classmates and alumni as well as the school’s reputation when they see that institution’s names on your resume. These are the qualities that are going to play the biggest part in accelerating your career or allowing you to change careers if that is your goal, and this benefit is significantly less when you don’t attend a top school.
I’ve always been frustrated that this how is the world we live in works, but I’ve come to grips with it and focused on using what I know to my advantage. The sooner you make a similar shift in mindset, the sooner you can identify the most effective strategy to reach your career goals.
4. What are you going to do once you have the MBA? Immediately following graduation? Five Years after graduation?
This is the last and most important point you want to consider when determining if business school is the right move for you. The way you want to think about this is there is no reason to take on tens of thousands of debt and give up 2 years of work experience/progression only to return to a similar position at the same company (or any other for that matter) for marginally more compensation. Even if you aren’t 100% sure what you want to do, you should have a strong feel for the potential outcomes and how they would impact you professionally and financially.
Pursuit of an MBA should be a strategic move to accelerate your career, with an action plan to achieve tangible returns on your investment. Of course plans change as you encounter new information along the way, but by taking a step back and challenging yourself with each of the questions above, you can make a more sound decision on business school and proactively shape the roadmap for your future before its too late.
Note: Post was written considering only business school full-time. Part-time students have some additional considerations that I will address in a separate post.