At some point in your business career, you will look around at your colleagues and wonder how you can get ahead. What can you do to separate yourself from the pack? How do you stand out from the crowd? Is there any way to boost the upward trajectory of your career and make yourself more marketable?
Your search to answer those questions will inevitably lead you to consider pursuing your Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. Several years ago, I was in this same exact position – searching for a way to gain a critical edge in the competitive, often dog-eat-dog business world.
After doing a fair amount of research, I concluded the MBA pathway was appropriate for me and I got started on the application process. Here I am about 8 years later (no, it did not take me that long to graduate!) and, when I reflect upon my full MBA experience, I realize I learned some invaluable lessons. Below are some of my key takeaways on getting an MBA.
Attend a Top Ranked Business School
I won’t beat around the bush here – you must attend a quality university for your MBA. If not, you’re most likely wasting your tuition. Am I talking about the upper echelon of business graduate schools? Harvard, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley? Yes – if possible!
Undergraduate degrees are mainly about learning. Is the school name on your diploma irrelevant? No. Getting your undergrad degree from Yale is going to get you much further along than one from the University of Phoenix. However, you can learn just as much from a top notch university as you can from a “lesser” college. Generally, the curriculum will be the same. Heck, they might even use the same textbooks.
When it comes to your MBA, the prestige of the business school definitely matters. Why? Because you’ll get the best return on your time and tuition. MBA graduates from the top schools get heavily recruited and not only start off with more respectable salaries and signing bonuses, but tend to rise through the corporate ranks much faster and earn considerably more over their career.
Now, I’m not saying you should abandon your MBA dreams if you can’t go to Wharton or the University of Chicago. These top schools are very competitive and have extremely low acceptance rates. You can still do very well for yourself if you attend a nationally ranked program that’s slightly below the leading schools. Don’t settle for attending your nearest local state university or some unheard of private school though. I’m fairly confident doing so won’t get you to where you truly want to be and they’ll still cost a pretty penny!
You Must Network
Your time in an MBA program will provide ample opportunities to network with fellow students and even the professors. You absolutely must take advantage. This is the time to forge the foundation on relationships that can span the rest of your career or even lifetime. Don’t sit there and be a bump on a log! Even natural introverts need to make efforts to establish solid connections.
The professional and personal friendships you make in business grad school will provide you with a far greater ROI (return on investment) than anything else. These are the folks that will reach out to you if a spectacular job opportunity arises at their firm. They’ll be there to help if you are perhaps looking to make a company/career change. At the very least, your MBA network connections can serve as a sounding board for any concerns or ideas you may have. Speaking of ideas, many bright MBA minds have innovative entrepreneurial ideas. Perhaps you’ve got one yourself. With a solid network in place, you’ll enhance the opportunities for collaboration.
If you don’t create and maintain a network, then you are selling yourself short and not fulfilling the true potential of your MBA.
Learning is Last!
That sounds horrible, right? Why are you paying the exorbitant MBA tuition fees if you aren’t there to learn? Well, you are there to soak up the knowledge, but your focus shouldn’t necessarily be so steadfast on the curriculum. Here’s why:
- As pointed out above, networking should be the most critical aspect of your MBA pursuits. In the end, if you’ve done it right, the network you establish will be a far more valuable asset than the knowledge base you acquire.
- A good portion of the material covered will be a repeat from ungrad (particularly if you were a business major). The MBA program will cover the finance, accounting, and marketing basics. It’ll be a nice refresher if you haven’t touched those subjects in a while, but there won’t be any earth shattering revelations at that point.
- A fair amount of your classes will be interesting and provide intriguing learning opportunities. However, they won’t necessarily be applicable to your career. MBA programs generally are structured to give you a well-rounded perspective. For example, a commercial real estate finance class might not provide much benefit to those in the bio med industry.
- Truth be told, if you are self-motivating, you can learn a decent portion of the subject matter on your own. Yes, it’s oftentimes nice to have a professor lecture to you and be available to answer questions or guide you along. Don’t fret if you aren’t able to take class because it’s full or it doesn’t work with your schedule. You can always look into the subject yourself at a later time.
- Don’t forget, some of the most valuable learning does not come in the classroom setting. Don’t underestimate on-the-job training and learning experiences. While an MBA will help you stand out and be a resume booster, your “real life” work performance is still a crucial part of overall career success.
The Perfect MBA Scenario
You will receive the maximum benefit from an MBA if you attend a more prestigious, top-ranked business school while focusing heavily on networking. Don’t neglect the learning, but don’t get so caught up in the finer details that you forsake the bigger picture.
Are you considering an MBA? If yes, what are your thoughts? If you’ve already obtained your MBA, do you agree with the conclusions above? Why or why not?