Is there such thing as a right time to do an MBA? Many prospective b-school applicants confront this question when they feel as if their current career trajectory has stalled. For others, pursuing an MBA straight out of undergrad is a no-brainer, as they avoid putting their lives on hold for two years—and forgoing a potentially significant salary to do so. In fact, the Graduate Management Admission Council reports that applicants under 24 are the fastest-growing group among those who take the GMAT. But how do you know whether you’re really ready to tackle the intense demands of a full-time MBA program? Whether you’re wrapping up your senior year or have already clocked three-to-five in the work force, there are several factors you should evaluate to determine if it’s time to take the plunge.
First up, make sure your head is in the game. Business school admittedly includes its fair share of cocktail-fueled socials and late-night carousing, but most people will tell you that they’ve never been busier, or slept less, than when in b-school. Between classes, quizzes, team meetings, recruiting, clubs, and a veritable smorgasbord of special events, the life of an MBA student can seem like a non-stop circus act. Taking two years to get an MBA is not just a business decision, it’s a life decision that may include the interests of boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives and children. Do you have the discipline to balance the grueling workload of an MBA program with your existing work or personal obligations?
If the answer is yes, the next step is to get real about what it’s going to cost you. An MBA program is one of the most expensive academic decisions you’ll ever make once you factor in living expenses, course-related travel expenses, and, for older applicants, the loss of two years of income while pursuing the degree full-time.
On the bright side, the Graduate Management Admission Council reports that on average, alumni recoup one-third of their financial investment in their graduate degree immediately after graduation, and saw a 100% return on investment (ROI) after four years.
Deciding whether you have enough work experience is a trickier issue as more schools roll out the welcome mat for younger applicants, such as Harvard Business School’s 2+2 Program which specifically courts outstanding college seniors. Most MBA programs still require at least two years of work experience, but not the five or even seven that used to be the norm. If you can demonstrate maturity, highly-focused career goals, leadership skills and enough life experience to contribute to an incoming class, then your age or years on the job become far less important.
It’s no surprise that an MBA expands your skill set and your network of contacts, as well as significantly increases your long-term earning potential. Candidates should talk with family, friends and mentors (and potentially an MBA application advisor) early in the application process to determine where they are in the so-called “window” for business school. But only you can judge when all of the necessary elements have come together to make the time right.