The idea of pursuing a second MBA degree may sound strange, but it happens with a small number of applicants during every admissions season and can make sense under the right, very specific, circumstances.
Some applicants consider a second degree after earning an MBA from a for-profit university or an unaccredited program. They may find they have hit a ceiling with their employment prospects as they vie for positions against candidates from better-known schools.
More often, people who seek a second degree are international candidates who have discovered that their professional dreams cannot be fulfilled with their current degree alone.
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In India, for example, it’s common for a student to jump into an MBA program straight out of university, which makes for a very theoretical learning experience rather than a practical one in which to contextualize management problems. Once these MBA grads get into the workforce, they discover they must further develop various skills to become strong business leaders.
For professionals working in international firms who aspire to relocate abroad, a degree earned in-country will not open doors the way a highly ranked MBA from a name-brand university will. A second MBA is seen as an efficient way to move out of a stagnant career and enhance their competitiveness, allowing the degree holder to shift into a new function, industry or geography after completing their studies.
Creating a rich classroom experience through diversity is a huge focus of the top business schools, offering students the opportunity to interact with peers from an array of countries and professional backgrounds. While the educational component of the degree in South Asian business schools, for example, may sometimes rival their international counterparts, the ability to create networking ties across the globe is nowhere near as strong. For career switchers looking to break into competitive industries such as finance or consulting, earning an MBA from a globally recognized brand becomes paramount.
As with any blip or oddity in candidates’ background, they need to think through their story as they prepare application essays.
What did you not get from a prior MBA that you can get this time around? How is the target program different, or a better fit? Or maybe it’s a matter of timing, and the first one was a mistake you need to acknowledge. What skills are you looking to gain, and why couldn’t you acquire them with your first degree? An applicant needs to show why it would make sense to repeat the same degree from a different school. It can be a hard narrative to flesh out and tell in a compelling way, but it’s not impossible.
When I first read through the profile for our client Vijay, I saw strong academic numbers, volunteer involvement, an interesting entrepreneurial venture – and that he already had an MBA from one of the Indian Institutes of Management. My first question was the same any admissions committee member would ask him: “Why do you need a second MBA?”
Vijay entered an IIM program when he was a university student to supplement his engineering coursework. While he had received an MBA credential, he considered the degree as an addendum to his undergraduate diploma. Also, his degree did not provide the same career advantages he would get from one of his target schools in the U.S., which were the MIT Sloan School of Management, the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
For his career goals essay, we discussed exactly what this second MBA degree would do for Vijay’s career. We also used the optional essay to clearly outline how specific coursework in entrepreneurship, international experience and networking opportunities at each program made a second MBA absolutely necessary. His hard work and compelling argument paid off, and Vijay pursued his second MBA at Sloan, where he made some great contacts for future entrepreneurial ventures.
Many top business schools in the U.S. and Europe welcome applicants who already hold an MBA degree. If your first MBA is from a smaller international school, the elite programs are well aware of their advantages over the initial degree. Fortunately, your prior MBA degree won’t be a problem for on-campus recruiting, though you should be able to explain why you needed the two degrees. Assuming you have a solid story, the emphasis will be on your work experience and skills. If you are admitted to a strong program, the degree — combined with your skills — will enable you to land a great job come graduation.
Contact the admissions department at the programs you are interested in to find out the specifics for each school, and be ready to make a rock-solid case for why a second MBA is the next logical step for you.