How to Make the MBA Decision: One Student's Perspective
Whether or not to pursue an MBA is one of the most fraught cost/benefit analyses that many of us can make, especially in our twenties. On the one hand, there's the expense and the fact that results are not guaranteed: you might go and do an MBA and find that your earning potential is no higher than it was before. On the other hand, though, there's that potential: an MBA can grant access to the upper echelons of the corporate world that no amount of experience can get you.
In this post, we present an interview that was conducted by representatives of PrepToAchieve, a service that is dedicated to helping high achievers access opportunities at leading business schools and consulting firms. The subject—an MBA student at INSEAD—took the time to explain their own experiences and decision-making process, and what ultimately led to their decision to take the MBA plunge:
PrepToAchieve: How and when did you first think of pursuing an MBA?
SK: I knew that I wanted to pursue an MBA when I graduated from university and started working in consulting. People I looked up to at work had MBA degrees and strongly encouraged me to get one after accumulating a few years of experience.
PrepToAchieve: Why did you choose INSEAD?
SK: I chose INSEAD for four main reasons:
- Rankings: an MBA is a big investment in both time and money, so I only wanted to do it at a top school. INSEAD's MBA program is consistently ranked among the best in the world.
- International experience: the MBA program at INSEAD is one of the most international programs in the world, with students from 90+ countries. The international perspectives shared in the classrooms and random conversations have been extremely enriching. In addition, it is the only MBA program that has three campuses around the world (France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi) and allows students to rotate between them.
- Length of the program: INSEAD's one-year program saves time and money.
- Strong alumni presence in the Middle East and Lebanon: I aim to return to the Middle East after graduating. Joining INSEAD's strong alumni network in the region can only be a plus.
PrepToAchieve: Do you think that there is an ideal age bracket for someone to pursue an MBA?
S.K: In my opinion, the ideal age bracket to pursue an MBA is 25 to 29 for two main reasons:
- Work experience: applicants within that age bracket have accumulated between four and eight years of work experience. This will allow them to share their relevant experience during case discussions, enriching the classroom experience. Applicants below that age bracket might not have accumulated enough experience yet to relate and/or contribute to case discussions.
- Not too young and not too old: applicants within that age bracket might find it easier to forego a year or two of opportunity costs (e.g. time, money, etc.) to pursue an MBA. Applicants who are older might also have family commitments or other constraints that complicate things.
PrepToAchive: If someone has an economics/business/or equivalent degree, would he/she still benefit from an MBA?
SK: Yes! In fact, around 30% of MBA students at top business schools have an undergraduate degree in business or economics. The MBA differs from an undergraduate degree in business in the sense that it is a general management degree that focuses on analyzing cross-functional challenges to come up with a viable decision for the business. Undergraduate degrees mostly focus on covering introductory business theories.
PrepToAchieve: Before the MBA, you had expectations out of it. Has anything disappointed you so far?
SK: If anything, the MBA has exceeded my expectations at all levels. I just did not expect it to be that intense. There is always something interesting to do socially and academically, but not enough time to do everything. That's when prioritization skills become important.
PrepToAchieve: What would be your top three pieces of advice for people currently looking to apply for an MBA?
- Get the GMAT out of the way as soon as possible: the GMAT is seen as an integral part of the application. Unfortunately, it takes a few months to prepare properly for it. I suggest studying daily, if possible, before or after work. I would also recommend using the official GMAT books and sample exams as they are the most representative of the actual exam.
- Do your research: it is important to choose schools that provide the right cultural fit and would help you achieve your career aspirations. Sources of information include the school's website and employment reports, online MBA forums and, most importantly, talking to alumni.
- Be genuine while going through the application process: the application process is an exercise in introspection. You'll reflect on what you have done and learned in the past, what you want to do in the future, and how an MBA will help you achieve that. Being able to communicate those points genuinely in essays and interviews will increase your chances of being admitted.
PrepToAchieve: What would you recommend to people who wish to enroll in an MBA but are not sponsored by their employers?
- Start saving money as soon as you decide to pursue an MBA! Transfer a portion of your monthly salary to your "MBA fund" (i.e. a bank account that is different from your personal one), and only use it to pay for MBA-related expenses.
- Apply to merit and/or need-based scholarship programs once you are admitted to an MBA program. Business schools and foundations offer different types of scholarships targeting different student demographics (e.g. nationality, work experience, financial means, diversity, etc.).
PrepToAchieve: What do you advise people who get accepted to an MBA in schools that are not necessarily on their priority list?
S.K: I think that you should only apply to business schools that you would actually join if you get accepted. While listing your target schools, answer the following question for each school: If I get accepted to that school only (and get rejected from all other target schools), would I still enroll? If the answer is no, do not apply to that school! It's not worth the effort.
PrepToAchieve: Can you name the top three advantages that the MBA would add to someone's career in management consulting?
S.K: Management consulting places a heavy focus on solving cross-functional business problems in teams. An MBA emulates that through its:
- General management approach: classes and assignments are structured in a way that highlights how business problems are interconnected and require a broad view across functions to address them.
- Focus on teamwork: almost all assignments are team-based; in some cases your teammates are imposed on you (e.g. your study group during core courses) and in others selected by you (i.e. in elective courses). Learning to work effectively with people from different cultural, educational and professional backgrounds is challenging at first, but the lessons learned are beneficial for future team interactions.
- Focus on developing leadership skills: the MBA offers endless opportunities to step-up and lead, be it by becoming the President of a club, establishing a new club, or organizing treks and trips.
PrepToAchieve: Can you name the top 3 disadvantages that the MBA would generate to someone's career in management consulting?
S.K: None whatsoever!
A version of this post previously appeared at PrepToAchieve.
PrepToAchieve consists of a team of highly experienced management consultants from tier-1 consulting firms. PrepToAchieve aims to be the single reference for high achievers targeting selective jobs with leading management consulting companies or aiming for post-graduate degrees at tier-1 MBA schools. PrepToAchieve was founded by Joanna Abou Jaoude and Hadi Sawaya.
Joanna is an HR expert with solid project management and delivery experience. She spent five years as a management consultant with Deloitte, five years in industry, and two years as an entrepreneur and university lecturer. Joanna holds a BA in Economics and an MA in HR Management from the London School of Economics. Joanna is now a HR Project Manager with Amazon Global Expansion, Mergers, and Acquisition team in the Middle East and Africa.
Hadi is a seasoned management consultant with extensive experience in delivering large-scale consulting projects. As a manager at Booz & Co. (currently known as Strategy&), Hadi led consulting engagements for major corporations. Hadi holds an MBA from INSEAD and a B.E. in Computer and Communications Engineering from the American University of Beirut (AUB). He is now a Director for Customer Strategy and Digital Insights with Oracle covering the Middle East and Africa."