What should you take into consideration when deciding to do an MBA?

What should you take into consideration when deciding to do an MBA?

From my experience working in Admissions for London Business School, I have noticed that students start thinking about their next step in their education journey at a younger age. I will often see students who have just started their undergrad coming to our MBA information session to gain insights years in advance to help them prepare for their next degree. 

One of the first two main reasons to that phenomenon is that some industries are becoming increasingly selective and students need an additional degree to differentiate themselves and compete in a tough job market. 

The second reason is motivated by the rapid change in the job market. Young professionals after just a few years in the job find themselves in a position where, to successfully transition into a new role or sector, need to acquire a new set of skills and network. 

It is anticipated that the impact of automation on work activities will bring millions of people to transition to new occupational categories and learn new skills. It seems that many students have integrated this new reality into their education project at an early stage. 

Therefore, it is no surprise that post-experience degrees such as MBAs are so popular. Nevertheless, the increase in demand naturally brings an increase in the offering, making it harder for students to navigate this post-experience Masters’ jungle. 

I wanted to bring some clarity on this topic to help as many of you as possible make the right decision. 


1. When is the right time to do an MBA? 

Timing is key and the number of years of work experience you have under the belt will be decisive. Many business schools will require at least two years’ work experience and will not consider your application if you can not meet this requirement. Business Schools will generally inform students on the minimum work experience expected and the average range of experience in the class. For applicants, the real difficulty will be to assess how many years of work experience are too many for a specific degree. Students often ignore how strategic this requirement is for a Business School — let me explain. 

Most students will undertake an MBA to advance their career or transition into a new role or sector. Naturally, the career support that students receive along their study is critical to their satisfaction. For that reason, most Business Schools will have a career service working full-time to bring career opportunities on campus to MBA students. They will attract top employers with the promise that they will meet on campus hundreds of talented MBA students to fill their MBA-level positions. The problem with admitting students with significantly less work experience or more experience that the rest of the class is that those students will not meet major recruiters’ recruitment requirements. This would severally affect students’ satisfaction and students’ satisfaction strongly impact a school’s ranking and reputation.  

My recommendation, if you are too junior for the programme is to give yourself one more year to polish your application and apply the following year. A MBA is a huge investment and if you have to do it you should do it at the optimum time to take advantage of everything the programme can offer you. If you are too senior, a part-time Executive MBA could be a better option. Generally, part-time programmes offer more flexibility with their work experience requirements, as you are fully employed and less reliant on the career service support. 

Finally, do keep in mind that many applicants are admitted every year despite not being the perfect fit — if you have made up your mind on a specific programme, you just need to know where you might fall short and use the application essays with some strong convincing arguments to make your case.  


2. Should I study full-time or part-time?

Full-time and part-time MBA are generally relatively similar in terms of programme content and activities students can attend. The major difference is on how effective students will be in planning and managing their time. 

The full-time MBA, especially if it is a two-year MBA, is probably the best option if you are looking to make an important career change. You will need the time to explore different opportunities, reflect on yourself and spend the summer doing an internship in the new sector, geography or role you would like to transition into. A full-time MBA makes it also easier to build a network among pier students and give plenty of time to network with alumni. 

The part-time MBA is a stretch for most students who suddenly need to juggle work, studies and sometimes a family. Students often feel completely overwhelmed by the number of events, trips, networking opportunities available to them and it can become frustrating not to be able to do everything. However, surprisingly, full-time MBA students often feel the same. MBAs are designed to move students out of their comfort zone, are intense by nature and offer too many options for anyone to do it all. Part-time students generally report that after a few month of adaptation, they have dramatically improved their time management which is a fantastic skill to have. They also often report that being able to put into practice what they have just learned creates a stronger learning experience. 

Having listened to hundreds of students and their reasons for making the decision to study full-time or part-time I would not be able to recommend one over the other. I can only say that the full-time will be the preferred option if you need the extra time required to make an import career transition. 




3. Should I study in Europe, in the USA or elsewhere?

If you are just looking for an interesting international experience, every location should have something amazing to offer. It becomes more complicated to choose when you integrate the job search element to your school selection process. 

MBA are often described as the ideal place to explore different career paths and find your true passion. However, it is also very difficult to select the right Business School without knowing what you want to do or where you would like to work. 

Here are common wrong assumptions people make when they pick their Business School: 

  • The Business School’s reputation is everything when it comes to finding a job: Be careful, some Business Schools with strong reputation in one country will be completely unknown in other geographies. The alumni network will also be a key component of your job search strategy, it would make a lot of sense to select a Business School that has a strong alumni network in the industry and country you would like to work in. 
  • If I go to a top American Business School I will be able to find a job anywhere: This is a false assumption. American Business School will naturally attract many American recruiters and US based opportunities to their career fairs. Visa requirements and cultural bias can sometimes make it a real challenge for non-American students to secure their dream job in the USA. If you are looking for an opportunity in London or Beijing from the United States, this will also be more challenging to network and go to interviews that if you were closer to the recruiters. 
  • I can study anywhere in Europe and I will just travel if I have an interview: This is a common mistake students make when they decide to study in a country they do not want to work in. Yes, you can easily travel from Paris to London for an interview. However, networking with alumni and companies will be a major element in your job search strategy and being close to the people you need to meet is essential.  


4. Should I select a specialist Masters or a more generalist MBA? 

An MBA is by essence a generalist business degree. Some business schools however, offer a large range of electives and the opportunity to specialise in a specific area. Students would be required to select a number of electives in one discipline to be awarded an MBA with a finance, marketing or any other concentration. 

The learning environment in an MBA is also very practical. Faculties commonly use case studies as teaching materials, invite practitioners to share their actual experience; students are also encouraged do a business project and sometimes internships to gain hands-on experience in global business. Furthermore, the class profile is made of experienced students (3 to 7 years work experience on average for major MBAs) which adds to the experimental learning experience as students would learn as much from their piers as from the courses. 

Masters on the other hand are generally more specialised and the perfect place to acquire frameworks and technical knowledge on the topic of your choice. Many students who studied management or commerce in their undergrads find the MBA course’s content somewhat redundant and prefer to further improve their skills in a specific field with a specialised Master. 


5. How important is the school ranking and brand to compete on the job market? 

It is commonly known that a school reputation can play a decisive role in the quality and number of opportunities available to you. Nevertheless, if some recruiters use the most recent MBA ranking to select the Business Schools they will partner with for recruitment purposes, others will just follow their guts. It is very common to see some local companies or international firm’s local offices prefer an applicant coming from the local business school regardless of the school’s ranking. Familiarity, habits, local recognition and network can also play a decisive role in your likeliness to make the cut. 


Sophie Bognaux, London Business School

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