5 Questions to Ask Yourself before Applying to Business School

This time of year I often get asked by people for advice on whether they should apply to business school for an MBA. Over the years and many coffees with folks, I’ve settled on the following key questions…

MBA - Haas School of Business Diploma

  1. Why do I want an MBA? 
    I’ve heard of a number of reasons but they mostly seem to boil down to these three that draw people to consider one:
    Business Concepts — In your core curriculum you’ll learn the fundamentals of what makes companies succeed and fail mostly by studying case studies on past leaders and companies. You then may then focus during the second half of the program on on entrepreneurship, finance, strategy, or marketing concepts.
    Network - Connect with others in your program and the (potentially vast) alumni that preceded you. Thru the case-study method you’re going to learn as much from your classmates as you will from the lecturer. And after you graduate they people will be tremendous assets in business. 
    Brand - If you join a “top-tier” program it can give your resume additional strength that can help give you an edge and at least get you in the door for an interview. If it’s currently missing a top brand (a company or your undergrad) this can be one way to add one.

  2. Do people in your “dream job” have an MBA?
    A great technique is to have coffee with 4-5 people in the type of role you’d love to have in 5-10 years. Learn about their career path and what got them to where they are today. For me at the time, a number of the people shaping product at successfully scaled Silicon Valley companies had MBAs and in talking with them they recommended that I do the same—those that didn’t, as you might expect thought it wasn’t necessary. I also saw the design, product management, and business functions converging and thought an MBA would enable me to span those disciplines. 
  3. Full-time or Part-time?
    If you’re in your 20s, looking for a career change, or looking to launch a company in business school then a “normal” 2 year full-time program is probably best for you. It gives you the chance to close out what you were doing prior and really focus. However if you have a good job that’s teaching/paying you a lot or are looking to accellerate a career path you’re already on, you should also consider a “part-time” program (evening, weekend, executive programs). I found the advantage of “part-time” programs is that during class discussions instead of just “students” in the room, you’ll have engineers, doctors, marketers, and entrepreneurs all with a bit more “experience”. 

  4. What’s the Opportunity Cost?
    Earning an MBA will cost you a large amount of time and money. To effectively evaluate the benefits of an MBA think about what else you could do with that same investment. Start a company? Invest in stocks or real estate? Continue in a great role? For me, the MBA cost me 20 hours a week and about $80K (then)— which meant no TV, fewer social events, and I would stay with my Honda Civic for years to come. Because I was able to continue full-time in my role at eBay I was able to continue to drive my career and benefit from stock options, all while learning how to round out my capabilities on Saturdays in school.

  5. Okay, now how do I get in?
    Put yourself in the role of the MBA admissions office. They want to select people that will be able to complete the degree and then go onto become wildly successful in business—bringing prestige and alumni donations back to the school. As you write your essays, think about why the school should “invest” in you—what will make you successful and how will you be an interesting addition to a cohort. 

As a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (2008), I’m a huge fan of their program and in particular think their evening-weekend program is exceptionally well designed for people like me working in Silicon Valley on Product. 

Finally, if you’re looking for more advice, I also recently found venture capitalist Mark Suster’s 5 C’s on whether MBAs are Necessary for Startups to be helpful on what you gain and what you lose in seeking an MBA.