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April 29, 2015 11:00 AM EDT

Have you ever been curious about receiving an MBA, and wondered if it was the correct step for you to take in order to propel your career within a competitive market? The degree is tremendously popular, and as of 2014, it was the most sought-after post-graduate degree in the U.S., according to figures from the U.S. Department of Education.

MOGUL felt that there are a lot of myths floating around pertaining to the degree, and we therefore set out to get the answers you want to know prior to submitting an application. Higher education is a huge decision after all, and it’s extremely beneficial to gather all the information you can before making the investment.

With that said, this week serves as a kickoff for our three-part series which will provide various school’s perspectives on receiving the degree, and MOGUL is thrilled to feature the fabulous and highly-ranked NYU Stern School of Business. NYU Stern has a variety of wonderful programs, which can be viewed here, that are designed to fit your specific needs.

We recently had the opportunity to interview the Executive Director of MBA Admissions at the NYU Stern School of Business, Alison Goggin, and what she has to say is incredibly inspirational, motivational, and beyond clarifying when it comes to questions you might have regarding the application process.

MOGUL: How can someone tell when it is the right time to apply for an MBA? Is there a certain age you recommend, or should it be based on the type or years of work experience you have attained?

Alison Goggin: At NYU Stern, we have MBA students who just graduated from college, students with 30 years of work experience, and students with every level of experience in between. Keep in mind that business schools offer the MBA program in a variety of formats (Full-time, Part-time, Executive) to meet the needs of professionals at all stages of their career.

Only you can know if it’s the right time for you to pursue the MBA. Some questions to consider…Do you have a clear sense of the academic, professional and personal goals you hope to achieve in the MBA program? Is the timing ideal for you from both a career and personal standpoint?

MOGUL: How can someone best prepare for the application process and when should they begin?

Goggin: If you have ever considered earning an MBA, you can start the process now by simply having conversations with friends, family and colleagues who have an MBA. Ask them why they chose to pursue the MBA, how they selected their school, the highlights and challenges of their MBA experience, and the value they see in their careers as an MBA graduate. The insights gained will help you to chart your own individual path.

From these conversations, start to think through the factors that are most important to you when choosing a business school and program, and come up with a short list. Research the schools as much as possible. Have conversations with alumni and current students. Attend admissions events, which often give insight into the application process and what the Admissions Committee is looking for in candidates. Visit the schools to see if the culture and community are the best fit for you.

The timeline varies considerably from person to person. Some applicants have years pass between initially considering the MBA and actually applying. Some applicants make the decision to apply and do so within 12 months. Again, it’s a personal decision as to what works best for you. Just remember to look at the application deadlines as soon as you’ve finalized your list of schools so you don’t miss an opportunity if you are ready to get started.

MOGUL: What is the difference between a Master’s (such as in finance or marketing) and an MBA, and how should a potential applicant discern which degree to pursue?

Goggin: A student can study marketing or finance in either degree program, so it is important to consider what other goals you may have. A Master in Finance or Marketing typically offers study focused almost solely in that specific area; whereas the MBA has a core curriculum that covers all areas of business and offers the opportunity to specialize in a few different areas of business.

The duration of the program may be a factor for you. While there are two-year Master’s programs and one-year MBA programs, most often, Master’s programs are shorter than MBA programs (at least in the United States).

Many schools offer both programs. To determine which is best for you, talk to students, faculty and administrators in each of the programs.

MOGUL: Regarding the GMAT, what should someone do if they are not the strongest test-takers, but have tremendous work ethic and leadership skills?

Goggin: While a standardized test score provides insight into an applicant’s ability to succeed in the MBA core curriculum, keep in mind that it is just one of a number of application components. Together, these components provide applicants the opportunity to share a full picture of their strengths and what they can contribute to the MBA class.

At Stern, we encourage applicants to give their best to each application component. For the GMAT, that means taking practice tests online and putting in the necessary time to prepare, which may be focused self-study or a test preparation course. Keep in mind that most schools allow you to submit more than one test score, and typically your highest overall score is the one used in the evaluation.

If a school posts GMAT statistics for its students, take a look at the range of scores (not just the average score). Try to get your score into that range, and if your score is on the lower side of the range or outside of it, the Admissions Committee is going to be looking for you to really shine in those other application components, such as your undergraduate performance, work experience, letters of recommendation and essays.

One alternative to the GMAT is the GRE, which most top business schools now accept as part of the application. Some applicants find they perform better on this test.

And depending on the MBA program, a standardized test may be waived based on a certain level of work experience or other credentials. As you are researching business schools, be sure to review the standardized test requirements.

MOGUL: Are there certain myths that come with getting an MBA that you would like to dispel?

Goggin: Let’s say you have not taken a business class – and certainly never a math class. Perhaps you are a professional dancer. Maybe you have always worked in the nonprofit sector. Or maybe you have taken some time off from your career. If any of these statements describe you, I hope to see your application at Stern.

I hear a lot of candidates express concern about their “non-traditional” background. They worry that they will struggle in the admissions process or be perceived a certain way by classmates or future employers. For every candidate who has expressed this concern to me, I could recommend at least five students or alumni who are their MBA “soulmate”. There is no such thing as non-traditional in business school because we welcome and seek a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

MOGUL: In today’s competitive market, what are the overall benefits of receiving an MBA and making the financial investment?

Goggin: Gain knowledge, build your network, and open doors to new opportunities. These are three key benefits of earning your MBA.

We live in a constantly evolving world. Companies are changing the way they do things. New industries and types of companies are emerging. Having an MBA will ensure you are prepared to flourish in this environment. An MBA gives you a broad base of business knowledge, the confidence and the network to embark on any kind of opportunity, whether it’s at your current organization, a new one or in your own business.

Alison Goggin is Executive Director of MBA Admissions at the NYU Stern School of Business. For more than a decade, Alison has served on the Stern MBA Admissions Committee, recruiting students from around the world to the Full-time MBA program and NYC-area professionals to the Langone Part-time MBA program. She has represented Stern in more than 30 countries and has overseen admissions initiatives for women, military, underrepresented minority and LGBT candidates. Most recently, Alison helped launch a full-tuition MBA scholarship for exceptional college seniors and an advanced certificate program in finance, marketing and general business for working professionals.

For more information on NYU Stern School of Business, visit:

This article originally appeared on MOGUL.

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