6 Things to Know Before Applying for a MBA

7 minute read

Making the decision whether or not to pursue the MBA can be difficult, due to that it is an investment of time and money. However, the degree has the power to be incredibly beneficial when it comes to furthering your career, thus making it one of the most popular post-graduate degrees in the U.S., according to figures from the U.S. Department of Education in 2014.

Prior to making the choice whether an individual should begin the application process, it is key to gather as much information as possible. Therefore, in an effort to demystify the MBA, our MOGUL team set out to interview three top-quality programs to gain helpful insights on what one should think about before taking the next step.

We are thrilled to feature advice from Shelly Taylor Heinrich, Director of MBA Admissions at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

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?

Shelly Taylor Heinrich: A candidate should choose to apply for an MBA program when and if they believe it will allow them to achieve their career goals. So, this is an individual and personal decision which only a candidate can make. Most MBA Programs typically require a minimum of two years of full-time professional work experience at the time a candidate would enroll in a program. The average work experience of enrolled students, however, is usually between four and six years; at Georgetown the average entering full-time student in Fall 2014 had 4.75 years. Having a high level of work experience is extremely valuable because it contributes to the overall classroom experience and conversation. Additionally, many MBA recruiters also look for this four to six year average when recruiting students post-MBA, so it makes candidates more marketable going into an MBA if they have this experience.

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

Heinrich: Ideally, candidates would start preparing for the application process 12 to 18 months prior to when they plan to start the program. The GMAT, or GRE, exams required for admission to most schools, are the application components which take the longest preparation lead time. Candidates should give themselves at least three to four months to prepare for the exam and allow for flexibility to take it more than once if they are not happy with their score. It is also important to start preparing this early since the first round application deadlines of most schools are September through November. Applying by the first round usually makes you most competitive for admission and scholarship decisions. If you don’t make the first or second rounds, but still have a strong desire to attend as soon as possible, the last rounds are typically late spring.

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?

Heinrich: A specialized master’s degree (i.e. one that specializes in a subject area like finance or marketing) is usually shorter in duration and provides students a tailored expertise in a certain area. An MBA degree, on the other hand, provides students with a very diverse and broad curriculum in core business concepts (e.g. marketing, finance, operations, accounting) and the opportunity to gain expertise in a more specialized elective area. Additionally, the emphasis on leadership preparation and career resources tends to be a lot more abundant for MBA programs than in specialized master’s programs. Again, this is dependent upon the school and program.

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

Heinrich: Most schools take a holistic approach to the application process and look at all aspects of a candidate’s application which include the GMAT or GRE, undergraduate GPA, strength of undergraduate major and institution, years and quality of professional work experience, and fit determined by essays, interview and recommendations. The GMAT or GRE are, however, the only way that schools can equally compare students and are one way (in addition to quantitative courses taken in college) to determine a candidate’s ability to perform well in the rigorous quantitative courses of the curriculum. If you don’t believe you are the strongest test-taker, I recommend starting early to prepare; either buy a few test preparation books or enroll in a preparation course. Give yourself enough time to take it a few times so you aren’t reliant on one score. Additionally, enroll in a few quantitative courses at a local college so that should you not test well, you can prove your quantitative abilities in other ways. The bottom line is that schools want the students they admit to be successful in the quant courses, so they need some way of determining the probability of your success through standardized tests or coursework.

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

Heinrich: Attaining an MBA degree is not just for those wanting to pursue traditional for-profit sectors anymore. The knowledge gained from an MBA is applicable to all sectors and industries. In fact, many people are choosing to utilize their MBAs in the non-profit, NGO, or government sectors. They know that the hard business skills combined with leadership experience gained from an MBA will allow them to transform or lead an organization to make a positive difference.

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

Heinrich: There is a financial investment, but there is also a strong return on investment. An MBA provides the skills often required to be successful in a career and advance to the leadership positions that a student seeks. For some jobs and industries, an MBA is required, and for others, it is often preferred. Through rigorous course-work, case-based learning and competitions, internships, and global experiential consulting or learning experiences, an MBA provides you with a level of credibility and expertise that can make you the ‘go-to person’ on a team. Strong MBA programs also typically boast strong career service resources. At Georgetown McDonough, 91% of the Class of 2014 full-time graduates received a job offer within three months of graduation and 99% of Class of 2015 full-time students seeking an internship received one.

Shelly Taylor Heinrich is Director of MBA Admissions at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business leading the marketing and communications team. Shelly has spent ten years in the higher education, non-profit, and corporate sectors. Her responsibilities have included marketing, recruitment, admissions, business development, event planning, and career services. Prior to Georgetown, she worked in MBA Admissions at the George Washington University School of Business. She also brings experience from The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business and the Syracuse University Whitman School of Management.

This article originally appeared on MOGUL.

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