This is a guest post written by Mark Skoskiewicz
People go to business school to earn an MBA for many different reasons, and perhaps in lockstep with this fact there is an ever-increasing number of business school programs to choose from.
Some are highly selective; some don’t even require a GMAT score; some are in person; others are online. You can choose from two-year programs, one-year programs, full-time, or part-time.
Before you can even sort through what makes the most sense for you, though, it’s important to understand these 5 common misconceptions about getting an MBA:
1. It’s all about the GMAT
Even if you are targeting a top 10 MBA program, getting admitted is not all about your GMAT score. It’s an important criterion, yes, and at the truly selective schools like Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Booth, Columbia, and a range of others, it’s probably important to get a 700 score or more.
But people are certainly admitted with scores below 700 even at those schools. And while I got into Kellogg with a 710, my boss was waitlisted with a 760.
Even the most selective schools are very concerned with your personal brand and narrative around why you are going to school, why you are choosing their MBA program, and what you’ll bring to that program.
The entirety of this story must come through in your essays and recommendations, and it takes time to pull this together. Don’t assume a 750 GMAT score means you’ll have your pick of top MBA programs. It doesn’t.
2. An MBA automatically adds credibility
Beyond the top 10-to-15 schools, you should be careful when assuming ‘MBA’ means a ton to the average person.
Because there are so many MBA programs to choose from, if you haven’t clearly attended one of the top schools, it’s hard to say how much value any given potential employer or business partner will place on the degree.
An MBA is unlike a degree in law or medicine. There is nothing you can do with an MBA that you couldn’t do without one. An MBA signals a certain skill set, knowledge base, and level of motivation on behalf of the person that earns one, but it does not automatically allow you to perform X or Y role in most cases.
This is not to say that attending a non-top tier program doesn’t make sense. It can still help you build a network, learn new things, build new skills, and switch careers.
3. You’ll automatically build a powerful network
Many people think of business school as a place to meet people and build a network. That is generally something that can be true, but you must work at it.
It doesn’t happen automatically, particularly if you are more of an introvert or are focused on other things while in school. I attended the full-time 1Y program at Kellogg but spent a lot of time building my business and being a married guy that didn’t live on campus.
I didn’t invest the time to build relationships while I was there, and since it was a one-year program, the time flew by. Now, sure, I have a bit of a bond with a colleague or business partner who also went to Kellogg, but it’s not a magical wand with which to close business deals or sell consulting projects.
Relationships are built through time and effort. Business school provides the platform and opportunity to build a network. It’s not automatic.
4. It doesn’t make sense if you want to work for or launch a startup.
Yes, getting an MBA can be expensive and used to be geared towards preparing students for middle and upper management roles in large corporations. In the past, your time and money may have been better spent just starting your business and learning on the fly if you ultimately wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Times have changed though. MBA programs now offer the opportunity to focus on building the skills and relationships you’ll need to start a business. Many classes and projects literally allow you to test ideas and begin building the business, and maybe even get funding, while on campus. I’d argue it’s a very logical place to begin launching a startup for many people.
5. You’ll leave with a deep understanding of many business topics.
One of the things that struck me while getting an MBA was that, well, you can only learn so much in two years about business.
There are so many disciplines—marketing, finance, operations, accounting, for example—that if you aren’t careful, you end up skimming the surface and not diving deep enough into your MBA education.
I feel, in part, like I took a bunch of introductory classes and then one additional class in each area, leaving me without a particularly deep expertise in any given area
That’s part of the point—of course, it’s a master’s degree in the administration of business—but still, it’s important to enter the process with your eyes wide open on this point.
Perhaps, in fact, you should be earning a master’s degree in finance and a CFA instead of an MBA, if that's where you want to specialize. It could be a shorter and less expensive process.
Mark Skoskiewicz is the founder of MyGuru, a provider of customized tutoring and test prep. Prior to founding MyGuru, he earned a BS from Indiana University and an MBA from Kellogg-Northwestern and was a strategy consultant. He is a founding member of the leadership team at TRC Advisory.