6 questions to ask yourself before taking the MBA plunge

Time And Money

Choosing whether to go to business school is a big decision. On one hand, an MBA could propel your career or business forward. But it comes with a hefty price tag in terms of time, tuition and lost wages.

Students, alumni and university staff gave us the low-down on how to make the big decision of whether to take the MBA plunge.

Here are six questions to ask yourself to help you decide.

Don't just get a degree to get a degree, professors and students said. Instead, think about what you want for yourself over the next five to 10 years.

"I think it's important for [prospective applicants] to think about their career goals in a more long-term perspective. Candidates for MBA programs may say, 'I want to go because I want to start my own business.' But you know, life changes. Three years from now, their plans and aspirations may change," said Stefanos Zenios, Stanford University's Graduate School of Business's director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

"They may decide that they want to work for a large organization or a high-growth company. So they should take a holistic view of their plans — of what is plan A and what is plan B, and how an MBA will help them achieve those goals," Zenios said.

Getting an MBA is just as much a personal decision as it is a professional one.

Kyle Jensen, an entrepreneur himself and the Yale School of Management Associate Dean and Director of Entrepreneurship, said that one of the most important questions is about leadership.

"Do I need to learn to be a better leader? If the answer to that is 'no,' then it's probably not the right degree for you. And if it is 'yes,' then it very much is," Jensen said.

If you feel like you're not learning new things at your job or that there is not room to grow, but you want to become a better business leader, an MBA may be right for you.

Before going to Stanford for business school, Molly Kang had been working at Guess on its business strategy team, but she wasn't feeling challenged enough.

"I was bored professionally. The next promotion point in my job wasn't exciting to me," Kang said.

She recommends prospective applicants ask themselves, "Will business school accelerate what I want to do? Or will it slow me down?"

Business school offers many resources to kickstart a career. But the question boils down to, "Do I need business school to access the resources I want?"

Among other things like mentorship and labs to test your idea, business school offers "many opportunities to meet possible co-founders, find talent complementary to your own, and build a team," said Clare Leinweber, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania's managing director of entrepreneurship.

On the other hand, a person could find several of these things without attending business school by seeking out a mentor, developing contacts and searching for resources.

It all depends on a person's situation, business school students and alumni said.

"If I were to rewind time to when I was considering an MBA, it would be of utmost importance to consider the kind of atmosphere the school offers," Jensen said.

Things to consider include internship opportunities, the school's integration or separation from other schools at the university, where alumni work and the student body culture.

"I do think schools vary tremendously," Jensen said.

There's no getting around the fact that getting an MBA is a big investment, especially when considering time and lost wages in addition to tuition.

Start looking at the various financial aid offerings your school offers, experts said. Reach out to admissions and financial aid to get a sense of any loans or grants you may qualify for, as well as advice.

"Start putting your finances in order early on and begin the process of identifying and understanding different funding opportunities available prior to applying," said Judi Byers, executive director of admissions and financial aid at Cornell University's Johnson School of Management.

Cornell business school student Brian Liberatore thought about his return on investment for getting an MBA.

"Look at the cost and benefits," Liberatore said. "You'll need to look not only at the financial return, but personally as well as professionally."

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