It's unwise to pursue an MBA degree simply because you think an MBA would look good on your resume, experts say.
Because attending business school can be an expensive, life-changing decision, experts say it's essential for those considering an MBA to heed warning signs that they're not ready to invest in business school.
"It may be that peer pressure is leading you in the wrong direction," says Gary Carini, associate dean for graduate business programs and professor of management at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business.
Here are four signs that experts say indicate a prospective MBA student shouldn't apply to business school in the near future.
1. Uncertainty about career goals: Experts say prospective MBA applicants need to be able to articulate a clear reason they want to attend an MBA program and explain how an MBA will help them in their career.
"With some brainstorming and self-reflection, a candidate should be able to 'connect the dots' between what he or she has done in the past and what he or she would like to do in the future," Shaifali Aggarwal, founder and CEO of Ivy Groupe, an MBA admissions consulting group, said via email. "If someone cannot do this, then he or she is not ready to apply to business school."
For prospective business students who struggle to answer career goal questions, Carini recommends they subscribe to business publications and take note of which articles they find most engaging. Once they figure out which business topics interest them, he says, they should read as much as possible about those topics.
"Just make a decision to step into the world of business in a way that's fun, because then you're going to be passionate about that," he says.
Carini says that if, for instance, an MBA applicant gravitates toward articles about the auto sector, that could be a clue that this industry would be a good fit.
However, he adds that if prospective MBA students are consistently bored by business publications, that's a red flag that they may be unhappy in a business career and will be unlikely to excel in an MBA program.
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2. Difficulty writing admissions essays: Aggarwal, an alumna of Harvard Business School, says that when prospective MBA students can't think of any formative experiences to describe in their MBA admissions essays, that's a telltale sign that they need more time for career exploration.
Dan Bauer, chairman and founder of The MBA Exchange, an admissions and career consulting group, says successful MBA applicants to top business schools generally have made quantifiable contributions at the organizations where they work, and he says leadership titles by themselves will not sway MBA admissions officers.
"It's great to have responsibilities and learn from them, but if there are not a few defining achievements and a measurable impact to talk about, the individual might be better off staying in a job, producing those kinds of results and then having a stronger candidacy," Bauer says.
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3. Low quantitative skills: Some experts say that MBA applicants who consistently struggled with math in their undergrad coursework should be wary of b-school, especially if they performed poorly on the math section of the GMAT or GRE.
"If someone is struggling a lot on the quantitative side, then an MBA might not be the best degree for them, because the MBA curriculum really requires being able to understand and handle quantitative concepts, so there might be a better track or a better way for them to get to where they want to go without the MBA," Aggarwal says.
4. Interest in a career that doesn't require an MBA: Bauer says prospective MBA applicants who are fielding an overwhelming number of phone calls from recruiters may not need an MBA to advance. He also says a business degree could be a waste of time for students with other academic interests.
For instance, he says, if a student wants a public service career, intends to specialize in education or has no plans to ever work in the private sector, an MBA may be the wrong choice.
Bauer says that prospective MBA students should apply to business school if, and only if, they believe an MBA will allow them to advance more quickly toward their dream job than they could without business school.
"If that vision is not there, then you're going to run out of gas before you reach the goal," he says.
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