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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Why MBA, why now, why here? 

Post two in an occassional series on my thoughts about the MBA application process. If you haven't already, please read the disclaimer here before proceeding.

The question of why you want to do an MBA, why you want to do it at this point in your career/life, and why you want to do it at a particular school is one that we are asked in virtually every application we submit. I found it to be more than just an essay question though. For me, it was a thinking process that really drove the whole application experience. Considering those issues early on can help you make choices about where and when you apply, as well as being invaluable when it comes to wrtiting the essays.

Why MBA?

What is it that you are setting out to achieve by studying for an MBA? Will an MBA actually help you to achieve it? Is an MBA the only/best/optimum way?

Why now?

Chances are, this will link in with the answers to the first question. So, why do you think that now is the right time? What will you lose or gain in your life/career/learning experience if you do an MBA now rather than later (or not at all)? Will you be able to 'leverage' an MBA more or less if you do it now rather than in a couple of years' time? Are you ready for the financial implications, the lifestyle changes etc.

There's a really good post on this from AxeChick here.

Why here?

If you are doing this thinking early on in the process, the chances are that you don't have much idea of where 'here' might be. (If you are starting out with a firm idea that you want to go to school X and only school X then I think you're probably making a mistake, but more on that in another post.)

In the early stages of the process, I think this part of the question is more about determening the factors that will help you decide whether any particular 'here' is right for you or not. Think about what you need/want/would like from a school/programme/student body/location. What will help you to achieve your goals and make you happy? Think about academics but also the type of community you want to be part of, the type of people you want to be with, how the rest of your life fits in and your own preferences and foibles. Do you hate heat or can't stand cold? Do you want to be within easy travelling distance of family or as far away as possible? Do you need to be somewhere you can take your pets, or where your SO can easily find a job? Do you have particular needs or preferences when it comes to housing? Do you need certian types of financing to be available?

Of course all this can change over time. Your circumstances may alter, something that seemed important may be come less so (or vice versa), and you'll learn about or think about new things as you go through the process. But I think that there's real value in doing this thinking, and knowing what is an absolute must or must not have, what is highly (un)desireable, and what merely a preference. The results I ended up with (some details here) really helped me to focus, to shortlist schools and kept me on the straight and narrow when I was in danger of getting carried away by irrelevancies (Tuck may be a beautiful part of the world, but I know that I'd go stir crazy in such a small community in a relatively isolated place. Harvard may be 'Harvard', but it doesn't have lots of the other things I'm looking for.)

In all likelihood, no one school will be a perfect fit, but if you know what you are looking for you will be able to tell what a school is missing and make an informed decision about whether to apply on that basis. And of course, when you do apply and have to write the essays, a nice chunk of your thinking will already have been done. :)

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