Since you were five years old, you knew you wanted to be a part of the business world, trying on your father’s suits and carrying a pretend briefcase around with you everywhere you went. So, you naturally chose an undergraduate business program.
But now that you’ve graduated, you’re unsure about what to do next. Do you know enough to rock the business world as you are—or should you go on to get your MBA?
Is going back to school really worth it?
Well, the truth is, it depends on YOU. We talked to the Vice President of Greenmont Capital Partners Kevin Boyer about his business school experience.
After attending the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder for his undergraduate degree, he went on to get his Masters of Business Administration with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship and Finance from the same university.
Now, he shares with us ten surprising things about business school and why you’re really in charge of your experience there.
1. Applying is like a game
“I saw an MBA as an opportunity to attend an exclusive Top 20 or Ivy League university. In my case, I researched MBA programs for three years before finally attending my school. Ironically, after I understood how to apply successfully to the top programs, and got to the point where I likely would have been accepted to one of those schools, other factors overwhelmed my decision and I ended up back at the same school I attended for undergrad.”
Though a lot of business schools advertise that “there is no typical admitted applicant profile,” Kevin warns that this isn’t really true. A school may let in a certain amount of “exceptions,” but for the most part, the admissions for a school will be looking for the types of students that have done well in the past.
Because of this, there is a lot of work to do when applying. This process may involve pre-MBA counseling and/or working with admissions consultants. You’re also going to need to do a lot of research to find out what kinds of applicants those schools are really looking for.
“If you want to go to a top program, you’ve got to learn how the game is played, and then play it damn well.”
Because of this, Kevin says that thinking about business school as a recent graduate is probably a good idea. That way you can really do your research and take the time to figure out the “game.”
Although it may be a good idea to start thinking about getting an MBA as a recent graduate, Kevin does not recommend jumping into a graduate program right away.
2. It’s not usually a good idea to go into business school right after graduation
Although getting your undergraduate degree in a business program will help you with your first year material (in fact, that first year might feel a lot easier than you were expecting) it’s important to have “real world” experience to relate the material back to as well.
Kevin was surprised by the diversity of his classmates when it came to age range and professional experience. He recommends having at least a couple of years of experience under your belt before going for your MBA.
“People who come straight to business school from undergrad are often thought of as ‘kids’ by classmates. The students I knew with little or no professional experience were generally unhelpful when it came to group work. Consequently, before too long, those kids stuck to themselves for group projects, while the rest of the people in class mixed about.”
The required years of experience have really gone down since Kevin was applying; most schools were looking for five years of work experience as opposed to the two that are now required. Still, it’s important to have that base of knowledge before attending your graduate program.
3. It’s not a “hideout”
With the economy where it is today, it can seem like graduate school is the perfect place to go to avoid the job market or escape from it. But you shouldn’t view your MBA as a “hideout.”
First of all, it’s important to take tuition into account. Kevin chose to attend a school with reasonable tuition and graduated with a manageable amount of debt. But this isn’t possible with a lot of schools and it’s important to think realistically about the cost of business school.
As Kevin points out, “How smart of a ‘business decision’ is it to go $100k in debt before you have a job or even really know what you want to do?”
Apart from the money situation, going into business school to escape the pressures of the “real world” is a big mistake.
“It is important to understand that any worthwhile academic program will have its own demands. It can be extremely difficult psychologically to move forward and focus on new material if you’re still mentally distracted by something, whether that happened in the past or is still going on around you. Business school generally allows for a flexible schedule, but still requires you to have your ‘head in the game,’ so to speak.”
Also, unless you happen to have the extra cash lying around, you’re probably going to be working while you’re in school. This work experience is not only important to help fund your education, but also to get a job after college. You’re going to want to network, intern, and/or work part-time at different businesses while in school. One of the most important parts about business school is having access to that school’s network, so it’s important to make the most of it.
Talk about the opposite of “hiding out.” Kevin was not about to let a moment of his time go to waste and he talks about the challenges that brought along.
“In fact, I may have been a bit too aggressive in the ‘professional opportunity’ area. With the exception of about two months, I worked from the first day of school to the last. Certainly balancing a professional position, time absorbing extracurricular activities, and academic coursework was a major challenge.”
4. You don’t have to go to a Top 20 or Ivy League school
Kevin started his quest for business school wanting to go to a Top 20 or Ivy League school, but extenuating circumstances changed that choice for him and he attended University of Colorado at Boulder instead.
He doesn’t regret his decision and “now believes that [he] would not have received the same entrepreneurship and finance education, exposure to venture capital events/activities, or options for professional employment in VC if [he] had attended any other school (except probably Stanford and maybe Harvard Business School).”
When he started business school, Kevin didn’t have an “end goal” in mind per se. He only knew that he wanted to go into the investing side of finance, both strategic advising and transactions.
“If I had gone to another school this could have ended up as investment banking or perhaps some kind of financial consulting. Fortunately, my school was focused on entrepreneurship. I realized that this was actually my core area, what I liked best about business, and felt great doing. Combining that with finance translated to venture capital, which is where I work now.”
If you’re dead set on going to a top listed school but don’t get in, you have two options.
“If you’re going to your second, third, or fourth choice of school, either get over it and get super excited to be in your current program, or pull out of the program and work to get into the program(s) you really want next year/semester. Don’t half-ass it.”
Kevin has to admit that he was surprised by the “mid-tier” mindset of some of the students and faculty.
“Just because this school is not ranked on someone’s list, doesn’t mean we’re not excellent. The only way to become a top school is by acting like one.”
5. The trends of business school are changing
Traditionally, companies would hire new MBAs and train them within their company’s functional areas. Now, many companies have reduced or eliminated training programs. Long-term corporate loyalty is the exception rather than the rule.
Many companies now want to hire a person who already has the skills and functional base of knowledge for a specific position, whether that is in finance, market, supply chain/logistics, data management, info systems, or some other specialized area. Therefore, more schools are offering 12 or 18-month concentrated Master’s-level degrees in a specific functional area.
Still, Kevin recommends a full MBA as opposed to these short specialized programs.
“Sure, many would-be students appreciate the reduced program timeframe as well as the (perceived) greater odds of employment immediately following their program. However, this is a short-term solution to a lifelong problem. All business areas are ultimately connected. An MBA is still the best way to ensure a well-rounded education that will allow you to progress to any level within a company while also letting the student gain specialized skills and knowledge through second year electives, extracurricular activities, and summer internships/part-time employment.”
Of course this is all very dependent upon the student who is attending the program. It is up to the student to supplement their business education with activities outside of school that are specialized in certain areas. Putting in this extra time will ensure that you not only gain knowledge of the general business concepts but also learn specific skills.
6. You shouldn’t be “taking a break” before b-school starts
Before starting school, a lot of people might recommend that you give yourself a little break from work. Kevin totally disagrees with this. He suggests spending your time looking into non-business school electives that you might want to take during your second year—law, engineering, or something else to make your education well-rounded and unique.
That time before school starts is also great for getting a jump-start on the school work you know about.
“Read through case studies and textbooks you know you’ll have to use in class. Get familiar with extracurricular groups you would consider participating in. Subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. Read it every day.”
All of this will improve your business school experience and help you make the most of your time in class.
7. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a break before you apply
Although Kevin does not recommend taking a break if you’re already applying to business school, he does suggest that you go after your personal aspirations while you’re young.
“If you’re graduating from college now with a BA or BS, take an honest assessment of who you are and what you want. You can always go to business school and into a professional career, but if you have that crazy personal aspiration boiling inside of you, say, wanting to surf in Australia or backpack across Europe, or pursue a professional rugby career (in my case)—go do it when you are 22 or 23. You’ll be better off doing those things and having those experiences when you’re younger and have no real responsibilities. And when you do get serious about a professional career, you won’t regret not doing that thing you always wanted to do.”
8. Extracurriculars are just as important as your classes
Going to business school really helped Kevin make a big transition in his life—switching professional fields as well as other personal changes.
Though the classes were helpful, the strongest benefits were extracurricular activities like the school’s student venture fund and the introduction to his current venture capital firm.
Many people will tell you that getting into venture capital is next to impossible, but Kevin and several members of his class were able to obtain professional positions with noted venture capital firms and progress within them.
9. You’re in charge of getting a job afterward
Although Kevin was lucky to have access to his school’s student venture fund and to get introduced to his current firm, it was really up to him (and all the students) to find and work to get their own jobs after graduation.
“A surprising factor was that there was essentially no recruiting by companies of MBA students. It was very much the student’s responsibility to find employers and get a job or make their own job and company.”
That means you’re really going to want to do the extra work outside of your classes like networking, volunteering, participating in extracurricular activities, interning, and working part-time. Make sure that you’re putting yourself out there.
10. Your goals may change
Also, once you’re admitted into a program, your goals may change. Kevin observed that a lot of people started out wanting to go to a “top” program and make a super-high starting salary, but upon graduating, their priorities changed. Instead, it became more important to them to live in a certain geographic area or have a job that allowed work/life balance.
Your focus could change as well. When applying and first entering into business school, your goal may have been to build on your retail management background and become a brand manager, but as you explore all the opportunities available to you, you might decide that your real aspiration is investment banking. That’s okay.
“Once you’re in, you can explore a bit and do what you really want to do, even if you told the admissions committee that your goal was something else.”
Really, your education and experience at business school is dependent upon you.
“You might benefit from the school’s reputation and contacts, and the university has an obligation to teach you relevant information and educate you as the program mandates, but ultimately, it is you, the student, that will determine how worthwhile your grad school experience is. Like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it.”
Homework time! Are you ready to apply to business school? Make sure you research different schools and their application processes. What are the schools looking for? Look into the costs and figure out a realistic plan for paying for school.
Once you’ve been accepted, start reading textbooks and looking into other assignments. Figure out how you’re going to add to your education with volunteering, extracurriculars, and internships.