So you've finally graduated from university and now you've got business school in your sights. In the rush to get into a school, MBA candidates forget that not every school will help further their career or even provide a good experience while they're attending. Here is a list of some of the most critical mistakes we see MBA candidates make:
1. Go to whatever school accepts you (and/or offers you the most money). Doing an MBA is a big investment of time and money. Do you know what your objectives are going in? A school with a diverse and impressive network of graduates? High-quality classmates? Curriculum specific to your goals? Before accepting or applying to any school, ask yourself: Walking across the stage at graduation, how will I know this has been time and money well spent? Once you have that answer, you can dig in on the schools you are looking at to make sure they have a history of meeting those goals for their alumni. If you do your due diligence and goal-setting up front, you will be a great candidate for the schools you have applied to, and, in being so, your odds of being accepted along with a scholarship are likely to increase.
2. Believe that magazines publishing MBA rankings know what you need in an MBA. The MBA rankings publications are often the best-selling issues for many top tier magazines and newspapers. But is the rankings criteria set by these publications your criteria? Is it important to you that the school is renowned for research, or does the quality of student experience matter more? Does the number of faculty publications matter to you, or are you more interested in teaching quality? To be discerning about the decision ahead of you, you need to take a deeper look at the rankings and how each dimension is weighted. You might be surprised to find that those weightings don't align with your own personal objectives in getting an MBA.
3. Get an MBA as soon as possible. A good MBA will not define you; instead, it will augment the great things you already bring to the table. Ivey's Admissions pros like to see that you have moved along in your career, that you have learned more, received more responsibility, and have had the opportunity to demonstrate an ability to get stuff done. This is what MBA admissions professionals (and the world's top recruiters) call maturity, good judgment, and influencing skills. Why does it matter? Because there is a saying in recruiting, "Past performance dictates future performance." As you move along in your career, employers will care more about decision-making, communication and influencing skills; all things a great program will help you do better. This is why I typically recommend that applicants wait to do an MBA until they have at least 2 or 3 years of meaningful work experience. This is when the MBA becomes a great toolkit alongside all of the achievements that have given you star power up to this point. Yes, there are schools that will admit you early in your career, take your tuition and send you on your way. But with work experience to draw from, you can get so much more return on your investment from an MBA degree and it will take your career farther, afaster.
4. Ignore the admissions criteria. Think about your MBA or grad school degree as an investment. Because it is an investment, you need to care about the school's admissions decision-making process along with its curriculum, professors and, just as importantly, your classmates. For the most part, schools have admissions processes and criteria that align with their own reputations. As more and more MBA schools are popping up globally, many top schools around the world are choosing to stay small, or are shrinking, so that they can be picky about whom they admit. The reputation of a school – and of those who graduate from it – depends on who they admit. My best advice: Pick a school that aligns with your own career and reputational goals. The school and program name will sit on your resume for the rest of your life. Pay attention to who else has that degree on their resume. Aside from seeking out alumni who have graduated from the school, dig deep on what the admissions criteria currently is: Are they trying to fill seats or do they have an intensive process for selecting high-quality candidates? Be picky and true to your goals.
5. Limit yourself to programs in your city. Okay, if this is your criteria for choosing a school, you missed all the other points above, and there isn't much more to say about that.
Sharon Irwin-Foulon is Executive Director of Career Management and Corporate Recruiting at the Ivey Business School at Western University.