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The questions I wish I asked about MBA programs

tepper-in-snow

This past year at this time, I was sitting in my favorite cafe on Capitol Hill in Seattle putting the final touches on my applications for business school. I don’t recall thinking at the time that I’d be trading in Seattle’s grey and drizzle for Pittsburgh’s grey and snow flurries. However, I do remember thinking:

  • I like all the programs I’m applying to but which one do I genuinely love?
  • What does it mean for a program to be well known as analytical, good at marketing, or focused on the case method?
  • Is getting an MBA going to be worth it?

These are valid questions to ask. In retrospect though, there are many other questions that I wish I would’ve asked myself when I was applying to get my MBA.

To provide some context, the thoughts and questions below come from my perspective as an older student. At 32, I’m not the oldest student in my class, and I’m not that much older than most of my classmates.

I did have ten years of work experience, however, and had already performed a mid-career pivot from education to tech. Entering business school, I knew that I didn’t want to pivot my career; I came to business school to accelerate my career.

With that context in mind, below are the questions I WISH I had asked while applying to business school.

What do companies mean when they call an MBA program a “core school?”

Classic MBA conundrum. You haven’t been admitted to a program, and you’re already planning your first job out of business school.

When I began seriously looking at business schools, I started my search by speaking with people I trusted who had earned their MBA. Their consistent piece of advice was to know what companies recruit and hire from your target programs.

I took a rather cursory approach in my research on this question and felt a bit blindsided when I learned that companies have what they call “core schools.”

A core school is a trusted partner for a business. Companies know that they can consistently hire interns and full-time grads with the temperament and skills that they want from these schools. Schools and students know that they can always place students and future alumni at well-respected companies. It’s a win-win for both sides!

There is a downside to the presence of core schools. If you don’t attend a core school, your path to getting an internship or full-time job at your target company may not be straightforward and will likely be more challenging.

How much of my hunt for an internship is going to be on my own?

Another question about hunting for a job. Hmm, you take classes in grad school, right? Yes, you’re going to take courses in business school that will broaden your perspective and strengthens your skills as a business person and manager. You’re also going to invest a significant amount of time networking and getting to understand the breadth of opportunities available in business.

One thing I didn’t understand when I came to Tepper was what the internship search process looked like. The answer is… it depends. For example:

Interested in consulting? – Tepper has associates, managers, and partners at every major consulting company. If you’re interested in pursuing this career, be prepared to spend a significant amount of time at on-campus corporate events learning about specific consulting practices, networking with alums in-person and on-the-phone, and otherwise making your presence known. The Tepper Consulting Club will heavily support you, and the path to an internship, while not without its challenges, is pretty straight-forward.

Interested in investment banking or asset management? – Again, Tepper has lots of alumni in this field. Be prepared to travel to New York or Chicago. A lot. You’ll meet with, network with, and build relationships with alums. The Graduate Finance Association and Alpha Asset Management Club will support you.

Interested in tech? – The Business & Technology Club, better known as B&T, is the largest and most active club at Tepper. There are Tepper alumni at the big five (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft). Also, there are alums at many other well-known tech companies. Many companies will come to campus to give corporate presentations and the B&T club plans treks to Silicon Valley and Seattle.

Interested in ______? – Lots of people come to business school because they want to pivot into a new role. Often, they may not know what that role is. While business school offers opportunities to learn about new roles and many people can find internships in these new roles successfully, this can be a challenging path. If you plan on using business school as your point in which to shift into a new role or industry, you should be researching and learning about a new role before you get to business school. Ask the schools you’re applying to if they can set you up with a student who is using their MBA to shift roles.

How do you know that getting an MBA is worth it?

This is an incredibly difficult question to answer because it’s so personal. In part, the answer depends on your reasons for wanting to pursue an MBA, to begin with. Earning an MBA requires a significant investment of your financial resources and time. I think it’s essential to closely interrogate your reasons for getting an MBA. Bear in mind that those reasons may not be what you write in your admissions essays.

While I’m still early in the process of earning my MBA, here are some of the reasons why going to Tepper has been valuable for me.

  • Learning with, networking with, and befriending my ambitious and diverse Tepper classmates has challenged me to improve on many dimensions. They’ve pushed me to work harder and demand more from my career.
  • Networking with Tepper alumni and with different businesses has helped me to understand what value I bring to companies and how to articulate that value.
  • Reflecting on my career and what I want to achieve professionally has helped me understand why I’ll never compromise when it comes to working culture, mission, and values.

The right questions don’t have simple answers.

Choosing the right MBA program is difficult. I think my process for applying to and selecting Tepper could’ve been made easier if I had asked better questions. The items above may not be the right questions for you. Spend some time brainstorming over the winter holiday the questions you wish MBA programs would answer. And then ask them.