Un Film Snob Pour Martiens

Why attend business school?

There are as many reasons to go to business school as there are there are people.  That said, Iíve found that most studentsí rationale fits into one of the following categories:

  • You need an MBA to progress on your current career track
  • You want to change careers
  • You want to learn more about business
  • You are looking for "something more" out of life but you are not sure what that might be, and you hope that business school may lead you to the answer

We can make a distinction between means and ends.  The first two points are means; the second two are ends (you could argue that the fourth point is a means, but let's not quibble).  You will probably have a mixture of reasons for choosing to go back to school, but it is important to know explicitly which ones are important, and how they rank in priority.  You will have to make many choices during the application process, and if you don't have a yardstick by which to make your decisions, you will end up less than satisfied.

Let's look at the options in order.

You need an MBA to progress on your current career track.  This is most often encountered by management consultants and some bankers.  If you come from one of these environments, surrounded by people with MBAs, you will probably look upon the degree as nothing more than a branding exercise.  You will enter school knowing it all, and leave it knowing only a little less, due to a year of intense partying.  Relax, you don't need to be reading this at all.

You want to change careers.  This is the second most popular reason for coming to business school.  An MBA is particularly effective at achieving this goal, but be aware of the business cycle.  In recessionary times, with few jobs on offer, employers can be quite selective, requiring someone with prior experience in the industry, job position, whatever.  Thus your success at changing careers hinges largely on the state of the economy.  Career changers in the past several promotions at Insead have left disappointed, though this seems to be improving as the world economy recovers.  In good years, however, offers will rain down on your head, and the biggest problem will be to decide between them; this is where the MBA shines for career-changers.  The final word: be realistic.

You want to learn more about business.  Oh, so you're here to learn?  You've come to the right place!  Business schools, as academic institutions, are well-suited to provide an effective forum for learning.  You will be challenged and stretched until you reach your limits.  You will have access to cutting-edge research and resources.  You can discuss new and old ideas with professors and students, after class, at dinner, and far into the night.  If you've ever wondered about agency theory, leadership, strategic preëmption, incentive compensation, corporate governance, decision making, management style, organisational structure, pecking-order theory of capital markets, psychological drivers of consumer behaviour, or any other of the myriad fundamental principles on which modern business operates, you will love getting your MBA.

You are lost.  There are an incredible number of students who don't know why they are there, don't know what they want to do, and are hoping to be struck by inspiration once on campus.  This occasionally works.  However, going to business school to find the answer to a question that you don't know is a dodgy proposition.  The endeavour is expensive, demanding, and life-changing (really, why go if it's not?).  If you don't know why you are there, the downside is tremendous: you will be broke, exhausted, lonely, and unhappy.  And most likely you will still be lost, though admittedly with a better Rolodex, which has its benefits.  Choose wisely.  If you do choose to proceed with school, note the requirements by most admissions committees: they want someone who knows what they want to do; someone who is "self-aware".  Therefore, if you haven't yet discovered your purpose in life, make sure to fake it on your application process.  And fake it well, if you hope to get in. 

Regardless of why you come to business school, you will meet lots of people and have lots of new experiences.  You'll be forced to work, which you may or may not enjoy, and all of this will happen while you are far from home, far from friends or family, in a new environment.  Ultimately, this will change you; whether you view this change with a smile or frown in retrospect will depend on why you came to school in the first place.  Spend some time thinking about your own situation; discuss it with your circle of advisors.  Speak with school alumni and ask them why they went to school and whether they achieved their goals.  In short, do your homework.  Your future will thank you. 

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Last update: 12/28/2003; 1:31:04 AM.