5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Attending Business School

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Whether you’re looking to open new doors professionally or expand your skill set in your current career, getting an education in business can give you the tools to follow your dream.

Maybe you’re one of the 67% of millennials pursuing self-employment or entrepreneurship, or you’re already an active participant in the still-booming gig economy – depending on your motivations, gaining some business know-how could be a worthwhile investment of your time and money.

But it’s also worth a reminder that a business degree – whether it’s an associate’s, a bachelor’s or an MBA – is hard work, and not necessarily an automatic guarantee of success.

Here are a few things you should consider before proceeding full steam ahead.

Should I Attend Business School? What You Should Know Before Deciding

1. Having a business degree won’t necessarily mean a return on investment

It’ll likely come as no surprise that business school is expensive. The average MBA will lighten your wallet to the tune of $9,000 a year for up to 3 years. You’ll probably have to take on debt in order to finance this degree – in addition to any pre-existing debt that you may already have. But even if you’re planning on paying for it out-of-pocket, you’ll have to ask yourself: is it likely that this degree will help me earn back my investment? When is an MBA worth it?

If you haven’t entered the workforce yet, you’ll want to explore the business careers available so you can customize your business program to help you land one after graduation. If you plan on pursuing a business degree while still working with your current company or organization, you’ll want to look into possible education benefits and whether an advanced degree will result in a higher salary or more opportunities for career growth.

You'll also want to weigh the cost of the degree versus the potential in salary growth to see if the investment in your education with yield a higher ROI. Of course, there are ways to cut costs like going to a community college, obtaining an online business degree, etc. At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with pursuing education for education’s sake, but it’s a wise idea to get the facts and figures squared away before sending off your business school application fee.

2. Not all business schools are created equal – and that’s okay

While it may seem like a business degree comes with a one-size-fits-all curriculum, this is not the case. You should choose which business school to attend the same way you would any other university – by exploring several different options to see which school has professors that specialize in what you wish to study and if they offer courses in areas that are of interest to you.

And don’t underestimate the importance of a campus visit – it might seem a little silly, but it’s hard to get an idea of the vibe of the school and how faculty and students interact with one another if you don’t actually go and see it for yourself. You’ll be spending a lot of time with these people, so it’s important to know if you'll be able to work well together; you don’t want to spend potentially three years of your life (not to mention thousands of dollars) dreading your interactions with your teachers or classmates.

If you have your eye set on a prestigious school, but after visiting the campus or department you find that it may not be a good fit, by all means, look elsewhere! After all, the people you meet in business school are going to end up being your future colleagues and customers.

3. Yes, the GMAT matters…

…and yes, you need to take it and do well. The GMAT (or the Graduate Management Admission Test) is the standardized test that most business schools require for admission, so chances are pretty high that you won’t be able to avoid taking it. Like the GRE, the GMAT tests both math and writing skills, but unlike the GRE, the GMAT also assess logic, critical reasoning skills and your problem-solving abilities.

The math portion of the GMAT covers arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. You will need to know how to calculate the slope of a line, for example. The verbal portion tests your ability to read and comprehend written material, as well as your ability to reason and argue using that material.

It’s designed to predict how well you will do in business school, and most programs take GMAT scores very seriously in deciding whom to admit. It’s not the kind of test you want to blow off – especially because you’ll have to shell out $250 for every test attempt.

is an mba worth it

If you’re concerned about potentially receiving a low score, it might be worth it to enroll in a test prep course or see if the schools you’re interested in offer GMAT waivers. The waivers are designed for applicants who already have at least some business-related work experience; if you’re given a waiver, you won’t have to take the GMAT, but you will have to submit a letter detailing your professional experience. It’s at least worth asking for one, but ultimately you should be prepared to take the GMAT at least once.

4. Evaluate how much time you have to dedicate to business school

Attending business school is a lot like having a full-time job, or a second full-time job if you plan to also work while getting your degree. Even though it’s “school”, the pace is intense and the time commitment is considerable, especially if you’re pursuing an MBA.

Your first year will likely be all about cramming in the core curriculum – perhaps with a few electives – and as early as October you should start pursuing summer internships possibilities. It will be daunting, and it will definitely be stressful; this is why it’s so important to find a school that’s a good fit for you since you’ll need the support and camaraderie of your fellow classmates.

attending business school

The second year of business school typically includes the bulk of your elective courses, and from that point on, you'll be busy with the last of your coursework, updating your resumé, searching for jobs and preparing for interviews, in addition to any internships or extracurriculars. To alleviate a little bit of the pressure, you can find part-time, online business programs, though you'll be following the same curriculum with the same requirements…it just may take longer to earn your degree.

5. Self-doubt may creep in, but you deserve to be there

When you’re in the thick of classes, paper writing and projects, internships and the overall tough workload of business school, there will absolutely be times that you doubt yourself – especially if you begin to compare yourself to your classmates.

It’s natural and it will happen; it’s called “Impostor Syndrome” and it is super common among students in any competitive field of study, particularly at the graduate level. Business school is designed to be challenging, and no two students will handle it the same way. This means you may struggle while others seem to succeed, or vice versa! Try not to get too caught up in comparisons and worry – you were admitted to business school for a reason, and you deserve to be there.

Should You Still Attend Business School?

This depends on the individual's situation, but for me, it was a good decision to attend business school. When you're done, you’ll find the challenges of business school have allowed you to develop a skill set that will carry you through the challenges of a career in business. Even better – you’ll have also gained an entire network of people of similar mindsets and ambition, who can help you launch the successful career that you’ve always wanted.

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About the author

Megan Sulewski
Megan is a freelance writer and educator currently based in Lyon, France. A former high school teacher, she now works primarily with students at the university level. She is likewise a wanna-be coffee connoisseur and perennially-disappointed Detroit Lions fan.