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How to determine when the time is right for an MBA

Is there a right time to apply for an MBA? Many potential business school applicants are faced with this question when they feel like their current career path has stalled. For others, getting an MBA straight out of the bachelor’s degree is a no-brainer, as they avoid putting their lives on hold for two years and giving up a potentially significant salary to do so.

The Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the Graduate Management Admission Test, reports that applicants under the age of 24 are the fastest growing group among those taking the GMAT. But how do you know if you’re really ready for the intense demands of a full-time MBA program? Whether you’re finishing your final year or have already worked three to five years, there are several factors you need to evaluate to determine if it’s time to make the move to the MBA.

First, make sure your head is in the game. It’s true that business school includes its fair share of cocktail-fueled social events and late-night revelry, but most people will tell you they’ve never been busier or slept less than when they were in business school. Between classes, quizzes, team meetings, recruiting, clubs, and a truly smorgasbord of special events, the life of an MBA student can seem like a non-stop circus act.

Taking two years to get an MBA is not just a business decision, it is a life decision that can include the interests of boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives and children. Do you have the discipline to balance the grueling workload of an MBA program with your current job or personal obligations?

If the answer is yes, the next step is to be realistic about what it’s going to cost you. Assuming the cost of an MBA program is one of the most expensive academic decisions you’ll ever make once you factor in living expenses, course-related travel expenses and, for older applicants, the loss of two years of earnings while earning the degree. full time. You can certainly find inspiration at No Debt MBA, a blog from a 20-something professional with a seat at one of the top five MBA programs who plans to graduate in 2013 with no student loans. But most applicants to elite schools should prepare for six-figure debt, at least for a while.

On the plus side, GMAC’s 2012 Alumni Outlook Survey reports that, on average, alumni of all participating graduation years recouped a third of their financial investment in their graduate degree immediately after graduation, and saw a 100 percent return on investment after four years.

Deciding if you have enough work experience is a more complicated issue, as more schools roll out the welcome mat for younger applicants. An example is Harvard Business School, whose 2+2 Program specifically courts outstanding college students. Most MBA programs still require at least two years of work experience, but not the five or even seven years that used to be the norm. If you can demonstrate maturity, highly focused career goals, leadership skills, and enough life experience to contribute to an incoming class, your age or little work experience becomes much less important.

It’s no surprise that an MBA broadens your skill set and network, as well as significantly increases your long-term earning potential. Candidates should talk to family, friends and mentors, and possibly an MBA application advisor, early in the application process to determine where they are in the so-called “window” for business school.

But only you can judge when all the necessary elements have been put together to make it the right time.

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