Right to grad school or should I wait? Pros & cons of “life/work experience” for the MBA candidate.

When considering jumping right into an MBA (or any graduate program) I often think back to a conversation I had with a friend before getting my own graduate degree. When we talked about how I thought it made good sense for me to go straight into a Master’s program he said… “but don’t you want to see if you’re famous?”

Granted, my friend had a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Theatre Performance – so for him the question was quite literal. Why spend money on grad school if you can go out and sing for your supper? Maybe it turns out you are one of the lucky few who get picked up for a long running TV series. Don’t you want to at least take the risk?

In metaphor – it has some validity, but on the other hand – there are a few reasons to travel straight into the waiting arms of upper level education (based on factors other than potential fame and glory).

So, should I STAY? – reasons to wait on it:

Will they really like me?

Most MBA’s tend to favor those with at least two years of work experience regardless of grades and test scores, with elite programs looking for more than that on average. If you really feel you are THE ONE and need to move ahead there are specialized MBA programs to check out like Harvard’s 2+2, Yale Silver Scholars, and Stanford Deferred.

Almost famous?

It’s possible that you will find the perfect job and an MBA will be beside the point. Is it a long shot? Sure. But might be a good idea and will give you some viable work experience too.


Was Senior year a bit of a trial? Maybe you need a break? After all, you’ve probably been in school since you were 5 years old or younger. It might be healthier for you to take couple of years or so to get some real world grounding. Grad School is not an extension of undergrad – it’s for serious folks – so be prepared mentally and emotionally.

Be Practical

One reason to wait to go to grad school is simply that tuition is just too dang high. Maybe spending some time in the work force will allow you to build up the capital (and leadership experience) you need to make a sensible pass at grad school so you don’t experience burnout trying to balance education with your bank account. Especially if you already have massive undergrad loans.

Do you love what you thought you did?

Pardon all the theatrics in this – but in the musical “Into the Woods” Sondheim writes: “How do you know what you want till you get what you want and you see if you like it.” It’s some heavy stuff to consider – maybe take a gander at your life outside academia before pushing ahead.

Better living through industry

Another way to cut costs might be to have your job sponsor you. If you put in some time, you may be surprised to find how open your employer is to paying for (at least some of) the costs of your MBA or other grad degree. It’s good for them and for you because it shows trust and commitment. Also, this work experience (and particularly leadership experience you gain) might allow you to achieve admission at a more elite program.

Or Should I GO, now?

Ain’t no doubt about it

Doctors and Lawyers, for example, simply aren’t through with school until they get their higher level degrees. There’s no particular reason for them to take a year off in the middle to gather more qualifications. You may have an MBA in mind, but ask around and see – is it imperative for you to get a Master’s for that next step? If so, may be best to just go for it.

You’re not getting any younger

Maybe you took some time off during school or had a non-traditional journey to where you are today. Probably during that time you already got some experience under your belt and can point to leadership opportunities. If your route was the road less traveled, it may not be judicious to wait any longer. Too much experience can be tough too.

Hitch Your Star to Their Wagon

Do you already have a favorite professor who is prepared to write you a glowing recommendation on the spot? Does that person have an angle to get you into (or perhaps already work for) an excellent grad program that appeals to you? Then don’t wait! If you can see your way to working with professors who are currently engaged in the kind of work you know you want to do– run don’t walk. Things change, professors on both sides might switch jobs and start working on a production of “King Lear” in a cave in Tibet – then where will you be? Take advantage of opportunities you have today.

All this being said – the choice to stay or go has to be something that starts with assessing exactly what you to do and why you do it. So think about what you want… or at least what you think you want.

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