If Not Now, When?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

For those of you who are going through (or have gone through) the MBA admissions process, there are three questions that almost every program will ask. In fact, there’s a good chance that you know them so well by now that you can recite them in your sleep:

  • Why get an MBA?
  • Why here?
  • Why now?

While all three are important in their own way, I found that in my own personal MBA journey, the last was the hardest to answer. Why NOW? (And believe me, “Why not?” is not the answer that the Admissions reps are looking for.) The hard part is, I’m not sure if there IS a right answer. 

According to a 2014 article in Poets & Quants, the average age of a student in a full-time MBA program is 28 years old, with an average of around 5 years experience. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. As I explain to people unfamiliar with the full-time MBA program, a Master’s in Business Administration is pretty much the only graduate program where not only is it expected that students won’t start right out of college, but it’s actually discouraged if they do. The goal is to have a class where each student brings a strong background of experience to ensure that students can learn as much from each other as they can from their professors. 

While all of that makes sense from a logical perspective, what about an emotional one? For me, I think this was the hardest part. Going back to get my MBA had been in the back of my mind for a long time – since before I even graduated from college, in fact. But it never felt like the “right” time. Of course I was able to come up with all sorts of reasons why that was the case: I hadn’t been out of school long enough to gain the requisite experience, I had just started a new job, I had just moved to a new state, etc. But the real reason, in hindsight, is that I just wasn’t ready. And that’s OK. 

My “aha!” moment came when I had just finished a stint as a contractor at a large Fortune 500 company in Minneapolis, and found myself in a moment of reflection as I decided what I wanted to do next. The most logical choices were either taking on another contract role or starting to apply for full-time positions. But as I started to look at job postings, I realized that while I could do these jobs, they weren’t going to get me to where I wanted to be in the long run. Taking a step back, I recognized that now was the right time to go back to school and get my MBA. Not only did I feel confident that I had enough experience under my belt to actively contribute to my classmates’ learning, but also that I was ready to embark on this journey for myself. “For myself” was key for me – I wasn’t going to be going back for my MBA because it was expected of me, or because I felt there was no other choice. I was going back because I WANTED to, for myself and for my future. And I have to say, I’m so glad that I waited, because when I started, I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that MBA school was where I wanted to be.

There is no one “right” time to go back and get an MBA. It truly depends on each person, and their own personal and professional journey. In my class at Carlson there are students with three years of experience and those with over ten years of experience. But everyone has one thing in common – the timing was right for them. And believe me, it shows. I’m constantly impressed not only by the knowledge and talent of my classmates, but also by their enthusiasm for the MBA experience. 

My advice to potential MBA candidates is to take a step away from the over-simplified “Why now?” Instead, I’d urge you to challenge yourself to push a little further. What do you have to contribute to your classmates and your program? What will it provide you with that you couldn’t get from your professional career? What is your motivation for going back to school, and who is driving that motivation? If you don’t have the answers to all of these questions, that’s OK. And if these questions help you realize that now isn’t the right time to go back to get an MBA, that’s OK too. 

Everyone has their own reasons for going back to get an MBA, and everyone has their own timeline. While I sometimes catch myself looking at my younger classmates and wistfully thinking maybe I should have gone back to get my MBA earlier, I know that I made the right decision for myself and my personal MBA journey. I’m excited to be here, and I know that I’m here for me, because I want to be. I’m all in. And that’s a great feeling.