By Dr. Don Martin, Former Dean of Admissions at Chicago Booth
Welcome back! This second blog addresses many of the questions I have been asked most often over the years by those thinking about, applying for and pursuing graduate study.
I have organized the questions as follows: Inquiry Questions, Application Questions, Admit Questions, and Student Questions. For this blog post, we are doing to take a look at 10 key inquirer questions.
Question 1: Is a graduate business education really worth it? Do I get that much more from earning an MBA, or another business-related masters degree?
Dr. Don’s Response: There are all sorts of benefits from earning a graduate degree – personal, educational, intellectual, emotional, financial, professional, and more. The person who best can answer this question for you is you. How much do you want a graduate/business school degree, and why? Bottom line, success in life is about who you are and what you do with what you have been given. You can most certainly be successful without an MBA. Perhaps the question to answer is, “Will I be in a position to better accomplish the goals I have set for myself by earning an MBA?”
Question 2: What if my first choice b-schol at the start of my research moves way down on my list, based on further research?
Dr. Don’s Response: Congratulations! You are doing your homework and honestly trying to determine, based on yourlist of important criteria, which MBA programs are the best options for you. Remember, it is about finding the best match between you and what you are looking for. Based on your research and the honest assessment you have given your options, the new first choice institution is a better match for you. And that is what this is all about – finding the best option for you.
Question 3: What if the b-school I end up with as my first choice is not as prestigious as some other institutions on my list?
Dr. Don’s Response: Long-term success is not directly correlated with the prestige factor of your institution. No doubt about it, prestige may open a few more doors, but keeping them open is all up to you. Being an outstanding worker and team player who practices persistence and determination, opens doors too – more than you know. Hard work always pays off – always.
Question 4: What if some important people in my life are either pressuring me to earn a graduate degree or discouraging me from doing so?
Dr. Don’s Response: Why are they trying to pressure/discourage you? Do you believe any of their reasons are valid? If so, do you believe you have a valid response? How well do you know these individuals? If they are loved ones or friends you trust, then you do yourself a favor to listen. However, they also need to do you the favor of listening to what you have to say. In the end this is your life, so hopefully you will not be in a position some day of having to ask, “What if I’d gone ahead with my dream of a graduate/business school education?”
Question 5: What if I am thinking about this more for the credential/financial rewards than for the purely educational/intellectual benefits?
Dr. Don’s Response: Join the club! Many individuals do not pursue a graduate degree just for the intellectual stimulation or because they desire to learn more. Many are looking for increased financial opportunities and career growth and there is nothing wrong with that. However, do not forget the amazing educational experience that awaits you as an MBA student – it is truly one of a kind.
Question 6: What if I have a really bad experience with an admissions representative, current student, faculty member, alumnus, etc., on the phone or in person during a campus visit/recruitment event? Either they are extremely rude to me, or we become engaged in some sort of an argument and I say something I should not, or both?
Dr. Don’s Response: My first piece of advice is not to do anything for at least 24 hours. Calm down; sleep on it and then act. If you believe something you said or did was inappropriate, contact onlythe individual to whom you want to apologize and do so in person or on the phone. I do not suggest putting the apology in writing. If you believe someone behaved in an inappropriate manner toward you, you should certainly feel free to contact the director of admissions and make a formal complaint. Some individuals may not hesitate to do this and feel completely within their rights to make known what happened. Others may decide that they do not want to say anything for fear that it could affect the outcome of their application. This is a personal choice. However, having been in situations where complaints were made about a member of my staff, a student host, an alumni interviewer, etc. by an applicant, I can honestly say that such complaints never resulted in that person’s application being given anything but the most thorough review possible to ensure that a fair and equitable decision was made.
Question 7: If I delete the name of a graduate/business school and replace it with another, the marketing information on the web, in a video, or on the printed page basically sounds the same – just a varied ordering of copy, and different visual images/graphics. How can I trust what I read on the web or in printed materials?
Dr. Don’s Response: As with any type of advertising, institutions want to put their best foot forward. They do so by using words, phrases and clichés that sound very familiar. Do not be surprised by this. If you dig deeper, you will be able to start making some helpful comparisons. For instance, get a list of a few recent graduates from the program to which you are applying and contact them. What do these individuals have to say (remember, they are no longer enrolled so they can be completely candid with you.)? Did they get what they came for? What about the faculty – how well known are they? How recently have they been published? Once admitted, get information on how their classes have been evaluated in the past two years. Get a list of the top five recruiters of graduates from the institution. What do they have to say about the quality of education? And last but not least, visit the campus if at all possible. What did youobserve? How were youtreated? How did you fit in? Overall, how did you feel? The way one feels during a campus visit is usually how one feels as a student.
Question 8: At what point does an admissions office move from being wonderfully responsive to me, and start looking too desperate to recruit me?
Dr Don’s Response: As the competition for graduate students increases, so does the level of contact institutions will have with them. It may be a bit difficult to distinguish between genuine interest and overkill. But do your best to follow your gut. Does the contact seem reasonable? Are you being contacted more than once per week (that might be a bit excessive)? Are the contacts made to you varied and do they contain new and helpful information? Are folks respectful of you? Are those contacting you upbeat, but not begging you to enroll all the time? Are they careful not to speak unkindly or inappropriately about other options you may be considering? More selective institutions tend to recruit less. But that is a very general statement. Almost everyone has stepped into the recruitment ring these days. There is competition at all levels, even at the most selective institutions.
Question 9: Is an online graduate program as credible as the more traditional one?
Dr Don’s Response: My thoughts on this have evolved over the past 20 years. Initially, online programs, while academically sound, did not offer students with the opportunity to interact with professors and fellow students. But this has largely changed. There are many online graduate degree programs that incorporate “real-time” interaction that closely mirrors that of a more traditional program. In addition, many institutions are offering hybrid programs, that blend some real-time learning with what takes place online. As the costs of higher education continue to rise, and as the credibility of online graduate programs increases, earning an online graduate degree is becoming more and more a viable option.
One final observation: Most online graduate/business school programs are currently offered at the master’s level, not at the doctoral level.
Question 10: What if my finances are just not adding up? What if going to graduate/business school seems economically impossible?
Dr. Don’s Response: This is definitely something to consider, no doubt about it. It is helpful if you have at least one year’s tuition “in the bank” before you enroll. Make sure you know what financial aid you can receive, including loans, scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, work-study, etc. Do some financial planning. You might consider meeting with a financial advisor, or with trusted relatives, loved ones and/or friends. Cover all the bases – do not leave anything to chance. Make sure you know that you can cover what you need to cover. Do not enroll if you have not planned, to the best of your ability, for the financial responsibilities you are about to assume.
Stay tuned for my next MBA Tour blog in September: “Questions MBA Applicants Often Ask”
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