Post-Grad Opportunities: The MBA

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While graduating from college represents the end of an important chapter in one’s education, it also presents a diversity of choices for post-grad study. And while undergraduate education incorporates a variety of general education requirements aimed at providing a well-rounded education, graduate programs are often highly specialized and designed for specific careers or positions. For these reasons undergraduates should look into graduate programs as early as possible to decide if, when and where they want to pursue an advanced degree. This week, the Foghorn sat down with USF Associate Director for MBA Admissions Grace Tan to discuss what doors an MBA can open for students and what MBA programs look for when selecting applicants.

An MBA, or masters degree in business administration, is typically a two-year degree providing substantial coursework in well known business disciplines like accounting, finance, marketing, management and leadership. However, some MBA programs specialize in areas such as entrepreneurship, international business and non-profit management, or provide unique experiences such as spending several semesters in foreign business centers. MBA programs are often not as rigorous as some other graduate programs like law, medical school or many Ph.D programs; The hardest part about an MBA program is getting in, said Mark Lenhard, a graduate of Stanford’s MBA program, which does not release student grades. However, once enrolled, MBA students hone leadership skills and bond with classmates who can prove valuable business networking contacts later on.

Tan said that MBA applicants come from diverse backgrounds and have a variety of work experience and previous education. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of MBA students did not study business as undergraduates and students from the humanities and sciences often have the most to gain from an MBA program. Undergraduate GPA, GMAT scores and previous work experience are often the most important qualities to admissions officers, as is the case at USF, said Tan. The average number of years of work experience at most popular programs is around five, and Tan said applicants need at least two years of experience to be competitive. Having work experience means students will be able to relate classroom lectures to real world experience and provide unique perspectives, she said. In addition to completing an application, essay questions and letters of recommendation, some schools require interviews with prospective students.

MBA graduates go on to careers, often in management, in a variety of sectors from investment banking jobs on Wall Street to technology startup companies in Silicon Valley to NGOs in Africa, making an MBA perhaps the most versatile advanced degree. MBA graduates from popular programs are sought after by top companies and compensated with high starting salaries, often in the neighborhood of $100,000 or more, depending on what field they enter upon graduation and what school they studied at. Students also benefit from having a large network of business school alumni to reach out to for career and investment opportunities or advice.

Many of America’s largest companies and most iconic brands were founded or are led by MBA graduates including Nike, founded by Stanford graduate Phil Knight and Berkshire Hathaway, founded by Columbia graduate Warren Buffett (who recently edged out Bill Gates as the worlds richest man). The CEO of Intel, Paul Otellini, is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Hass School of Business and USF, where he studied economics as an undergraduate.

Tan said that current students who are considering going to an MBA program should try to take the GMAT exam while they are still in school, as finding the time to study while working full time can be exhausting. They should also seek out meaningful work experience where they can demonstrate leadership qualities, she said.

The USF MBA program waives the application fee for USF undergraduates. More information about USF’s program is available by emailing mba@usfca.edu or calling 415-422-2221. An admissions advisor is also available online every Tuesday and Thursday at http://www.usfca.edu/sobam/mba/ask_mba_admissions.html.

Business Week also has a series of articles on their website called “Five Years to B-School,” outlining what students should do in each of the five years most people take between finishing an undergraduate degree and business school to be as competitive an applicant as possible.

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