Careers With Paul: Should you go to business school? One answer
A common question I hear is, “Should I go to Business School?” My answer is always the same, half cynical and half serious:
“You should go to business school if you want to go to business school”
Simple, but I really do believe this. Advice from other people can be valuable, but most people tend to tell you to do what they did. If you’re confident that business school is the next step for you, you will always have that thought lingering in the back of your mind. Go do it!
There are two questions I ask everyone who solicits my advice:
1. “What do you want to do after business school?”
2. “Why don’t you do that now?”
Even if you know what you want to do, there are still a number of benefits of going to business school (which I will get to). I was always impressed by my classmates who knew exactly what they wanted to do — they were able to take advantage of every resource, connection, class, and project to help them build their skills.
For people that are less sure, like I was, business school can be a confusing place. Many prestigious jobs instantly become more attainable. For those that have been crushing it in their life, it is incredibly hard to not pursue those paths, whether it is working at Google, McKinsey, Goldman, or the hottest startup.
I’ve been having a lot of conversations with classmates three years after graduation who are all facing the same issue: they are in a great job, but something is missing. I have a friend at Google who loved his job, but when a few things changed — a new manager and position, he realized he didn’t care where he worked — he just wanted to work on a great team.
That same friend recognizes now that business school may have delayed him coming to this realization. All the things that made the two year experience exceptional (exposure to diverse perspective and time to reflect) also made career planning more confusing.
Business school is an option multiplying machine. Of course, this is one thing I found attractive — it expands your pool of opportunities. Since I didn’t have a clear understanding of what I wanted to do when entering business school, expanding my options seemed like the best idea.
But expanding my options did not solve the age old question of “What do I want to do?”
My one caveat about business school is always:
Business school will not help you decide what you want to be when you grow up
You may figure it out during the two years of conversations, classes, and projects but I don’t think business school is well suited to answer this question — and it shouldn’t be! The burden is on you.
Like me, a lot of people go to business school because they want to go to business school — and I think that is fine! So for these people, I offer what I consider the six best things about going to business school:
The life-long friends: A lot of people talk about “the network.” This is definitely real. My classmates are doing incredible things in their career and every one of them will pick up the phone to have a conversation or help me in my career. That support system is invaluable. However, the real power comes from the friends you make from spending 12 hours a day together, struggling through the same assignments or choreographing a dance for an upcoming cultural event. I will guarantee that you leave school with at least one or two life-long friends. These are people that will be in your wedding party, take vacations with you or offer a place to crash when you visit a new city. This paid off for me when I faced some health challenges after graduation. The unexpected love and support of my classmates was amazing. I had life-long friends, not a network
Shrinking the world: It is very easy to expose yourself to different industries and perspectives during the two years you spend at business school. Whether through clubs, classes, speakers or just conversations with classmates, you will likely learn about industries you never knew anything about and jobs you never heard of. At MIT Sloan, almost half of my class was international. Beyond the obvious benefits of travel recommendations for life and inside food knowledge, working with diverse groups broadened my perspective. One of my groups composed peolpe from the US, Mexico, Israel, and Korea — which made the world seem a lot smaller and the world’s challenges a lot more solvable
The ability to take a step out from the “hustle”: Business school is certainly fast paced, but it’s also a step out of the increasingly complex and competitive working world. I am a big fan of taking breaks or walks during the day to increase my productivity and creativity: the benefits of this are well known. I haven’t found any research on the impact of a two year break during your career, but my hypothesis is the benefits are profound. I like to think of business school as a two year walk, where I had time to reflect, think, learn, dream and wonder
Eliminating stories of why you can’t do something: Being surrounded by such successful people can be a double edged sword. If you start comparing yourself to your classmates, you will always find someone more accomplished or impressive. However, the fact that you share a beer or lunch with them makes you realize they don’t have superpowers, they just don’t spend any time creating excuses. It made me realize that the only thing that will hold me back from what I want to accomplish is my own beliefs. Everyone, including me, is capable of greatness
Thinking like a leader: Being accepted into an amazing business school gave me a lot of pride. It also gave me the self-imposed pressure that I need to embrace this opportunity and do something with it. Prior to business school, my definition of a “leader” was something defined by a title or number of direct reports. During a leadership class I took, this idea was destroyed, as I realized these people haven’t cornered the market on leadership. I was filled with the anxiety and excitement that anyone could be a leader. I embraced this mindset and try to ask myself “How should I act in this situation, as a leader?” For me this comes out by having integrity and being authentic to who I am. I’m passionate about building positive and meaningful work environments where people can flourish — so I try to embrace this spirit in every interaction I have in and out of work. I’m grateful that I literally had a class to think about leadership and what it means to me
An experimental lab: I looked at everything as a new learning opportunity. The improvisational leadership class that made me dance around in front of my classmates taught me how to be more fearless. The healthcare project I did made me realize I didn’t want to go work in healthcare. The choreographed dances I did with my classmates for the New England Cultural Function (yes, really) made me realize I love making a fool of myself for the sake of having a good time. Finally, the many hours I spent helping others with their job searches and interviews made me realize I love helping others achieve their dreams
Going to business school was not a rational decision for me. I didn’t calculate two years of lost salary and factor in the ROI of tuition payments and future salaries. It was just something I had always wanted to do, a dream that I had.
I went to business school because I wanted to go to business school
Why do you want to go?
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