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Who Should Go to Business School

More than one management or entrepreneurship-minded professional has wondered if the large investment in business school is worth it. The answer to this question, of course, depends on who's asking. Below we lay out the reasons why you should jump at the chance to get another degree, and when the opportunity may matter less.

You should go if...

You think you have a shot at a top-ranked school. Having a prestigious business school on your resume will always open doors—it's essentially a golden seal of approval, showing that a well-known institution thought you were worth a chance. Those who went to top schools have the most options upon graduation, and will acquire valuable knowledge and experience that others won't. Also, the network you enter into will serve you well for the rest of your life.

You can get into a second-tier school with a unique program. A school doesn't have to be in league with HBS or Wharton to catapult a career. Examine the offerings of your prospective school closely—perhaps it has specialized course offerings that fit your needs like a glove, or perhaps there's a program that offers seed-money to start-ups. Especially once you consider that tuition at these schools is often lower, these paths can prove to be an excellent opportunity.

You have your heart set on working for a Fortune 500 company. Many of the largest companies require an MBA in order to enter their upper ranks. For these positions, the degree is a necessity. Down the line, it will clearly yield rewards.

The amount you'll make in the future outweighs the salary you'll give up while you're in school. Some people hesitate to give up their current income to spend time studying. Before you allow your paycheck to dictate your decision, though, think about the money you're likely to make with the MBA. If you're earlier on in your career and aren't yet making much, the sacrifice is likely worth it.

Your undergraduate degree or work experience is in a non-business field, and you want to show that you have management savvy. In this case, an MBA could be the difference between being ignored by an employer to being wined and dined. Those who have a lot of technical know-how but want to understand how to market an invention or run a business could benefit greatly from an MBA. The same can be said for those who have a specialty in another field, but want to move towards making their expertise more profitable.

You should reconsider if...

The schools that are within your reach don't attract the employers you want to work for. Top investment banks only recruit at certain schools. There's no point in spending the money for a degree that won't get you where you want to go. Be sure to investigate opportunities at your prospective schools carefully.

The placement rate for schools within your reach is low. Is it certain that you'll land a good job if you attend a certain school? Are graduates of your prospective school in demand? Think carefully about whether or not the degree will be beneficial if the placement rate is below 80%.

You just finished your undergraduate degree. The best schools require applicants to have a few years in the real world. Also, you'll put yourself in an awkward position when it comes to the job hunt. It's much easier to find work as a 22-year-old with a bachelor's degree than it is as a 24 or 25-year-old with a master's degree but little real-world experience.

You'll have trouble paying your student loans when you graduate. Will the program you're considering pay for itself? How long will it take to pay off your loans? Do the math so that you understand what you're getting into.

You're expecting a big promotion or raise in another year or two. Are you already on track to make more money? Will the career advancement you're expecting from an MBA come your way regardless. You may not need the jump-start a degree can provide.

You believe an MBA is a guarantee of job security. MBAs command higher salaries. While most of the time this is a great position to be in, you might be one of the first on the chopping block when times are tough. Cutting someone who makes $100,000 is as effective as cutting two who make $50,000. Even graduates of the best business schools sometimes get laid off when times are tough.

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