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The Real World vs. Graduate School: Pursuit of the MBA

By Shelby Carlson, Joe Scherr, and Andrew Stern, and Amanda Wruck

Life after college can seem pretty scary to some students; the freedom to choose our own path can be daunting. Some will choose professional careers, while others will choose to continue their education by attending graduate school.

To help you decide, this article will cover the basics about the pursuit of the MBA, including some required steps for admissions, how to plan and prepare for the MBA, and overall suggestions for students who may be thinking about pursuing an MBA degree after they graduate from UW-Eau Claire.

Required Steps for Admissions

Every school requires multiple steps of its MBA applicants. Here are some of the most common requirements:

Taking an entrance exam is frequently the first step in pursuing the MBA. While most MBA programs will accept both the GRE and GMAT exams, the GMAT is specifically designed for MBA students. Taking the exam as soon as possible after completing an undergraduate program is highly recommended, and, if possible should be taken while still in college. Doing so is ideal because the majority of academic information is fresh, especially math skills, and students are still accustomed to taking exams. GRE/GMAT scores are valid for seven years.

LaNette Flunker, Senior Lecturer in the Management and Marketing Department at UW-Eau Claire, recommends taking multiple writing, presentation, and research courses as an undergraduate to help prepare for taking a college entrance exam and for an MBA program. She also recommends that undergraduates take their exam soon after graduation if they plan to attend graduate school.

According to Flunker, “A lot of people are out of school for many years, and therefore, may not be accustomed to taking tests. The information that they learned as undergraduate students may not be as fresh.”

Additionally, any students underestimate the amount of information covered on the GMAT exam, so it is extremely important to dedicate time to studying.  Every MBA program has its own standards for a minimum score.

Every MBA program has different prerequisites required of applicants. In addition to entrance exam scores, some schools may require letters of recommendation. Perhaps the most important pre-requisite to consider are the classes taken in an undergraduate program. Most MBA programs require the completion of a certain set of core undergraduate business courses prior to starting an MBA program. For example, UW-Eau Claire’s MBA program requires the BUScore classes to be completed prior to entry, with a grade of a ”B” or better in those courses and a maximum of two courses earning a “C”.

Before pursuing your MBA, obtaining real life work experience is recommended. Most MBA programs will require their applicants to have a minimum of two years’ work experience. Graduate schools require this because it can make a difference in professional learning. Having real life experience to draw from in the classroom is very beneficial.

“Get real-world experience, it will help. You’ll come into the program knowing what you want to learn.”said Dr. Robert Erffmeyer, MBA program Director at UW-Eau Claire. He continues, “The longer a student has been out of school, the less valid the GPA becomes, and the more valid the ‘solid’ work experience becomes.”

Becca Rouse, a May, 2010 MBA Graduate and Administrator of the Clairemont Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, agrees with Dr. Erffmeyer. “The MBA program here at UW-Eau Claire is all about sharing experiences with your classmates and doing things hands-on; it isn’t just about taking tests and quizzes.” She goes on to say, “If I were to do graduate school over again, I would definitely get at least two or more years of experience before going.” 

Becca attended graduate school after completing a one-year practicum as a Health Care Administration major. Had she chosen to get more work experience prior to pursuing an MBA, she feels she would have brought more experiences with her. 

Overall, most MBA programs look for solid performance on a resume, one that includes educational history, And professional work experience(s). Other important factors in a resume include participation in internships, leadership roles in organizations, and good communication skills.

Depending on the school and admissions level, some programs may require a letter of recommendation. A general understanding among scholars is that letters of recommendation are always helpful; they can never hurt your application. If you’re on the fence about getting a letter of recommendation, most scholars advise to get one anyway because you never know when you might need it.

Tips

Getting to know what is in store for you is the first component in deciding whether or not to commit to the graduate school process. You can never get enough advice and feedback on your possible choices after completing your undergraduate degree, and any person wanting to get into a graduate program should get advice from people who have already been through the process. 

According to a current graduate student, Kent Gerberich, “I made sure to find out if this [graduate school] was the route that I wanted to take. I asked my advisor, my family, and other friends who are graduate students if it’s worthwhile. I’m glad that I asked all of them for their advice. I believe that I had a great vision on where I was going, and it was in the right direction.” 

Choosing the School

Choosing your MBA program can be overwhelming, and many prospective students wonder how to know which one is right for them. When researching programs, find a school where you feel comfortable living and learning in every day. Key tips in your search include:

  • Geographic location
  • Full/Part-time status
  • Online/On-campus
  • Length of program
  • Cost

Additionally, a common question among undergraduate students is the choice between online or on campus graduate programs. Justin Gardner, MBA graduate and Student Professional Development program coordinator for the college of business at UW-Eau claireoffers the following advice “I like the hybrid approach, which is about 50-50—taking half of the program online and the other half in the classroom. There are some things, like more technical information and reading-based work that just do not require face-to-face interaction. However, I very much enjoy the social interaction and face-to-face environment in a traditional school environment."

When searching for a graduate program, Dr. Erffmeyer suggested choosing schools that are AACSB accredited. Credits can usually transfer between these schools.  When searching for schools specific to a major or ranking, goods scholarly sources include the following:

  • US News and World Report
  • Princeton Review
  • Business Week
Funding

One of the biggest issues students have in their decision to pursue the MBA is the ability to pay for school; there are many ways for MBA students to receive help such as:

  • Grants
  • Scholarships
  • Student Loans
  • Employee tuition assistance or reimbursement
  • Assistantships
    • Full-time students who work for the school
  • Fellowships
    • Scholarships offered to both pull and part time students
Other Tips

Have a Plan:
The most important move an undergraduate student can make is to have a plan, even if it’s only a “rough draft.” Dr. Erffmeyer said he “looks for students who have a plan…those who know where they want to go, and are going to work to get there.” MBA programs are looking for students who are determined, motivated, and willing to do the work involved in a graduate program.

Don’t Wait Too Long:
Regarding timing, LaNette Flunker strongly suggested not waiting too long. She said, “If you are thinking about doing it, do it. Don’t wait, make a plan, and do it.” Even if you start by just taking the entrance exam, you’re taking the right steps toward completing your MBA at some point in your career.

Get Experience:
Becca Rouse echoed the benefits of getting work experience before choosing your MBA program because  “It allows you to know what you are getting into; it’s hard to know what you want to do right away when you graduate.” She adds, “Make sure you are passionate about what you are going to school for.”

Prepare for a Challenge:
Be prepared for new and challenging experiences. Gerberich affirms, “Going for the MBA has been challenging, but I know now that I will be better suited in life after completing the program.”

Finally, the biggest suggestion offered to all undergraduate students who may be interested in pursuing a graduate education is to simply look into different MBA programs and to make strides to prepare for it. Having a MBA degree is an investment in yourself, and can lead to job opportunities, promotions and drastic pay increases in your future!

The important decisions of how, where, when, and why to pursue an MBA degree are all up to you now. Use these tools and you’ll have a great start to determining what route is best for you!


Shelby Carlson Joe Scherr Andrew Stern Amanda Wruck

From left to right: Shelby Carlson is a senior marketing major from Eagan, MN; Joe Scherr is a senior management major from Marshfield, WI; Andrew Stern is a senior marketing and economics major from Melrose, WI; and Amanda Wruck is a senior marketing major from Wrightstown, WI. They wrote this article for their BCOM Advanced Writing class.

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