Cracking the “Why MBA Now?” Question

Why MBA Now?

Think of the “Why MBA now?” question as… a DARE.

Imagine sitting across from an MBA admissions dean, while she reviews your resume and your case for wanting to attend School X. Now, imagine that she places the resume on the table, folds her arms, looks down the bridge of her nose at you and says, “The good news is that you seem to have the background. The even better news is that I buy all your ideas and goals. The bad news, friend, is that you haven’t convinced me yet that (a) you need an MBA, or (b) you need one now.”

Gauntlet thrown. What next?

Your job is to CONVINCE A SKEPTIC that your trajectory thus far has you on a collision course with a kind of success that can only be ACHIEVED with the help of an MBA, or one whose heights will be much HIGHER with the help of an MBA. And further, that TIME ITSELF is a component.

Imagine a simple line graph where the X-axis is “time,” and the Y-axis is “magnitude of success.” Imagine a life where you end up NOT pursuing an MBA for whatever reason. What, you’re gonna fold your hand and hug your knees in the corner and weep for the rest of your life? HAIIIIL, no.

You’re gonna still achieve A VERSION of your dream. Sure, it may be a busted, shriveled up, less impressive version, but you’re still gonna go after it somehow (we hope?). Well, PLOT that please. Take it as far as, say, 30 years from now, and stop. Where do you end up? (Like, seriously, draw a line on a piece of paper––we hope you still remember what that is––allow that line to mean whatever you want:

A measure of how high you can climb on the corporate ladder? Sure!

How big your salary is? Sure, if that’s what’s important to you.

However, the LEVEL of success is measured 30 years from now? Just imagine it, and plot it.

Again, this is the “without an MBA” version. Good. (Notice where you end up along the Y-axis.)

Do it again, but this time, imagine a version where you EARN YOUR DREAM MBA. In THIS version, re-imagine achieving all your goals. Re-imagine how first you achieve your MBA, and then how leads to maybe a BETTER Step 1 after graduation and how that leads to an even better version of Step 2, which leads to an even better version of Step 3…. and on and on until you can imagine where you end up 30 years from now along THIS NEW trajectory. If you’ve done this correctly, that endpoint of Line #2 should be considerably “higher” (“better”) than where Line #1 ended up.

Graphically speaking, it shouldn’t take a statistician to look at your two lines and conclude that Line #2 kicks Line #1’s ass.

The question, though, is: why?

Explain the difference to someone who doesn’t understand what an MBA is. Explain what happened in those two years that led to such a different pathway, and ultimately to higher heights… It’s all about THAT explanation. That’s the ultimate starting point when figuring out the “why MBA now?” answer.

Here are helpful ways to think about it:

  • My success without an MBA would probably ONLY be THIS. With an MBA, however, because of XYZ aspects of that experience, my success will be BETTER/FASTER/COOLER IN THESE WAYS.
  • I can pursue my goals without an MBA, but there will be an uncomfortably low ceiling because I will be LACKING… XYZ.
  • Sure, I can get an MBA in five years, and sure, I’ll be successful that way too. But if I get one NOW I’ll be more successful because of THESE REASONS.

The sculpting part is easy, relatively speaking—the trick (which most folks MISS believe it or not) is developing an immutable argument that is succinct, convincing, full of confidence, and that NO ONE can poke a hole in.


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Essay Analysis: Harvard Business School 2018-19