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Why I did my MBA abroad
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October 03, 2008

I am going to do an MBA."

It was during the final few days of my degree college that I came to this realisation, one of the first milestones in my then fledgling career. Today, this is an oft-heard refrain from bright-eyed college-going youths.

The obvious next question is, "Why?" Many a time, the answer could be simply, "I want a job guarantee when I finish my studies." In fact, that is quite close to my own answer when I first articulated it while still studying in college. While this answer may satisfy a casual acquaintance, it will be probed into much further by the Admissions Committee of a business school that you decide to apply to.

My ambition to pursue an MBA went through a long gestation period before becoming a reality. It was almost three years after I graduated, three years of being a part of the corporate world, that I finally took concrete steps towards a foreign MBA. I had realised by then that I needed to answer two questions: why an MBA? And, why abroad? These remain important for any candidate.

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The former pre-supposes that you have given sufficient thought to the career need that the MBA will fulfil, implying that you already have some first-hand understanding of a career ie you have work experience. The latter assumes that your career aspirations are linked to working in a multinational environment.

Why MBA?

So, why did I do an MBA? When faced with this question, I put myself through the 'ART' test. The test asks three questions of a candidate considering doing an MBA:

An affirmative answer to any one question is, superficially, sufficient reason to want to do an MBA. The important thing for me was to identify exactly where this career move was focused. I decided that A -- Acceleration resonated the most with me.

I was working with a group of bright, motivated individuals. My superiors provided me with learning opportunities now and then. However, I had reached an invisible hurdle beyond which growth demanded an additional set of skills, which I felt an MBA would address. Now that the toughest part was over, the next step was to elaborate and justify this answer with valid reasons.

It is completely acceptable for you to want to achieve more than one of the above objectives through an MBA. But a careful drilling-down into the story is critical.

This could be in terms of the number of steps of the hierarchy that the MBA will help you to jump and/ or the amount of money it will enable you to demand in the job market. It could also mean an accelerated career path, a fast track, which your organisation can provide you with by virtue of your MBA degree.

There could be environmental factors, such as a dynamic industry scenario or a downturn, that warrant different skills and techniques to successfully handle business realities. As a middle/ senior manager or as a businessperson, you may feel the need for an MBA to ensure that you maintain or increase the pace of growth of your business.

You have made good progress on your career path, obtaining a promotion every year or two, handling greater responsibility with each, and drawing a larger pay packet at each level. However, the growth is unidirectional, with a greater volume of work supervised at each level, but no additional faculties being developed. You wish that you could gain a broader perspective of business and contribute in a wider spectrum.

What you really want is to have a cross-functional understanding of your industry and carry over the learnings from one role to another, thereby adding to your set of skills. The MBA will help to provide you with the tools and techniques to comprehend and assimilate nuances of the various aspects of running a business.

There may be a better word for this route, but an MBA is based on the premise that you will use the learning in the programme to transfer the skills you developed in your career pre-MBA to the role and industry you move to post-MBA. Hence, what you want to achieve is a transformation of your skill-set, through a set of frameworks and techniques learned in the MBA, which will help you to contribute, to a new role, in a new organization, in a new industry.

You could well want to be your own boss, fan that entrepreneurial fire burning inside, but know that you will have enough of a business perspective to create a successful venture. You essentially want to change careers, without having to start at the bottom of the new ladder, and be taken seriously in the new role, based on your past work experience and the new skills developed through the MBA.

Another way of checking whether you have nailed the reasons is by asking yourself whether any other route will help you achieve the same results. For example, if you believe that you have sufficient experience of the marketing and project management areas but find yourself wanting when it comes to financial concepts, then you may want to consider a short-term course that provides you with basics in finance.

If, however, you want to be the finance whiz kid, then consider a Masters in Finance or a Chartered Financial Analyst programme. It is important to understand the level of specialisation you desire. An MBA is usually oriented towards general management, with some scope for specialisation. In my case, I was quite certain that I wanted skills that were tangible across functions and industries. No specialised course could have addressed that requirement.

Why am I emphasising the need for this reasoning so much? Because the Admissions Committees stress on it. The reason that Admissions Committees are extremely keen on understanding your motivation for pursuing an MBA is a significant investment in your development. They want to ensure that the candidates they recruit to the MBA class are mature professionals who have weighed the benefits of the MBA adequately before making the investment decision. Additionally, they want to be certain that when you graduate, you will have gained something tangible in line with your expectations, and, thus, will be a confident brand ambassador for the school.

The thought process that I went through in this stage of my MBA prep was tested several times during the phases leading up to the admissions -- when I decided which B-school to apply to, when I took my GMAT, when I wrote my essays (especially here!), when I was arranging for the funding, and when I appeared for my interviews (probably the deal-breaker). So it helped tremendously to have clarity in advance.

There is no dearth of good B-schools in the country. Yet, I went to a foreign land do my MBA. I spent money an order of magnitude more than I would have in India. How did I manage to convince the Admissions Committee that I truly believed that the investment was worth it? Among Indian candidates, I find another distinguishing factor: at least two out of ten already have an MBA from an Indian school. It was befitting, then, to clarify in my mind why I wanted to study abroad.

Why abroad?

Some of the main reasons why people decide to do an MBA abroad are:

Almost all the reasons applied in my case. To future MBAs , I recommend that you come up with reasons that resonate most with your aspirations and the kind of experience you are looking for. If this will be your second MBA, then it will be imperative to articulate the thinking since you will most likely be asked this question in your interview.

It is all right to continue to fine-tune this reasoning during the process of MBA prep, but ensure that there is a consistent thread in your story. I cannot emphasise enough how critical your belief in this story will be and how many times this belief will be questioned during and after the process.

It has been almost four years since I graduated from Oxford, a proud member of a leading UK B-school's alumni community that is spread across the globe. In my role as a management consultant at a global strategy consulting firm soon after the MBA, as well as in my next assignment (the current one) as an internal strategy consultant at a conglomerate, I have found more and more elements of that initial thought process come alive. Hmmm, it appears that I chose the right track! is a site for personalised online preparation for competitive entrance exams like CAT, FMS, XAT, etc. This article has been authored by Maithilee Shirgaonkar for Maithilee is an MBA from Said Business School, University Of Oxford.

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