How do I know if an MBA is the right choice for me?

Hands on a laptop next to an open book with the header 'Business'
UCD Quinn School of Business. Picture by Shane O’Neill, SON Photographic

Many prospective students who might consider an MBA are toying with a lot of questions right now. How do I know… if an MBA is the right choice for me? If it’s the right time? If I’m capable of doing an MBA?  

So here’s a few thoughts I’d like to share, based on my experience of meeting & accepting students onto our own UCD Smurfit MBA programme.

First, a bit of background info.

What is an MBA? The MBA is a Master of Business Administration. Ultimately, this is a general management degree aimed at people who have several years’ professional work experience. All MBAs will cover topics such as Finance, Marketing, Human Resources, Strategy, Leadership & Organisational Behaviour – important core management subjects.  You will get the opportunity to choose options where you can specialise in other areas and explore other topics–from Data Analytics, to Digital Transformation–and you will have opportunities to develop your consultancy skills and work with client companies on projects, including a final Capstone project. In UCD Smurfit, we also have an extensive Leadership Development Programme to develop your capabilities in this field. You can study an MBA full-time for one year or part-time over two years (weekly or monthly options).

I’m worried that I have no business experience. So What? Everyone comes to an MBA with certain knowledge: so perhaps you’re an engineer, or a marketing specialist, or a pharmacist.  You may know nothing about financial reporting, but you will learn from your classmates, some of whom will know a bit about this, and you will have opportunities to use your experience to add value for your classmates at different points throughout the programme. So, it’s checks and balances. You don’t need a business background–in fact, everyone brings something different to the table. There is not one profile we look for.

We always consider what you as a prospective candidate can bring to the classroom experience. And that’s what’s so great about an MBA: everyone is so different, from different industries, different professional experience, different nationalities. This is what will challenge you and challenge your way of thinking: not everyone thinks the same way or approaches a problem in the same way that you do!

The first and most important question I always ask someone is, WHY? For you personally, why do you want to do an MBA? What is your motivation? It’s so important that you clearly understand your own motivation – when things get tough this will get you through! Look, let’s be honest here… an MBA is a BIG time and financial commitment. Don’t rush to a decision, take your time, think it through before you commit to this. Involve your partner and family in the decision process as this will impact on them too – make sure they are supportive and understand the extra time commitment which means time spent away from them.  And don’t forget that an understanding and flexible employer makes this a lot easier for you too.  Consider how to show your employer that your MBA will benefit them too! 

Some people who join us spend a few years planning to do an MBA – others not so much! However one thing is clear: this is an investment in your future.

The most common reasons to do an MBA are as follows:

  • to pivot to a new role or industry, 
  • to develop management skills and gain a broader knowledge of management topics 
  • for career advancement reasons.
Students sitting at outdoor tables in the courtyard next to Smurfit's coffee dock

Perhaps you have a manager you admire and she has an MBA and is encouraging you to apply. This has got you thinking about your own career advancement, with your current employer or potentially elsewhere. Or perhaps you are a specialist who wants to move in a general management direction, but you don’t believe you have the skillset or perhaps the confidence to progress. An MBA can help!  

We have loads of evidence from our own MBA alumni to prove that they have achieved all of these objectives. Word of warning, however… an MBA is not a magic wand. It’s important to know why you want to do an MBA, and make sure when you get here to make the most of the experience and the opportunities here for you. That means making an effort to meet new people, e.g. your classmates and MBA alumni, to improve your networking skills.  Engage actively with the extra -curricular activities such as Clubs and other events… and be proactive! Don’t sit back and expect things to just happen. Use your initiative, make suggestions, be positive, take the opportunities that come your way.

This is a unique experience. At the end of your programme you will look back fondly at the time spent doing your MBA, the friends you made and the community you joined. In a very short space of time, you will become part of our cherished MBA alumni community, where we will continue to engage with you–and hopefully see you return to meet the next batch!

Sophie Carey, Senior Manager, MBA Programmes