The U.S. is currently experiencing one of the best economies the world has ever encountered. Everyone from your school janitor to your nosy Aunt Hilda is talking about stocks, day-trading, start-ups and venture capital firms. While those freak stories about Microsoft's secretaries becoming millionaires are inspiring, the real way to make a bundle in the business world is to go to business school (a.k.a. "B-school"); MBA no longer stands for Master of Boring Activities. Getting into a top-notch business school is a key part of "making it" in the business world. Sure, you can teach yourself about economics, management, and marketing, but if you come out of a top business program, you're salary will instantly shoot up significantly. So read on, and B the best you can B.


What happens at B-school?

Partying, sleeping late, and getting some time off from real work are all potential reasons to go to B-school. However, you can do those things anywhere. Rather, most students want to develop their understanding of the business world as well as get an interesting, demanding, well-paying job from their experience. Here are some things to consider when planning your business future:

  • B-school usually lasts two years (full-time programs, at least). Are you willing to spend that kind of time on school?

  • B-school will be expensive unless you get a company to pay for it (if you're already with a company, they'll often incur your tuition costs if they like you). The average cost is $18,000 - $25,000 tuition per year.

  • B-school is as much about making connections and learning how to work with people as learning the fundamentals of business. So if you're an antisocial loner, you won't enjoy it. Almost every single assignment will involve group work. In fact, you'll be assigned to a group right at the beginning and most likely stick to that group for your entire stay.

So you have to do some soul-searching. Why do you want to go to B-school? Do you need it? Will it get you where you want to go? We can't answer these questions, because we don't know you.

Do you have business experience?

Having previous business experience serves two functions: 1) it assures the schools that you already have a certain amount of baseline knowledge, so classes won't have to be at kindergarten levels, and 2) it assures the schools that you already know what you're getting yourself into and that you want it.

All top business schools require (or in their language, "strongly encourage") that you have at least two to four years of experience prior to being accepted. This means that if you're a senior in college and you'd like to get an MBA, you should be focusing on getting an entry-level business job and on taking the GMAT exam. B-schools want applicants who already have some understanding of the real world and are interested in learning to manage that world. You don't necessarily have to work for Goldman Sachs or Andersen Consulting to get into a good school (although it certainly couldn't hurt). You simply need to demonstrate that you have good organizational skills and leadership abilities.

Even those applicants with sterling academic credentials need three years in the corporate environment before graduate business schools will seriously consider them. The quality of that experience, the degree of responsibility, and job performance including the impact (if any) on the bottom line are absolutely critical. After you have gained this work experience, then you can begin the rest of the application process.