Perspectives from ISB

Today, let’s take a look at some of the basic issues that many B-school aspirants have to consider before deciding on whether to apply or not. Most aspirants want to grow fast in their careers and have different avenues to do so, so what benefit does one get from investing time, money and effort to complete a business programme? Let’s look at different scenarios and then deep dive into the nuances of going to B-school.

Consider this situation: You’ve done fairly well thus far in your career/ academics/ activities, etc and have been growing fast in your organisation. You have a good salary, growing responsibility and some recognition. You’re still doing great work and putting in the necessary effort, but deep down, you know that there is a lot more that you could be doing. You yearn for far greater responsibility, recognition, profitability in business, etc, commensurate with your potential. Sounds familiar? Some of you may even have identified what is holding you back: you may need to develop new skills, new thinking, new networks, and/or greater credibility.

So how can you do this? You could try to do it within the organisation, but the reality is that most job roles focus on deliverables rather than on building an individual’s skills and networks – skill building in such cases is more a secondary outcome than the primary intention. You could switch roles/jobs and get a boost in responsibility and recognition, but what happens when the same situation reoccurs in another year or two? You could switch your field itself to something with greater growth potential (assuming an organisation gives a newcomer an opportunity) but then you would most likely have to start from scratch.

Of course, skill development and career growth can come from outside of your workplace too. You could go back to school and focus on learning new skills required for your dream career. However, full-time courses from top schools require time and money, while part-time courses extend for several years and may not be as well-recognized. Instead, you could pick up new skills by volunteering in social groups and communities. That needs significant commitment, gives no guarantee of recognition, and learning would be ad-hoc (still, not a bad option). You could even start up on your own, assuming you have an idea you are passionate about, sufficient resources and an appetite for risk (again, not a bad option).

There are several other avenues, each with their own pros and cons. You may not know which is right for you, but you do know one thing: the time has come to do something about your unmet aspirations. So evaluate your options and identify what works best for you. Let me help by sharing some thoughts on the costs and benefits of going back to school – more specifically, business school.

The most fundamental benefit coming from B-school is the process of learning. When you shift your primary focus from executing daily tasks to immersive learning over an extended period, it rapidly elevates you to a much higher plane of abilities. This is especially true when using advanced course material and teaching formats, and being guided by subject matter experts. You evolve in the way you think and react, having been exposed to multiple ways of approaching any given problem. And when you are spending days on end with diverse individuals who share your quest for improvement, transformative life experiences abound. The end result is that you are now able to handle a whole new range of challenges in a creative, methodical and mature manner. This makes you highly valuable to recruiters, bosses and investors.

It is common for B-school grads to see returns in the short term by way of challenging jobs, new responsibilities via promotions or business opportunities, soon after graduation. However, you must realise that the true value of higher education is unlocked only over the medium- and long-term – opening doors for leadership roles, an ever-expanding network of influential alumni, or even just a credible brand that backs you for life. Keep that in mind while considering going back to school.

Of course, all this doesn’t come free – you must be willing to invest your money, time and effort in your future. Depending on the programme chosen, you may be away from the workforce for one or two years, during which time you are no longer earning but are spending on your education. Weigh the cost of financing your education against the increased income over your working career to compute (a purely financial) RoI. Also understand that time spent in school is time spent away from home, family, friends, hobbies, sports, travel, etc. Whether it is a part-time programme on weekends or a full-time programme, it will cut into your personal time. Weigh the benefits of a brighter future against the cost of quality time sacrificed in the present. Finally, appreciate the fact that B-school can be extremely demanding. There is a reason why admissions to top B-schools place so much importance on learnability and achievement orientation – it is because you will need both of these to survive the programme, let alone thrive in it. If you are considering going back to B-school, be mentally prepared to immerse yourself in it, and you will come out stronger.

These are the basic costs and benefits that most applicants would need to think about, and there are likely to be several more that are unique to your needs. Find ways to mitigate or eliminate the costs, and weigh the remaining against the benefits of taking up the programme. That will help you decide if you should go to B-school at this point in your career or not.

At ISB, we recognise these issues and have done our best to address them. Our 1-year PGP format minimises your time away from work, as compared to a traditional 2-year MBA. We also support you in acquiring a significant career shift and/or advancement, so that you can more than make up for the year away from work, possibly exiting with a multiple of incoming salary, and on a new path towards the career you envision for yourself.

1 year also means lesser time away from family, which is great. However, we go a step further and encourage you to bring your family to campus itself! Both our campuses are very family-friendly and offer a range of amenities for your spouse, kids and parents. The course is also structured so that classes take up only 4 hours a day, so you can manage your schedule to spend sufficient time with family and/or pursuing your hobbies and interests. Of course, you would also need to spend a significant amount of time preparing for class and working on assignments, but time management and setting priorities are in your control. There are also 6-8 significant term breaks throughout the year, which students often use to travel home or to different places. In fact, many students travel a lot more during this 1 year in the PGP than they do while in a job with limited leave!

And finally, we want to ensure that your effort is not wasted. Yes, the course is hectic with 680 contact hours in 1 year (as opposed to 720 hours in a typical 2-year programme), but you can choose where to invest your time and learn what is important to your career, rather than focusing only on marks. We are serious about this – so much so that for every person on the Dean’s List who is recognized for academic performance, there is also a Young Leader or Torch Bearer awardee, who is recognised for accomplishments in leadership roles, industry interface, global business competitions, etc. So invest your effort where it gives you the most benefit.

I hope this has helped you gain some clarity about evaluating your options and what role B-school (and ISB in particular) can play in your learning and career growth. My suggestion to you is that when it comes to making one of the most important decisions of your career, keep the long-term view in mind.

If you want to learn more about what the B-school experience has to offer, you can go through some of my previous posts on different aspects of the ISB PGP: Learning goals of the programme, importance of faculty research, applied learning opportunities, extracurricular activities, diversity of student body, and more. You may also be interested in listening to Prof Sarang Deo’s advice to prospective applicants. And finally, if you are curious about what is needed to apply to B-school, here is a quick reference guide to applying to ISB. As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

All the best!

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