MBA or Bust

MBA or Bust

Been thinking about higher education? Here’s why going back to school can ignite your career.

By Bari Lieberman

Women now account for only 30 percent of students enrolled in MBA programs, according to the Princeton Review, compared to medical, law and veterinary schools where female enrollment falls just below 50 percent. Carolyn Y. Woo, dean of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, attributes the gender disparity among MBA candidates to women’s misconceptions about the business world culture, a lack of flexibility in scheduling and the prescribed waiting time before enrollment.

“With business school, we ask students to wait four to five years [before applying], and by then women have lots of life choices. They are more likely to be at the age of having children,” Woo says. “Women also perceive that the business culture is less woman-friendly.”

For women already working in lucrative business careers, Woo gives three reasons for considering enrollment in an MBA program:

1. A skill gap. In order to be promoted or perform better in your current job, you may need to learn particular skills.

2. A credentials gap. You may have hit an “educational glass ceiling,” meaning you perform your job as well as people with higher degrees but are unable to move up since promotions require a post-graduate degree.

3. A challenge gap. You may simply desire a new challenge and a new perspective on how business is done.

“Some companies reward educational experiences, but the completion of a degree seldom guarantees a raise,” Woo says. “Have conversations with your employer and talk about career trajectories. See how an MBA will be valued by your firm and if it will help the next job you’re interested in.”

Once you’ve decided to take that leap – or to at least seriously consider it – here’s how to position yourself as a viable candidate, according to Woo.


Make your contributions and achievements known. Include unpaid work such as community service and management of complex family situations. Women sometimes fail to recognize the leadership skills, management and discipline that are reflected in these experiences.


Choose people you have worked with closely who can offer specific comments and examples of your skills and experiences – not just someone with an impressive title who barely knows you and can offer only a generic letter. “I always looks for substance reflected in the letters,” Woo says.


Be yourself and be relevant, but understand that it is still a professional essay. “Be sensitive to the fact that people are trying to learn from your personal experiences what skills you have.”

Ultimately, Woo says, “there is no formula to being a perfect applicant. Just be your fantastic self.”

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