Changing career paths can be absolutely terrifying. When I was growing up, I heard “go to school, then get a job and keep growing within that industry until you retire.” Pivoting to business and going back to school definitely wasn’t on my original career journey in undergrad, but it has been the best decision I have made for my personal and professional growth.
For the first five years of my career, I was working at a local magazine as a food and digital editor. It was a wonderful opportunity that blended journalism and marketing communications, but there was a point where I realized I was in a rut. I started thinking, “What do I want to do next?”
Before I could think about what I wanted to do as a next step, I had to ask myself “What do I like to do?” And after a lot of introspection and conversations, I uncovered my passion for brands and marketing. In looking for job options, I stumbled on the Marketing Leadership Institute and realized an MBA would be the perfect fit for me as I wanted to gain leadership skills while exploring my passion for marketing.
MLI Director Kristin Branch once told me that “Getting an MBA is the biggest gift you can give to yourself.” That piece of advice really resonated with me as going back to school was one of the first times in my life where I wanted to prioritize what I wanted to do and what would be best for me.
If you are contemplating whether an MBA is for you, here are my five key pieces of advice.
1. If you’re a career switcher, recognize you’re not alone.
A common misconception is that most people who are getting MBAs have business undergraduate degrees or have worked in corporate business settings, but in reality, career switchers are incredibly common. Only a third of the class of 2024 have business backgrounds, so the other two-thirds of people are in humanities, engineering, social sciences and scientific fields. This allows you to learn from classmates from diverse backgrounds and participate in interdisciplinary discussions. The moment I recognized I was bringing a unique set of skills to the table, I could really leverage my strengths in the business world.
2. Research, research and research.
I truly believe knowledge is power, so being as informed as possible is key when making major life decisions. If you’re a career switcher, you could look into what kinds of positions you are interested in and whether those “dream” positions require an MBA — and for me, that was the case. I started my journey by attending an MBA virtual information session to really learn about what the program looks like at Wisconsin. I then scheduled a consultation with the admissions team and they answered all of my questions. Finally, I did a campus visit so I could see what a day in the life of an MBA student looks like. By doing all three, it really confirmed that getting an MBA was what I wanted to do.
3. Reach out to current students or alumni.
A great way to know if an MBA is right for you is to ask those who have gone through the program. You can then connect with people who might have similar backgrounds and understand how your background fits with your desired career path. Everyone has a compelling story and an MBA can enhance that story. A great place to start is with student ambassadors who can share their experiences with you.
4. Talk with loved ones.
While friends and family may not have a business background, they are the people who know you best. You can bring up the idea of pursuing school and see how they are going to support you. I’m fortunate to have an incredible support team, especially in my partner Joe. We talked about my decision for months and he patiently listened to me weigh my options at every step of the way. If you have a trusted mentor or advisor, they also would be great people to talk with to confirm your decision.
5. Don’t be afraid to apply.
Sometimes one of my biggest personal hurdles is imposter syndrome so I pushed off applying even though I knew that it was something I truly wanted. In case you need someone to tell you: Just go for it. You truly will never know what will happen until you try. Along the application journey, you’ll learn so much about yourself and the program so you can make the best, educated decision for yourself. In the words of Dolly Parton, “You’ll never do a whole lot unless you’re brave enough to try.”