Should You Get an MBA? Part 2: Full Time Programs

Last week, we talked about all things to consider when thinking about getting your MBA as a part time student. This week, we're talking about diving in deep - getting your MBA through a full time program. The star of this week's post is Lisa Clinton who is currently a student at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. 

I met Lisa way back when in elementary school. Ever since I first met her, I've been impressed with her intelligence, work ethic and drive. She's one of those people that you just knew was going somewhere BIG. I am honored to have Lisa on the blog this week because of her immense knowledge and perspective she has to share with all of you on this topic. 


Lisa Clinton

Lisa Clinton

Name: Lisa Clinton    

Where do you live? Hanover, NH (home of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth)

How old are you? 26

Where did you go to college? University of Minnesota Twin Cities – Carlson School of Management

What is your Secret Food Obsession?
Avocado toast! Admittedly, I bring it to class every morning so my obsession isn’t so secret.

What is always in your cup holder?
A Swell water bottle

What made you originally decide that you wanted to go to grad school?
Part of the decision was work-oriented and part was personal.

On the work side, I was working in Management Consulting prior to pursuing graduate school and my firm required a MBA (Masters of Business Administration) for continued career progression. Given this requirement, going to graduate school was in my “plan” even before I graduated from undergrad. The main question wasn’t “if grad school”—it was “when.”

The personal aspect of the decision dictated the “when.”

Business school can be either a pivot point (i.e. a chance to move into a completely different field) or a career accelerator if you’re planning to stay in the same field but move from tactical roles to more strategic / management opportunities. I wanted to stay in consulting so pursuing graduate school was the latter.

Given this, there were three key experiences I wanted to have (based on advice from mentors) before I applied:

  • Having at least 4 years of work experience so that I could bring a defined “real world” perspective to the classroom. This is also a huge asset for internship / post-MBA recruiting. As I heard (and have now experienced on campus), MBA candidates with at least 4 years of experience coming in have more success with recruiting than those who have fewer than 4 years of experience.
  • Having some management experience so classroom discussions about management style would be practical / something I could relate to instead of theoretical. This also plays into recruiting success.
  • Being able to clearly articulate what I wanted to get out of school, which is crucial when you’re making a $200K+ investment in your education. For me, this translated to knowing what specific skills and characteristics I wanted to develop personally and professionally to transform me from where I was to where I wanted to be. Graduate school is often looked at as a professional pursuit, but most MBAs will tell you that the life experiences / personal development time at grad school are even more important.

Based on the above criteria, I felt ready to apply at the three-year post-undergrad point and started at Tuck with four full years of post-college work experience.

What were the steps you had to take when applying for grad school?

1. Start researching schools. You should start this at least 18 months before you plan to start an MBA program. I knew I wanted to go to a Top 20 program in the US, so I started with a Top 20 list, made a list of initial evaluation criteria, and then applied my criteria to create a shortlist of 5 programs. Starting the process with school research will help you understand what score you need to aim for on the GMAT (see the next step) as well as help you get excited for the long process to come.  

2. Study for the GMAT. The GMAT is the standardized test MBA programs require for admission. Note – some programs also accept the GRE, but the GMAT is most commonly-accepted test. While some people pick up GMAT concepts quickly, most people need to study for a few months to do well on it. I was definitely in the second camp. In order to get the score I wanted, I studied for about 6 months, took the test twice, and used two GMAT prep tools (Manhattan GMAT’s practice tests and Magoosh’s online test prep program). My biggest pieces of advice for studying are to:

·       Find a system that works for you (books, an in-person class, an online prep tool, etc.)

·       Study consistently – a little bit each day is better than longer days on weekends

·       Give yourself enough time to take the test multiple times

·       Don’t give up! Studying can be really frustrating but it’s great preparation for re-learning how to study for school

3. Visit schools. Seeing places in person brings a different level of color to the school. I immediately felt at home on Tuck’s campus; visiting other campuses made me realize the schools sounded great on paper but weren’t for me.

4. Re-evaluate your schools. My school list changed a lot over time – a lot of people get so fixated on the rankings that they miss the nuances that make programs special. Tuck, as an example, wasn’t even on my initial list but then became my top program choice once I learned more about it.

5. Look at the school’s application (i.e. essays and letter of recommendation questions). You want your overall application to show the full picture of you, so start to think through how you can showcase different sides of yourself through your essays and your letters of recommendation.

6. Ask your intended letter of recommendation writers if they’ll write your letters of recommendation. Most schools require 2 letters. These letters have different questions / requirements from school to school and are quite time consuming – choose recommenders who know you well, have a good impression of you, can candidly speak to your strengths and development areas, and can provide vivid examples of these qualities. Give your reviewers at least 2 months to write your letters of recommendation. I found it helpful to prep my recommenders by talking to them about why I was applying to the schools I was applying to, what I was writing about in my essays, providing specific examples of times we worked together that highlighted traits I wasn’t touching on in my essays (note: this is okay if it’s guidance / you sharing your grad school story with them. It is NOT okay if you’re telling them what to write), and answer any questions they had. You should also plan to follow up with your reviewers to make sure they complete and submit the letters by the application deadline.

7. Start the application! Most schools have a few rounds of applications - ~40% get in from round 1, ~40% come from round 2, and the rest come from the latter rounds to fill in the class as needed. Definitely aim for R1 or R2 – your chances of getting accepted are much better in these rounds. Give yourself plenty of time for the application – the more revisions of your essays / the more people you can get to look at them, the better. Alumni are especially helpful if you know any!

8. Understand the interview process. Most schools do an initial cut of applications they receive and interview candidates that make it past the first cut. Some schools (Tuck included) interview all candidates as a part of the application process.

9. Submit your application.

10. Send a thank you gift to your reviewers and thank you notes to people who helped you along the way.

11. Practice patience with the waiting game.

12. Prepare for interviews.

13. Celebrate when you get in!

How did you decide where you wanted to go for grad school?

Deciding where I wanted to go was an iterative process. As mentioned previously, I started with a list of the top 20 programs in the country (my employer required that its employees go to a top 20 program), made a list of decision criteria, and then applied the criteria to the school list to create a shortlist. Here are the criteria I used: 

I added a few more criteria after I started visiting schools and got a feel for what I did and didn’t like. The criteria I added were: a small school (under 400 people per class) because I wanted to know my classmates on a personal level and a program that had a “campus” culture instead of a “commuter” culture. Visiting schools and talking to alumni was the most helpful thing for me throughout the decision process!

Ultimately, I chose Tuck because it was the perfect mix of what I was looking for. It’s a small school (285 people per class) nestled along the Appalachian Trail in the New Hampshire woods (an outdoors lover’s paradise). It is 2.5 hours from a major city, so everyone who comes to Tuck chooses to be here and invests fully in the community. The same thing goes for professors, which means that the depth of the relationships I have with my classmates and teachers is really special. I love the class structure (there’s a common core that all first years take together), the school’s reputation for attracting genuinely nice people (which I can confirm), and the school’s mission to, “Educate wise leaders who better the world of business. ” From a recruiting perspective, alumni are raving fans for Tuckies – it’s actually considered rude for an alum to take longer than 24 hours to respond to a student’s email!

I know I made the right school choice for me and feel so lucky every day to be here!

How did you decide between going part-time versus full-time?

The full-time versus part-time decision depends on your goals.

If your main goal for an MBA program is to gain the credentials without interrupting your life, a part-time program makes sense. Most part-time MBA candidates remain at their existing company during and after their MBA and take classes at night and on weekends. Post-MBA pay doesn’t change drastically from pre-MBA pay for part-time programs (~35-40%% increase over pre-MBA pay on average1, as compared to ~105% for top full-time MBA programs2). A part-time program enables flexibility at the cost of an immersive experience.

If you are looking to switch careers, create space for development in and out of the classroom, and/or care about building your network, a full-time program is likely a better fit. Most full-time MBA candidates switch industries or companies after their MBA and have access to higher-paying career fields than part-time MBA candidates. A full-time program enables an immersive experience at the cost of time and financial resources (2 years without income + ~200K in debt). This said, full-time programs offer scholarships whereas part-time programs do not.

I actually did not even consider part-time programs and only applied to full-time programs. I knew I wanted an immersive, transformational experience for my MBA, which meant a full-time program.

As an aside, full-time programs are also a lot of fun! The people-part of full-time programs is just as important as the classwork (if not more), so on any given day, you’ll find me investing in my relationships by hiking a trail, snowboarding or cross country skiing, traveling (I went to Cuba with 50 classmates over winter break and will be heading to Russian and Armenia in a few weeks for another class trip!), singing and playing keys for the T’18 Tuck Band, cooking in the dorms, or debating world events late into the evening over wine. Days here are FULL in the best way possible – they’re full of things that you want to do / learn / experience with people who want to do / learn / experience them with you.

What do you think is the biggest challenge of grad school?

The biggest challenge by far is choosing where to spend your time. On any given day, preparing for classes, recruiting, investing in your relationships with your classmates, extracurriculars (clubs, case competitions, preparing for conferences or events), time for you (working out, hobbies, sleeping, personal care), and time tending to your pre-school relationships (family, friends) are all competing for your time. There isn’t enough time in the day to do all of them, so the key is being intentional about when you prioritize each as well as to continually re-visit your prioritization to make sure you’re keeping your life in balance.

What wasn’t as challenging about grad school that might scare people off until they’ve been there?

Finding your place in the class. I distinctly remember the opening gathering for Tuck’s Accepted Students Weekend when the administration was reading off a list of the class’ accomplishments. The list went something like this: Chief of Staff to a Prime Minister, Navy Seal Captain, National Geographic Traveler of the Year, successful entrepreneur, etc., etc. It was magical to know these people were in the chairs around me. It was also impossible to not question, “How in the world did I get in?”

Every single person in Tuck’s class has felt Imposter Syndrome and questioned that same thing. Know that there is a reason everyone is in the class. You have something to bring to the table, a perspective that needs to be heard. I won’t guarantee that you won’t still feel Imposter Syndrome from time to time, but at the same time, the people who keep you in awe on a daily basis are also the people who are your best friends. Hint: They also feel the same way about you.

What advice do you have for others looking to go to grad school?

If you decide that grad school is right for you, remember to enjoy the process. It’s long and painful but also such a gift of investment and self-discovery. Whenever I questioned if it was worth it (which was often), I thought about this line from JFK’s “We Choose to go to the Moon” speech:

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …

While applying to school and going to the Moon are not the same thing, the idea of doing something because it was hard resonated with me. Remember this when you’re questioning if you can do it – you already know that we learn the most about ourselves not by doing what’s easy but by doing what’s hard. Also – it’s definitely worth it.