In two days, I’ll be packing up my things, heading to the airport and moving to the windy city (i.e. Chicago) to start a new journey in the Northwestern JD-MBA program. Similar to when I went off to undergrad years ago, I won’t be taking much with me except a few suitcases full of clothing and other personal things. I’ll be starting all over again. While most people don’t go as empty handed as I am, I think starting over is a common theme for the majority of business school students. I’ll explain.
People apply to business school for all kinds of reasons and with all kinds of goals in mind, both personal and professional. But they can usually be narrowed down into two broad categories, 1) those who know exactly what they want to do upon graduation, and 2) those who have a few ideas in mind but aren’t really that sure. The first reason includes people who want to go into a certain industry, work for a specific company, or have a very unique job role that requires specific training to accomplish. Often these folks have a career change in mind but not always. Sometimes they just need the degree before they can start over at work in a new role. The second category is made for career changers. These people know they want to change their careers but they aren’t quite sure where they want to go, so they want to use school to explore, learn, reflect, and have access to a variety of careers after school. No matter which category you fit into, you usually come to business school to start over.
Most of the Northwestern JD-MBAs I’ve met so far fall into the second category. I think this happens for two reasons. First, it’s because the law degree, unlike the MBA, is tailor made for career changers, as it opens up the entire legal industry that you would otherwise be prohibited from. As such, students are less likely to put a stake in the ground right away. But it’s also because getting a JD-MBA reflects the fact that you have a wider set of career interests, which fortunately the dual degree opens up. Despite writing very pointed essays about our career goals, usually more specific than our MBA-only counterparts, and convincing admissions from both school offices of why we need to obtain both degrees, many of the JD-MBAs still want to make sure they have put their dual degree to its best use. With career prospects in both business and law and in jobs that might otherwise be harder to obtain without a JD-MBA, this is pretty understandable.
I usually consider myself to fit somewhere in between those two categories. Although I have more than one potential career in mind, I have a pretty pointed idea of where I’m headed after school. But like many of the other JD-MBAs I know, I’m going to keep an open mind about it because I don’t want to cut off any options until I have time to do more research and experience new things.
Over the past year, I’ve learned that there are a lot more careers out there than most of us usually consider, and that sometimes it can take a long time to really figure it all out. That’s why all of us in grad school will be inundated by career fairs and encouraged to take different personality and career tests. My advice to applicants and students, is don’t feel rushed into making decisions early. Explore a wide variety of careers and see how they stack up against your values, personality, and your skills. You’ll be surprised at how many options turn up and what different things seem to appeal to you. More than 12 months after beginning the application process myself, I’m still doing some exploring.
Personally, I’ve come to enjoy the process of looking into careers. I think it has a lot to do with my personal interests in careers, employment, general management, and leadership. But it will be a lot more fun to continue my career research with new classmates, with new friends, and in a new city. In fact, that’s part of what the b-school (and law school) experience is all about, discussing your ambitions, values, interests, and career goals with people in the same decision-making process as you are. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m looking forward to finally getting started after eight months of impatiently waiting. In sum, I’m look forward to starting over.