As the day you received your MBA acceptance letter recedes into memory, the actual work and logistics of preparing for school will replace the joy and relief of realizing you got into one (or more) of your target schools. Getting a graduate business degree entails a great deal of personal and professional change, some of it before you even arrive on campus. Most likely, you will be moving to a new place and leaving behind much of your pre-MBA life – including your employer.
There are some relevant considerations for admitted MBAs wondering when to quit their job, along with several broader issues of timeline and prep work for business school. As for what to say to your boss, when to provide your notice, and how to behave at work as you prepare to leave, these are personal decisions that are highly dependent upon your particular circumstances (in general, though, the answers are: be nice to your boss, give two to four weeks notice, and behave like an adult).
Breaking up is hard to do
Like ending a relationship with your significant other, quitting your job can be awkward, intense, and in some cases even acrimonious. Unlike ending a relationship with your significant other, quitting your job doesn’t have to be unpleasant or involve any hurt feelings, though. Our friends at the Forte Foundation have a great post that covers some of the basic best practices for breaking the news to your manager, and there are plenty of good reasons to handle the process of leaving your job as delicately as possible.
One of the biggest reasons is purely pragmatic: your recruiting prospects in business school and beyond are dragged down by each person, team, or organization from your professional life that you leave with a negative impression. In a highly saturated recruiting market like graduate business school, recruiters look for any reason to filter candidates out of the pipeline, and word of a less than stellar relationship with a former employer is just the sort of thing to act as a dis-qualifier for some firms.
And while it might not seem like a typical business school concern, the importance of empathy can’t be overstated here. The one constant for MBA careers – regardless of industry, role, or work experience – is working with people, and you’ll soon learn that modern organizational behavior theory boils down to a directive that managers should treat employees with respect. As you prepare to embark on your professional management career, leaving your old workplace in a thoughtful and respectful manner is good practice for handling delicate situations with grace later in life. And given that there is a good chance you will be on the opposite end of the conversation in years to come, finding some empathy for your manager’s position shouldn’t be especially difficult in this case.
The financial picture
Unless you’ve lucked into a scholarship or other financial help, you’re probably going to be spending upwards of $150,000 over the next two years on your MBA education and living expenses. Fortunately, the frothy state of the MBA job market and premium pay that accompanies a degree from a top program more than compensate for this expense, but the total is understandably daunting to many incoming students. Quitting your job early can seem like a financially irresponsible move with such a large expense looming.
And while student loans help offset most or all of the costs, you won’t exactly be leading a life of luxury living on the budgeted cost of living at any school. So having a few thousand dollars extra in the bank from working two months longer can help quite a bit with day to day expenses (especially if you’re used to a high quality of life).
On the other hand, an additional two or three months of pre-MBA work is not likely to make much of a dent in your impending tuition or living costs if you haven’t already been saving for a while, and you won’t be starving on a student loan budget. More importantly, working too long and limiting your dedicated prep time can affect your recruiting outcomes and reduce that all-important ROI. Because internship recruiting starts so early at most places, summer is a great time to prepare for recruiting; the more time you spend at your current job, the less time you’ll have to figure out your next job.
Time is your most important resource
You’re going to be busy when school starts. If you plan to “learn on the job” and eschew any significant prep work before the start of classes, you should reconsider that strategy. Depending on your program’s specific schedule, you have four months before classes start, 8-12 months to land an internship, and 25 months until you graduate and (hopefully) get ready to rejoin the working world. All of those milestones will arrive much more quickly than you anticipate – ask any new MBA grad how short those two years seem – but you have a lot of control over how you use that time.
If you haven’t heard already, you will likely hear when you reach campus that there are three pillars of graduate business school life: academics, social life, and recruiting. Regardless of how you allocate your time between these three focus areas once you arrive at school, the summer before your first year is the last time you’ll have real control over this allocation until graduation. More importantly, work that you put into each of these areas over the summer will make them a lot easier to handle in the fall.
Your current job can be viewed through the lens of these three pillars as well. Depending upon your current position, staying at your job can help or hinder your progress in all three of these areas. But given the time commitment that work represents and the scarcity of time that you’ll experience upon getting to campus, it’s more likely that chasing a paycheck for an extra month or two will cause you to lag behind in one or more of these areas, which can make your first year a lot more stressful than it needs to be.
The bottom line
You only get one shot at making the most of going to business school, and in many ways the summer before your first year is your one chance to get ahead of the curve. If your finances allow it and you’re planning to use your time productively, leave your job by early summer to travel, research MBA careers, and read a few books to get ready for the start of classes. If you’re more financially constrained or really want to have some extra money in the bank, staying at your job through mid or even late summer is a fine option provided you take some steps to ameliorate the lost prep time. Fortunately, digital platforms have made it possible to get plenty of preparation done even without quitting your job – something that wasn’t the case twenty years ago.
As you weigh your options and decide how and where to spend your time over the next few months, keep one final thing in mind: you will one day be a manager fielding resignations from young people headed off to business school themselves, so imagine what you’d like to hear from an outgoing employee in that situation. Your attractiveness as a managerial hire will depend largely or entirely on your ability to work with people in a positive and constructive way, and (somewhat counterintuitively) quitting your job can be the first step in establishing a managerial style that you will carry into your future career. In other words, you’re a leader-in-training now; make sure to act like it.
Zach Mayo is the chief operating officer of RelishMBA, a marketplace for MBA hiring.