What you should know about earning a second MBA degree

BY Sydney LakeJuly 19, 2021, 2:00 AM
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As the saying goes, two is better than one—for some MBA prospects at least. Earning a second MBA degree is relatively uncommon, but additional education can enable professionals to change their location, make an industry switch, or earn the brand recognition and alumni network they didn’t acquire in their first MBA program

A professional might choose to pursue a second MBA degree if they previously attended an international university or a second- or third-tier business school. A degree from one of those programs is “not really going to hold much clout, and it’s not going to be recognized by the different geography you’re trying to go and mold to,” says Susan Berishaj, founder of Sia Admissions Consulting.

While it’s possible to apply to, and be admitted to, a top business school as a second MBA applicant, the process presents significant challenges and considerations: an investment in time and money; taking the time to ensure the school to which you’re applying accepts second degree applicants; and the familiar hurdles involved in applying to top programs.

Paul Lanzillotti, founder and principal of the Amerasia Consulting Group, poses this question to those thinking about a second MBA: “What are you really going to get out of this?”

Why you might be thinking about a second MBA

As a disclaimer: If you’ve already earned an MBA from an accredited school in the U.S., it would be nearly impossible to find a program that will accept you, Lanzillotti warns.

While earning a second MBA is generally pretty rare in the U.S., the trend is more common in India—where jumping directly from undergrad to a business degree program can seem like the only option, Lanzillotti explains. 

By pursuing an MBA (also referred to as a postgraduate diploma in management), “it’s almost like a person is treading water to do something in the hopes that something better will come two years after,” he says.

But when it comes time that you’re looking for that promotion, that industry leap, or that new career adventure, the first MBA may come up dry on its postgrad benefits like a strong alumni network or brand recognition, experts say. For example, if a person with this criteria is looking to work for Google in Europe, they’re likely to have a more difficult time than someone who attended an internationally recognized program.

The odds

Some top programs will consider second MBA candidates, but others won’t. Lanzillotti’s best piece of advice is to pick up the phone and call the business school admissions office to ensure whether your candidacy will even be considered.

“That will save a lot of pain and sorrow months down the road when they realize their application was pretty much dead on arrival,” he says. “Never be afraid to just call up.”

A few top programs that will not accept second MBA applicants include University of California–Berkeley (Haas), University of Virginia (Darden), and Dartmouth College (Tuck). Other schools like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan), University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (Ross), and University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) do consider second MBA applicants. 

At most programs, these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, so it still always benefits to check before applying. Lanzillotti also suggests looking into part-time programs, which tend to be more flexible when admitting second MBA students. 

Things to know about applying

At surface level, you may be considering a second MBA degree from a top program for its name, but Berishaj warns that a candidate’s other reasons must be evident throughout the application.

“Saying, ‘I want a second MBA because of the brand,’ is not good enough,” she says. “You have to dig deeper and tell them why that first MBA didn’t give you the qualifications or the skills or the exposure that you needed for your career objective.”

It’s important to explain exactly why you need the second degree in the application—especially in the essay questions, Berishaj says. Essay responses should also focus on short-term goals, long-term goals, and what you’re looking to learn from the program, Lanzillotti adds. 

“At the end of the day, it’s about the impact on the career you’re going to make in the long run,” Berishaj says. “The MBA is just the tool to help you get to that goal and make the most meaningful impact.”