Where should a Young Professional in oil & gas apply to business school?

“David, what are you going to do with all those degrees?”

“Going back to school again?  When are you going to focus on your “real” work?”


If I had a dime for every time I have heard something along those lines in the past five years, I wouldn’t have to go to work and use any of what I’ve learned in school:  I’d be rich and retired already!

Joking aside, in the US, there’s currently a lot of debate going on as to the utility of education beyond high school.  My views on this are clear:  everyone is free to pursue what they want, but if you desire some measure of financial and job security, higher education WILL be useful for you, provided you pick the right course of study.

I have two engineering degrees, but if I had to pick the one degree whose coursework I utilize almost every day, it’s my MBA.  Some people will scoff and say “it’s way easier to get an MBA than an engineering degree!”.  That’s a subject for another column, but while I can’t say that I have to solve math equations very frequently anymore, I DO have to make presentations, strategize how to grow my product line, and market both myself and my company.

These things seem obvious to me now, but if I compare myself presently to the person I was five years ago before I started my MBA studies, the difference is night and day.  In fact, for engineers specifically I really do feel that an MBA is the perfect complement to their existing skill set:  engineering knowledge allows you to get your foot in the door of the oil & gas industry and really understand what happens on the ground, and then business knowledge allows you to form an extremely solid foundation on which to build the rest of your career, when you may not be as directly involved in the technical side of the business.

If you’re currently an engineer in the oil & gas industry wondering how to take your career to the next level, take this from someone who’s been there:  strongly consider earning your MBA.  I’ve had an amazing run at work the last few years, and I attribute that directly to applying the knowledge I took away from business school, combined with my existing technical skill set.  Even the job itself came from business school, in that a classmate that had just hired onto IHS thought I would do well here and helped me through the process all the way to securing an offer.

Today, I help a reader who has decided to make the leap to business school, but is apprehensive about where to apply.

Remember, if you also want to participate in “Building Hydrocarbon Bonds”, please get in touch with me either through my website, LinkedIn, or through email.  If the answer to your question ends up turning into something substantial, I’ll post it (keeping your details anonymous) so that others can benefit as well.

Dear David,

I have yet to take my GMAT exam, but before I do that I want to know where you think I should apply.  I used to work for a large Indian operator, and now work for one of the “Big Four” service companies.  I have won an SPE service award.

Many thanks!

I think that’s great you’re going for an MBA:  for engineers it’s an invaluable degree:  you will learn a lot and no doubt that knowledge will help you in your career.
With regards to where you should apply…apply wherever you think you want to attend!

People always wonder if they should shoot high, but if you have even an inkling that you could get in, then why not?  All you have to lose is some time on the application.

If you have the top programs in mind (Stanford, Harvard, etc), I know the oil & gas industry is a good feeder into them, and certainly having big company names like the ones you have on your resume will help you.  Just keep in mind when you apply that schools aren’t just looking for a discrete set of grades and achievements, they’re looking for a story: “here is how I’ve progressed, here’s why I would like to earn an MBA from your school, and here is how I will then make you look good as an alum afterwards.”

In my opinion, the biggest part of an MBA second only to what you learn is the network (since you only spend a few years in school, but decades out of it), so figure out what types of networks come with each school:  more tech focused?  more finance focused?  which ones have a strong reputation of nurturing startups?

Also, I personally don’t believe there is much difference within the top 20 US MBA programs in terms of quality, so if you want to be safe, split that group up into five groups of four, and in each group take the top 2.  That would give you ten schools to apply to (you can of course adjust that to apply to fewer, take just the top 1 from each group for instance…).

There’s a great column online where an admissions consultant receives people’s  qualifications and tells them what their chances are of getting into their choice of MBA schools.  The whole series is here (scroll to the links at bottom of screen):

Finally, keep in mind that admissions to these places are always sort of a mystery:  competition is so high that even excellent-seeming applicants get turned down.  The following link shows you just how accomplished some of the “dinged” applicants are:   http://poetsandquants.com/2014/02/14/look-who-hbs-dinged-in-the-second-round/

I hope that helps, and good luck to you!