Brazen Careerist

Whether you're a recent college graduate or further down your career path, you might be asking yourself this question. The question isn't "should I or should I not go to graduate school?" It's a question of when should you go.

Here are the merits of attending business school now versus waiting:

You should attend business school now if...

1. You're unemployed

Like the price of any commodity, the value of education increases during poor economic times. When layoffs begin and the job market dries up, it's a great time to go after your MBA.

If you're collecting unemployment benefits, have savings and get decent loans, you can pursue your MBA full time without distraction and with little economic downside. If the job market improves, you'll be qualified for better, more lucrative positions. If it doesn't, you'll at least have a competitive advantage.

2. Your employer will pay for it

According to Forbes, the average cost of an MBA is more than $100,000. Paying back school loans can take decades. If you have a full-time job and your employer is willing to foot the bill for your master's degree while continuing to pay you a living wage, it's a no-brainer.

Working full time and taking graduate classes at night means you're going to have little free time, and it'll be a challenge to keep those grades up. But for those up to the challenge, the rewards are great.

The 2013 QS Top MBA survey estimates the average starting salary of an MBA holder is $113,000. A six-figure salary without student loan debt is no small thing in this economy. If you work for a company with reasonable upward mobility, a company-sponsored MBA can also be a fast track to upper management.

3. You want to run a business, but lack management skills

A common misconception outside the business world is that an MBA is a master's in finance. MBA programs are more about management than anything else. Many applicants to b-school aren't business, economics or accounting majors. Many have or are working on their undergraduate degrees in fields like engineering, geology, or even art history.

What all viable MBA applicants have in common is a desire for leadership and business management skills. An art major might pursue an MBA to become a gallery owner or museum curator. Engineering and architecture majors with MBA degrees start their own firms.

If you want to create your own company but lack management experience, an MBA might be a good idea.

You might want to wait if...

1. The demands of your life won't allow you to concentrate on the degree

If you're going to pursue your MBA, commit to the experience. Graduate level classes require considerable time and effort. An MBA alumnus from the University of Delaware said she spent an average of 20 to 30 hours per week in class, studying and working on group projects. The minimum GPA for graduation was 3.2. While she wasn't working at the time, she was raising a new baby and found herself exhausted by graduation day.

Not all MBA programs are as rigorous, but all require a significant devotion of time and have exacting graduation requirements. If you aren't able to manage these demands along with your workload and personal life, you'll not only waste time and money, you'll also damage your academic record.