Is an MBA worth it? It’s a question all prospective students must answer for themselves. Before your MBA train leaves the station, I want to give you a chance to get off and save yourself the roughly $200,000 ticket price so you don’t do this:
At Career Protocol, we go well beyond the scope of traditional MBA admissions consultants and help prospective students position the MBA as just one of many productive steps you will take your career. Our coaching process cultivates executive communication, self-awareness, emotional intelligence and leadership skills so that you can excel not just in the MBA application process, but in the rest of your career.
In keeping with the spirit of the way we serve our clients at Career Protocol: with brutal but loving honesty, I’m now going to try to talk you out of going to business school. Hahahaha. We like to keep it real. This article is drawing from my experience coaching hundreds of MBAs to gain admission to their favorite schools and then get their post-MBA internships and fulltime jobs. It also draws from my own personal experience as an MBA. If you’d like to hear more about how I botched MBA recruiting, listen here.
There are a lot of great reasons why to get a graduate degree in business leadership. But the truth is, nobody needs an MBA.
Most Fortune 500 CEOs don’t have one. Most successful entrepreneurs don’t have one. Most of society’s most celebrated philanthropists, innovators, pioneers, and good-doers don’t have one. So whatever it is you want to achieve in your career, there’s a very good chance, you can achieve it without an MBA.
In fact, it’s become quite popular these days to disparage the MBA among tech entrepreneurs. Sheryl Sandberg – who has an MBA from Harvard – claims an MBA isn’t necessary for leadership in tech. Elon Musk, notably slams MBAs for being good at PowerPoint, but terrible at innovation. Then other people pile on. Here’s a collection of quotes from tech leaders and entrepreneurs (many of whose companies are actually stacked with MBAs and who continue to recruit MBAs en masse) claiming that the MBA is not good for entrepreneurs. And this: Is an MBA worth it? Absolutely not!
At the same time, application trends show record numbers of applicants last year, with this year likely to surpass last. And not only due to the pandemic. If you ask most MBA alumni if an MBA is worth it, they will say yes before you even finish your question.
Suffice it to say, there are a lot of contradictory opinions out there about whether a Masters of Business Administration is a good thing or a bad thing. Honestly, such arguments are nonsensical. The MBA is like a hammer. It’s not good or bad. It’s just a tool. Whether it’s a tool that will be valuable to you on your career journey depends entirely on the person wielding the tool: you and how you use it.
This article is going to inoculate you against self-delusion and against making the mistake many MBAs do make: thinking that the MBA will solve their career problems. The truth is, in and of itself, it won’t. And for most it will create another problem: student debt. I’m going to bust some myths about how MBA recruiting and job placement work so that you can determine if the MBA is a tool you indeed need or want.
If this article helps you realize that an MBA isn’t for you and that you can achieve your dreams much more efficiently and cheaply without one, then it will save you a six figure investment. On the other hand, if you reach the end of this article and remain convinced that an MBA is the right next step for your career, then you’ll be able to proceed to business school admission with far greater confidence in yourself and in your plans and goals.
If you can handle these harsh realities about now, then you’ll be able to encounter challenges with your eyes wide open. You’ll be able to keep going when the going gets tough because you’ve already accepted the facts and nothing will surprise you. Instead, you’re proceeding in full awareness of the risks and pitfalls, and are committed to pursuing your MBA program dreams regardless of what dragons or landslides may lie in your path.
Nine Myths About Business School You Need to Stop Believing Before You Apply
Myth 1: If you get into a great business school, you’re guaranteed a great career
I'm so embarrassed to say that I had more or less exactly this thought as I began my own MBA, but I quickly figured out that the MBA isn’t a shortcut to a great career. It’s a gateway to new opportunities. But prioritizing and seizing those opportunities is entirely and completely up to you. Through the MBA – as with all periods of your life – your destiny is in your hands and your hands alone.
That means that you have to do all your own networking, all your own soul-searching, and all your own interview preparation. Most MBAs consider recruiting a third or fourth fulltime class, or even a part-time job. The amount of effort you will need to sink into the recruiting process will astonish you.
The good news is, this is work that will pay dividends in both the short and long term as you seek to consistently trade up for jobs that give you more and more of what you want at work. But the bad news is that it’s still extremely crazy freaking hard work.
So be clear: the MBA is no shortcut. You’re going to have to work hard for your career dreams – just as hard as if you had skipped the MBA.
I don’t intend for this information to be a deterrent. In fact, I hope you will go forth boldly and with great vigor to tackle the recruiting challenge. Just know that the road gets no easier during or after your MBA.
Myth 2: The MBA gives you plenty of time to explore the options and take a break
This is kind of what I thought too. I arrived at business school very passionate and determined to make a difference with my career; my aim was to find a job with my MBA where I could directly and at scale impact people’s happiness at work. I thought I might like something called HR consulting. I knew so little about the business world, though, so I, like many of my classmates, thought: “Oh, well the MBA will give me the chance to explore some options and really find the best path for me!”
In the over 2,000 free MBA Strategy calls I’ve conducted with MBA hopefuls over the years, I’d say this is the most pernicious and die-hard myth. “Oh, I'll just, you know, take the first year to think about what I want to do and then I'll find the right job that's a perfect match for me.”
I still remember exactly where I was sitting in that huge auditorium during the career services presentation when this myth was put to death. The sheer shock of how underprepared I was caused chills up my spine that are etched in my memory to this day.
The MBA recruiting schedule
Consider this example of what the first few weeks of your MBA might look like:
Internship posting visible
Resume books available to recruiters
Company presentations begin
Applications for internship begin
This schedule assumes you’re attending one of the schools on the semester system where classes start in August. The University of Chicago is on the quarter system, however. So classes start much later, at the end of September. But the MBA corporate recruiting machine moves at its own pace nationwide. So the Booth calendar looks a little more like this:
Internship posting visible
Resume books available to recruiters
Company presentations begin
Applications for internship begin
This was really a shock to me and most of my classmates.
If you hope to get a summer internship, especially at one of the primary firms that recruits on campus on a predictable timeline, then you’ll need to have at least a few clear ideas and intentions for your summer internship before you get to campus so you will be ready for recruiters in the fall.
And if you hope to source your job “off-campus,” at a company that doesn’t come to school to hire a ton of MBAs at once, then there’s even more work cut out for you. Private Equity and Venture Capital firms hardly ever recruit on campus. Same with startups. If you plan to work at a company that hires only a small handful of MBAs or even a single MBA in a given year, you’re likely looking at a lot of off campus searching, networking, and interviewing. And then there are the companies that don’t hire MBAs at all as a practice – the ones where you need to shape and pitch your own internship or fulltime role from scratch. In other words, even more self-driven work.
Bottom line: You don't have a ton of time to explore or to question what you want to be doing. Don’t go to business school to take a break, to soul search, or to figure out what you want to be when you grow up. Go in with a plan.
By the way, the Career Protocol Authentic MBA Application Package goes far beyond the usual admissions advice of MBA admissions consultants and includes three key ingredients to help you arrive at business school with a plan
- Career Coaching and development of a thoughtful Career Game Plan
- Extensive networking and research support with potential target companies for your post-MBA job as you are constructing your MBA essays
- Then once you get in, you’ll participate in YOMO: our program designed specifically to help rising MBAs prepare for internship recruiting and build your network pre-MBA
Talk to us if you want to learn more about how working with Career Protocol will help you not only get in, but also make the most of your MBA career pivot once you get there.
Myth 3: Career services will help me figure out what I want to be when I grow up.
Again, I made all of these mistakes. I kind of imagined that Career Services was going to be like a personal career coach – someone who was going to sit down with me and listen to me and help me really explore and figure out what I wanted to do.
Unfortunately, that's just not how it works.
Career Services, the staff of people that help you get a job, measure their success based on two simple numbers:
- The percent of students who have jobs when they graduate
- The percent of students who have jobs three months after graduation
At no school are those numbers 100%.
School placement statistics
In fact, here, take a look at the placement numbers for top MBA programs a couple years ago.
The placement stats at some of your target schools might surprise you.
For some of these people who didn’t have a job three months out of their MBA, it wasn’t a problem. They were taking their time to find the right opportunity for them. But many others found themselves in a kind of doomsday scenario: an absolute humiliating worst case and a drag on their school’s statistics. Hopefully this drives the point home that there really aren't any guarantees. You have to take responsibility for getting your own post-MBA job.
It’s best to start with this expectation: the Career Services department is like a website or a library. It’s really just a resource for you to use. Some schools do go beyond, but most schools have little to no direct career coaching, in other words, very little soul-searching stuff and direct one-to-one training. They just aren't staffed up for that. Furthermore, many schools rely on student clubs and other students to drive recruiting preparation. You're going to do a lot of your practice cases and mock interviews with your classmates, at best with second year students who did internships at your target firms.
For many people, the resources in plain sight are enough. For many people they aren’t. But either way, if you want to make the most of what career services has to offer, you need to be in the driver's seat.
But these statistics hide another reality
Every year, Career Services aims for 100% placement. They do everything that their resources allow to ensure you graduate with a job offer in hand. They are, however, totally agnostic about which job that is. Nowhere in their statistics are they tracking “percent of students who graduated with their dream job,” or “percent of students who are extremely happy with the offer they received and accepted.”
Achieving dreams and finding happiness are your jobs, not theirs.
If you end up needing to cram yourself into a job that's not a perfect fit for you, that's not really their problem. Because not only would this be impossible for them to measure, they just don't have the resources to dedicate to ensuring your happiness.
It’s entirely your responsibility to figure out what you want to do.
Bottom line: Career Services will do their best to help you avoid unemployment. But if you want a great job for you, that’s on you.
Check out a few more MBA recruiting secrets here:
Myth 4: The MBA will ensure I get away from the thing I am doing now, which I hate.
In fact, the more you expect Career Services to do for you, the more likely you are to end up right back in a job like your current role where you started pre-MBA. Because jobs that directly leverage your past experiences are the easiest ones to get and the ones for which you will be most competitive.
Getting an MBA to escape your current reality is a losing game.
During our free MBA Strategy sessions, one question we help people answer is whether an MBA is right for them. When we ask people why they want to go to business school, at least 30% of the time, if we dig deep, the answer we find is some version of: Well, I don't really know what I want to do, but I kind of hate what I'm doing now, and I don't know what else to do.
But as I already explained, the MBA won’t solve that problem. And even worse, it might force you right back to the thing you hate.
Let’s say you came from Accounting and hope to segue into something else. You consider marketing jobs, tech jobs, even impact investing. But come fulltime recruiting in fall of your second year, you still don’t have an offer for your post-MBA job. You run to career services for help. They’re going to push you in the direction of finance and accounting because that is what you already know. That’s the job they know firms will hire you to do.
I am saddened every year to speak with dozens of MBAs who’ve made this mistake. They come to business school for a radical change and due to lack of focus and being caught by surprise and underprepared, they end up just a tiny step from where they began, back in the field they came to business school to get away from!
Here's another really grim statistic
TransparentCareer, a job placement startup borne out of the Booth entrepreneurial ecosystem, collects data on MBA careers and career advancement trends. In late 2016, they estimated that 87% of students (their dataset was based primarily on students at top 50 MBA programs) intended to change either their function, industry, or both in their post-MBA job search.
The MBA has long been a preferred lever for big career switches and in fact, the MBA can absolutely facilitate such a pivot.
But consider this bad news: employers are nearly twice as likely to hire experienced MBAs over career switchers.
This data may be a bit dated, but I guarantee you these numbers don’t change much year to year. Try to put yourself in the hiring manager's shoes and remember that a lot of companies are only hiring one or two or three MBAs. Your hiring manager isn’t just coming to campus to snap up whoever she finds there. The hiring process is extremely expensive. The stakes are high because if they hire the wrong person, it's messy to get rid of them and they will have missed the chance to hire someone good, which damages their turnover and their morale. Ideally whoever they're hiring is going to be sticking around for several years. So it only makes sense that recruiters are looking for people with relevant experience and a demonstrated passion for the work they need done.
That means that if you hope to get away from whatever you did before, you have your work cut out for you, and it's important to keep in touch with your vision. You're going to have to take ownership of that change and really make it happen for yourself. Because ultimately career services has every incentive to send you back to where you came from. It's much easier to place an accountant in a financial role than it is to place an accountant in marketing. They don’t mean you any harm, they’re there to help, but they aren’t magic genies and they have to take care of their own numbers.
Bottom Line: If you want to make a career switch through the MBA, the onus is on you to make it happen. The school is not responsible for you, they just offer tools to leverage in your quest.
Myth 5: As an MBA, I can get any job I want. It will be like a job buffet, and I can just take my pick.
The idea of on-campus recruiting is so seductive: the thought that companies will just come to campus and court you and pluck you out of obscurity into an amazing job that’s just right for you. Or alternatively, the thought of endless career networking opportunities and company dinners with any company you might ever like to work for, there just for your consideration.
The illusion that you can just sit back, collect offers, and then take your pick of the one you like best is, unfortunately, just that: an illusion.
Here's another way to think about it. The MBA is your door to a new career, but of all the available doors in front of you, you’ve got to choose one and only one.
This is one situation where having more options is not necessarily a good thing because almost all the options for jobs coming out of business school are wrong for you. Only a small handful of possible jobs will actually fit your values, your interests, and the kind of impact that you want to have. The sheer vastness of the other options might just paralyze you with option overwhelm, though.
If you set your mind to it, you can really do just about anything, but you can't do everything. This is the downside of YOLO. Having only one life to live means you have to commit to only one post-MBA job.
You have to choose, and it really matters which one you choose because if you go through, let’s say, the consulting door, you're going to have one life. If, on the other hand, you choose the corporate finance rotational program door, you’ll have a completely different life. This decision is going to stress you out.
But it gets worse.
If you’re a career switcher, you don’t ever really know what's on the other side of the door. This new job will be totally different from everything you’ve ever known so how can you be sure you’re going to like it?
And on top of that, you have to make decisions sequentially, not all at once, because recruiting happens in stages. At most schools, banking and consulting come first, then come the big tech companies and other financial organizations, then come marketing, consumer goods, and other industry jobs.
They come in sequence, and you can only have one offer at a time.
Schools have a kind of honor code around recruiting that mandates that you stop going to interviews once you get an offer. It’s just bad form to keep recruiting if you’ve gotten a job because at that point, you’re taking jobs away from your classmates who have yet to get an offer.
If you want to consider other opportunities, you're going to have to turn down that first offer, with no guarantee that another one will be forthcoming. And by the way, Career Services hates it when you turn down offers. It irks recruiters and that damages the school’s relationship with the firm, making it harder for them to court the same company the next year.
No doubt about it, getting an offer and then turning it down will not feel good to you. Even if it’s the best thing for your career, you’re not going to like it. So don’t plan on doing it.
Bottom line: Expect to get only one job offer for your post-MBA job; arrive with a plan to make it the one you really want.
If you want to enter your MBA with great confidence in yourself and what you have to offer, an inspiring vision for your career, and a clear framework to determine which post-MBA jobs are truly best for you, talk to us about how we help our MBA applicant clients achieve this.
Myth 6: You've been the best everywhere. You’ll be the best in business school too.
One of the very best things about business school is your classmates. Never have nor will you ever again be surrounded by so many inspiring, accomplished, brilliant, caring individuals from such a variety of backgrounds. They’ll become your most valuable asset post-graduation in the form of your professional network. You will count yourself lucky to be among their ranks in the same alumni network.
But their awesomeness comes with a price – a certain blow to your own ego.
So far in your career, you were the poppy in a field of daisies. You stood out, you had an impact, you moved faster, you learned quicker, people liked you, people supported you. You've had success so far, and you are probably at least somewhat exceptional in your field of peers.
Well, guess what the MBA field looks like? It's a field of poppies!
Those brilliant accomplished people are your competitors for jobs. It's the most brutally competitive field you’ll ever be a part of, and I guarantee you at some point you're going to completely lose your confidence.
That's part of the game. You'll be able to regain it if you're taking all the right steps, but you want to accept that the things that have been easy for you so far in your career aren't necessarily going to be easy coming out of business school because you're competing with a very elite group of people.
The better your MBA program is, the fiercer the competition will be for post-MBA jobs. I don’t mean fierce like cut-throat. Actually, most schools have pretty collaborative recruiting cultures as I just explained. I mean fierce in the sense that everyone is a rock star and you’re just one of many rock stars.
If you were recruited on campus during college, you’ll quickly understand the difference. At the end of your undergraduate studies, nobody had much experience. You won jobs based on your raw intellect and preparation.
But during your MBA, you’ll be competing for consulting jobs against former management consultants, for marketing jobs against former assistant brand managers, and for product manager jobs against former product developers. You want that one product management job at your favorite niche tech company? You’ll be competing with people who’ve already done a job just like it and have a demonstrated passion for the industry and for that specific technology.
And if you thought that getting into business school was competitive, oh boy, getting out is another level entirely. Most of my clients report that MBA recruiting, and internship recruiting in particular, is far, far more grueling and soul crushing than the admissions process was. That was certainly my experience. If your qualifications are way off and a lot of your classmates have much better qualifications for the jobs you're applying for, then you might not even get invited to interview.
Bottom Line: MBA Recruiting is more competitive than MBA admissions. If you want a job, any job, you’re going to have to bring it.
Myth 7: I have to find my dream job now.
It’s true that your post-MBA salary will establish the floor for the rest of your career.
It’s also true that there are many jobs you might want post-MBA that you wouldn’t be able to recruit for later.
Some would argue that the brand of the company you join right out of business school will trump and even dwarf the brand of the school you go to. Many would argue that having McKinsey, for example, on your resume, carries more weight even than Harvard Business School would.
Your first job post-MBA counts. It counts a lot. While the MBA opens up many pathways and options to you, most career choices will eliminate some of those options. For example, if you join Google’s marketing team post-MBA. It’s unlikely that you will ever end up in Investment Banking or Private Equity or even Finance at another tech company. You’ll be on a marketing track, and that will shape your option set from then on.
So it’s important to make that choice count.
That said, your post-MBA job will not be your last and it probably won’t even be ideal.
If you're looking for a job based in a certain geography, with specific tasks and responsibilities, at a firm with a culture that you really love, with the right benefits and compensation package, that promises great work life balance and doesn't require you to do any kind of work that you don't like while also challenging you to grow, you’re looking for a nonexistent needle in haystack.
You can simplify life by accepting this fact right now: no one dream job for you exists in the first place, much less will it magically present itself to you at the end of your MBA.
Your dream job is one that you're ultimately going to create and shape over time as you get to know yourself better and build a greater platform of influence. Maybe it’ll be within a company. I'm not implying your best job requires you to become an entrepreneur, although many of you reading this eventually will. You can find a role within a company, and then build support around yourself so that you can take more ownership and leadership in the areas that you're passionate about based on your own initiative. That is how, bit by bit, year after year, you will build your dream career.
So accept that ultimately, your dream job is still a few steps away. It's not going to be your first post-MBA job. I can virtually guarantee you that it shouldn't be. Because even if you love what you're doing, eventually you're going to grow and change and you're going to want new things. That's just human nature. So take a little pressure off yourself to get the one perfect job post-MBA and commit just to getting a great one that gets you one giant step in the direction you want to go.
Bottom line: Seek a great post-MBA job, but accept it will just be one of many steps to your dream job.
Here’s a bit more about career gameplanning for long-term success
Myth 8: The MBA will make me rich.
This is a big one for people. They wonder: Does the MBA help get a job? Does an MBA get you a better job? How much does an MBA increase your salary? Can an MBA make you rich? And – most meaningfully – Is getting an MBA worth it?
First the bad news: The price of the MBA has gone up. The average salary of MBA graduates immediately after school has not kept pace. Take a look at these numbers for just one of the top degrees in business (and actually the first and oldest masters of business administration), the Wharton MBA.
Cost of Wharton MBA (2 years, Tuition Only)
Wharton Median Post-MBA All-in compensation
(source CNN Money)
If you take only average starting salary into account, this table alone suggests that the Return on Investment (ROI) for the MBA has declined. The picture is even worse for full-time programs because you are also losing two years of income while you study, as opposed to part-time MBA programs that allow you to work in parallel. And given the economic dynamics of both education and hiring, these trends are unlikely to reverse anytime soon.
Every year there are multiple articles and business news outlets that say the MBA is failing, the MBA is a dinosaur, and no one's going to get an MBA anymore. It's dead, the ROI isn't there, you should only go to school if you can get into a top five business school.
There’s a lot of evidence that it's not as great an investment as it once was, but even if you think the MBA is overrated today and even though we all kinda wish we could go back in a time machine and get a 2000 MBA instead of today’s, it doesn’t mean the MBA isn’t still a good investment. And MBA will pay off for the whole rest of your career, not just in your first leadership roles post-graduation. So whether an MBA is worth the money or not depends on you and how you use it.
It’s true that a lot of the value of the MBA is in the job opportunities that you get coming out of business school. For most (not all) business professionals, their salary after graduating from full-time MBA programs will be much higher than it was before they entered school.
Bottom line: If you just want an increased salary, there are much more expedient ways to achieve that.
Getting an MBA is going to put you in the hole for around 200 grand right now. If your only goal is to get a higher-paying job, there are plenty of creative pathways with much higher ROI that will get you into a better financial position.
You can increase your income much more quickly and efficiently by asking for a raise, leveraging your personal network and expertise into a higher paying job, taking online courses (try this online program), pursuing other professional development coaching or business courses, reading books and developing some subject matter knowledge or leadership skills that qualify you for more responsibility. The pandemic has caused a proliferation of amazing online options to advance your career and build relationships with business virtually. You can even develop a side hustle that gives you extra income above and beyond your main job. All of these are much cheaper pathways to increasing your income.
The thing that probably seems scary when you look at those options is not knowing where to start. It's common to feel limited by your current viable option set. The only thing the MBA changes in that calculation is that it presents you with more options and employers that will recruit on campus and consider you for a job.
That alone probably isn't worth the $200,000, and it doesn't lift the burden off of you to do the soul searching and figure out what you really want to do. If all you want is more income, then build your networking, emotional intelligence, communication, and job search skillset and then seek more senior roles that pay better in the field you're interested in.
The MBA is ultimately for future leaders. Admissions trends favor business leaders who have a big vision for what they want to achieve in their career in the long term. If you just have a short-term need, admissions directors likely won’t be inspired to offer you a spot in their class. School admissions officials need to believe you both need an MBA in the short term to reach your next step, but more importantly that you have an inspiring vision for the long haul of your career that will be augmented substantially by a graduate education in business.
Speaking of the long term…
Myth 9: The MBA will transform me into CEO-material or an Entrepreneur.
In my free MBA Strategy calls, I speak to a lot of people before their MBA who have resumes that read like someone who's solidly bound for an illustrious career in middle management. When these people tell me they want to get an MBA because they want to become an entrepreneur, I try to talk them out of applying to business school.
Because what the MBA is really designed for is middle managers. It’s meant to equip you with hard and soft skills to lead in the middle of a big organization.
Be clear: I don't mean middle-management in a condescending sense, because I actually believe that middle managers make the world go ‘round. There just isn't that much room at the very top, and most people wouldn't really want that job anyway. Middle-management takes the heat from the incompetent people at the top and empowers the people at the bottom. I personally think middle managers are heroes, and if the MBA helps someone do that well, then it's a worthwhile investment, not just for them but for everyone whose lives they will touch from their pivotal position in the middle. It's the hardest and noblest place to be and requires leadership in the truest sense.
But very few people go to business school thinking that they want to be a middle manager. Instead they think they want to start something or they want to lead something from the top. But as I started this article saying, most fortune 500 CEOs don't have MBAs nor do most successful entrepreneurs.
If you're going to invest $200,000 in a career in entrepreneurship, you should probably just invest that money in your business idea. The MBA won’t magically transform you into a CEO, and it won’t even help with a lot of the challenges of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is about scrappiness and finding solutions to urgent problems. It's guerrilla warfare. It's not the strategic kind of elegant warfare you see forged by Fortune 500 companies. It's things like: Where are we going to get $50,000 to pay our staff next week because our cash flows are down and our website crashed and one of our biggest customers is unhappy and threatening to cancel their contract?
It’s just a very different kind of hard to get something off the ground than it is to keep it running smoothly. The MBA prepares you far more for the latter than for the former for the simple fact that to start something from zero, you need to learn by doing. It’s all trial and error, iteration, quick failures followed by learnings that lead you in the right direction. That requires an entrepreneurial mindset combined with a ton of hands-dirty, hard work and an appetite for risk. The MBA will give you none of that. If you want to be an entrepreneur, your best bet is just to go and do it.
There are books you can read. Here's are some books that will help you source your perfect idea, build your business model and marketing plan, and get more business smart about all the stuff you need to know as a CEO (in that order).
- Success Is for You by David Hawkins
- The 1-Page Marketing Plan by Allan Dib
- The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
You don’t need a degree to start something. And you don’t need an MBA to make a difference. Making a difference is mostly about adherence to values, calculated risks, intelligent action, and collaboration. Just go do those things right now, and you will have an amazing life.
Bottom Line: If you want to start something, just do it now. Then decide if you really need an MBA.
The MBA isn't a shortcut to anything. It's a tool.
You’ve got everything you need from this article if you realize these two things:
The MBA isn’t a magic genie.
It cannot grant any career wish and it’s not a magic pill, golden ticket, or silver bullet. It will not turn you suddenly into a brilliant investment banker or an amazing entrepreneur if you're coming from a background that has very little to do with the career goal you think you're headed towards. It won't do very much of the heavy lifting for you in the recruitment process. What it does do well is provide you with a solid education in the language of business, a network of illustrious friends, and access to opportunity, and it's entirely up to you to take advantage of it to get what you want in your career.
The MBA doesn't replace hard work.
It doesn’t substitute for the introspection you need to go through to figure out what you really want to do, nor does it substitute for the hard work of job searching, which is a whole skill set in and of itself.
As long as you’re willing to accept those terms, then your answer to “is the MBA worth it?” could be HECK YAAAS!!!!
And if you want to cultivate the skillset of job searching, then work with us. It’s part of our process.
Now that we’ve busted the myths, let’s look at the bright side.
All of this may make it seem like I’m down on the MBA and that I personally don’t believe it’s a good investment. Quite the contrary. I would go back and do my own MBA 10 times out of 10. So would most business school graduates I know and have ever spoken with. An MBA can be a great tool if you use it right.
Let me return to my own experience and explain a few really good reasons why the MBA might be a great investment for you based on why I think it was a fantastic investment for me. This is not an exhaustive list, but my guess is that if you are seeking an MBA, one or more of these may resonate with you.
1. You want a confidence and credibility booster
Sometimes even people who work really hard, take pride in what they do, and make every effort to grow and advance need a little outside validation that they can hang professionally at a certain level. People talk about the MBA being a kind of “stamp on your passport,” and to this end, it can be really valuable. In my personal case, the MBA was worth every penny because it was the most expeditious way for me to take myself more seriously in the realm of business where I wanted to play. Just the committed act of making that huge investment in oneself (separate from all the great learning of the program) changes a person forever, for the better.
2. You didn’t study (enough) business in college and you need a solid foundation to take you to the next step
People who studied the humanities or liberal arts in their undergraduate degree or lack a business background who want to achieve big success in the business world really benefit from an MBA, as do STEM majors. It gives them more confidence and credibility, related to the above, but it also teaches them the Language of Business. The MBA is two full years of career development immersion in business education and leadership skills, teaching you how to think and act strategically in a business environment. Sure, you can cobble together a reading list that will get you a bit smarter on this front, but there is no substitute for immersion when you are learning a new language. It would have taken me personally 10 years reading on my own to really learn how business works, and in truth, I might never have known when to stop. I mean, how do you learn accounting without a teacher? The structure of the MBA circumscribes the business world and makes it more knowable.
3. You want to be an awesome middle manager
I already extolled the virtues of middle managers. Without them, no big operation could ever reach scale. The people in the middle do the hardest work of interpreting orders from the top, translating them into actionable operational plans, and then empowering and coaching their direct reports and teams to fulfill the corporate vision. That is, if the job is done well. In a recent book from Gallup, called It’s the Manager, the firm found after years of study of high and low performing companies that the quality of managers and team leaders is the single biggest factor in an organization's long-term success.
So middle management is one of the most important places to be – you’re the culture carrier, the team builder, the coach and the leader. If you want to occupy this noble space in the world, there will always be a demand for your excellence. And if that’s where you want to be, then the MBA will very definitely help you get there and do the job better once you arrive. The MBA is worthwhile investment not just for you, but for every life you will touch as a leader in the middle.
4. You need hard skills to complement your soft skills
I personally majored in Philosophy. I studied theater and Latin. I was an English teacher before my MBA. I was confident that I had the right values and communications skills to contribute. What I lacked was the street cred of quantitative skills. The MBA boosted not only my confidence in what I knew (and helped me clarify what I didn’t know), it also gave me hard skills that transformed the way I think about and analyze the business problems I faced every day as a management consultant and now as an entrepreneur.
Here’s a good datapoint: despite my total lack of quant background, after my MBA, my BCG teams put me on some highly quantitative projects early on. “We expect Booth MBAs to do a good job of these kinds of projects,” they said. The MBA succeeded in giving me the stamp of approval, inner confidence, and the skills to actually back up that credibility. Note that not all MBA programs create the same post-MBA reputation, so do make sure you keep your personal needs in mind as you are choosing schools.
5. You want to work at a specific elite firm known to hire MBAs (or which require an MBA to advance)
The largest employers of MBAs, such as big consulting firms, investment banks, private equity and venture capital shops, and even increasingly top tech firms and other Silicon Valley hot spots are much easier to get into through an MBA than as a lateral hire without an advanced degree. Most of these companies make for great capstones on your business school journey to launch the rest of your career and complement your business school education really well. Few people making these industry choices plan to stay at their post-MBA firm forever, but if you want a great place to amass more knowledge, build an extensive network, and prepare for your longer-term vision of leadership, you can’t do much better. And if you didn’t get a job at one of these places post-college, the MBA is your best next access point.
Likewise, most consulting and PE firms and investment banks require an MBA (or other terminal degree) for you to continue to advance even if you did get a job there after college. Hopefully in that case, the firm will sponsor your MBA and you can return to the firm for a few years debt-free before charting your next steps.
Here is another way to think about your MBA goals:
There are plenty of other good reasons to get an MBA, these are just a handful based on my own personal and highly limited experience.
The bottom line: Pressure test your reasons for wanting an MBA against the reality of what the MBA provides and what it doesn’t provide.
One last personal note. I genuinely hope you will pursue an MBA if you decide it’s going to help you get what you want from your career. It doesn’t solve any problems. It doesn’t make life easier. But it absolutely does change your life in some of the best possible ways.
Talk to us if you want help strategizing your post-MBA career path and game plan, choosing the best schools for you, and creating your most authentic and inspiring MBA application.
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