MBA Alternatives | Worth It or Disappointment?

It seems everyone is selling an alternative to the MBA, but what are they and are they worth it for you?

This week Angela Guido takes a measured look at MBA books, MBA-like courses and other MBA alternatives to help you decide whether business school or a b-school alternative is right for you. From the quality of education, network and opportunities to those hidden benefits or costs that the MBA has in store, answering the question of “are MBA alternatives worth it?” has never been easier.

YouTube video

Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

It feels like everybody is pitching their alternative to the MBA. Welcome back to MBA Monday. I'm Angela Guido, the founder of Career Protocol, a Career Coach and MBA Coach for the last 15 years helping thousands of people get into business school and get into the companies of their dreams. Today I'm talking about what should you do instead of getting an MBA? Two weeks ago, I talked about who shouldn't apply to business school. If you're in one of those three categories, an MBA alternative might be the perfect thing for you. Today I'm going to talk about what are the MBA alternatives and how can you get the value that you want from business school from somewhere else.

What’s So Valuable About An MBA?

I have so much to say about this subject. All right, so if we're going to talk about MBA alternatives, we really need to talk about the purpose and value of an MBA in the first place, because to figure out if an alternative will suit you and give you what you need, you need to first ask yourself, what is it that I need? What is it that I'm hoping the MBA will give me? And then consider whether you can get that from another source other than an MBA. So, the majority of people who apply to business school are looking for one of three or all of three things. And indeed, the primary benefits that MBA graduates report align with these three things.

  1. So the first thing is an education in business, like just learning how business works, getting savvier about the business world. That's the number one benefit of an MBA.
  2. The second is a network, a group of friends, a group of colleagues, a group of people who are similarly passionate in diverse areas of business, who are going to be your friends and mentors and collaborators throughout the course of your career.
  3. And then the third thing that people look to business school for is access to opportunities. This is really post-MBA recruitment. It's getting your next job, post MBA. It's the ability to be hired into a job at a company that you might otherwise not be able to get into from wherever you sit today.

So let's ask ourselves, can we get that stuff somewhere else?

Education

All right, I'm going to take the first one first, which is education. An education in business. Is it possible to get a really complete and well-rounded understanding of business outside of business school? I would argue that this aspect of business school is the easiest to replicate outside of business school. And there are all kinds of places that you can go to get information about how business works, to learn about business, and to build your inner confidence in understanding how the business world works. If you're an autodidact, you might just want to start with books. There are actually a ton of great books out there that will help you think like a business leader and understand how business works. Two of my personal favorites. Here's one: The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education In A Single Volume. I don't want to say this book is overreaching to say that it's trying to replicate business school. Of course, a single volume is not going to compare to two immersive years surrounded by business learning from professors and experts and peers, but if you just want to learn how the business world works and how all the different functions fit together and how a market dynamic is composed, this is actually a pretty great book. So maybe start here if you're thinking about business school. A second book that I really love, that I think sort of baptizes you and how business works. It’s written less from a theoretical covering all the bases perspective, and more from an entrepreneurial perspective of helping you actually start and grow and build a business and find your place in helping a business be successful, and that's called The One Page Marketing Plan. Obviously, the focus on this is marketing, but Alan Dibb, this really cool Australian entrepreneurial dude, covers a ton of great information about how businesses work and all the different functions and how they fit together to create success and to add value to customers. What I love about this book is that it's really focused on creating value, building value for customers and for stakeholders, and doing it in a smart, no-nonsense way. Then there are online learning platforms courses taught by famous business leaders or famous thinkers. It feels like everybody is pitching their alternatives to the MBA. In fact, the top blurb on The Personal MBA is written by Seth Godin. He says “File this book under no excuses.”. I don't quite get what that means, but Seth Godin has his own alternative MBA. It's called altMBA. It's a four-week program in learning how to market and build a business and communicate effectively. Another great learning resource for business-oriented people is foundr.com. It's founder without an e, foundr.com again, run by some guys in Australia who have some really great ideas and a really great network of business leaders where they’ve put together courses in just about everything you can imagine on how to build and run a business. Most of these resources are designed for people who are planning to go an entrepreneurial path, who are trying to start their own thing, potentially even people who want to be like solo printers, never mind entrepreneurs, but if you're really looking to learn about how business works, the number of great, cheap and affordable resources out there is mind-boggling. I haven't even gotten into things like HBX Core and business courses offered online by top MBA programs that are much more approachable, much more affordable than an actual MBA. So the bottom line is, if all you really need from the MBA is education, learning more about your business function or business in general, I would argue that you can probably get that aspect of an MBA in a much cheaper and more expedient way than going to business school.

Network

Second thing that people go to business school for is the network. So if you think about what an MBA network consists of, it's having a brand that connects you to all the other people that are connected to that brand. You're an alum of that school for the rest of your career, and so anyone else who went to that school is potentially going to be more favorably predisposed to speaking with you, to helping you, to hiring you, et cetera. That aspect of business school, you're not likely going to be able to replicate any other way. The second aspect of having a network is actual professional friendships. It's getting to know people and being friends with them. Pretty straightforward, pretty simple, and something that, by the way, the MBA doesn't guarantee. You're going to be in business school but if you don't know how to nurture relationships and foster collaborative friendships, you may graduate from business school without the amazing network that you thought you were going to have because you didn't work on nurturing and building those relationships. So creating a thriving network is something that anyone can do anywhere, at any point in their life. And so I really encourage you to start doing that right now, even before you go to business school and even don't even think about the MBA. Think about how can I continue, how can I build and grow thriving, mutually beneficial professional friendships? If you want tips on how to do this, you can read my book about it. I have a whole book on How To Network Without Feeling Like An A-Hole. It's actually designed for MBAs, but it will help anyone who's trying to advance your career through friendship. The third aspect of a network that's really important is access to people that you might not otherwise encounter. That includes your classmates, but it also includes professors and people who come to campus to speak. It includes recruiters. It includes all the people that surround an MBA program that you might not come into contact with otherwise. And if you want to replicate this aspect of the MBA, the best thing to do is to just start going to conferences, start going to public gatherings and conferences in your field, get to know experts and thought leaders in your space, go to their talks, connect with them, follow up, and seek to proactively build a network of people who can mentor you and advise you on your own. So that's the second aspect of the MBA that's really important. And that's the network. And the verdict here is, well, it's not going to be the same as going to business school and studying for two years with people with whom you become friends, but you can build a thriving and frankly, way more robust network outside of the MBA if you do it on your own.

Access To Opportunities

The third aspect of business school that most alumni report being really important to them is access to opportunities. So having the chance to be hired by companies into post-MBA managerial roles that you might otherwise not even be able to apply for. Jobs that you wouldn't be considered for unless you were part of an MBA program. And this, I would say, is really the hardest aspect of the MBA program to replicate. So, a top MBA program really levels the playing field. No matter what your background is, no matter what experience you’re bringing into that program, many companies will take you seriously as a potential hire if you are graduating as a part of the Harvard MBA class or the Booth MBA class. And so, if one of these opportunities is what you really want, if that's what you're hoping to get out of business school, then probably the MBA alternatives are not going to satisfy you. But getting access to great job opportunities is really contingent on your network in the first place. This is really the difference because when you're in business school, you're part of the Wharton, the Kellogg, the Tuck MBA-recruiting network, and companies are coming to participate in that network and to hire people out of those programs. You can still cultivate your own relationships and make inroads to the companies that you want to work at, using the people that are already part of your life. If you really know how to work your network, you will never be starved for opportunity because opportunity comes from relationships. The MBA makes a lot more opportunities available to you in a short timeline and without you having to do a lot of work, not no work, but do a lot of work to build that network for yourself. Still, however, if you want access to these opportunities, there are ways to create them on your own.

Can You Find These Aspects Elsewhere?

So, if you look at all the things that the MBA provides uniquely that people tend to go to business school to gain, what I've decided here today, what we've discussed, is that there are ways to replicate almost all of those aspects of the MBA outside a formal MBA program. So, depending on what you really want and need from the MBA, hopefully you found some advice today that will help you get that outside of business school if you decide that business school isn't actually the right choice for you. The last thing I want to say about business school and as an alum myself and when I talk to my clients and my friends who graduated from business school, one of the most important things that people say about the value they got from business school, that wasn't necessarily what they went in to get, but it was ultimately the most valuable aspect of business school for them is a sense of inner confidence in their ability to lead in a business environment. And this kind of confidence comes partly from the education, partly from the friendships and like collaborating and actually trying to make things happen, at least in simulations, but even sometimes in live situations during the MBA, and it also comes from going through the recruitment process and succeeding in getting a job post MBA when you're competing with all these other amazing people, it's really everything that we talked about that builds this sense of confidence in oneself to go out and lead in a business environment. And truthfully, one shouldn't need an MBA for that. But almost everyone I know who has an MBA would say that they got that from business school and they don't know how they could have possibly gotten it anywhere else. And I'm also in that camp. I really have to say that personally as I have gone about building my business and developing my career, the MBA is a dividing line for me. There was before the MBA and after, and my confidence in myself and what I can contribute is exponentially higher post MBA than it was pre MBA. Again, it seems a high price to pay to build that kind of inner confidence and I think if you wanted to do that yourself, what you have to do is learn. You'd read the books and then you’d go learn and apply it in a mentorship environment where someone can be partly responsible for your growth and your ability to implement the lessons you've learned. You'd build that inner confidence by doing, which is ultimately how we all do it, but it starts with the catalyst of learning something new, gaining new skills, and then being able to apply them and to be able to trust yourself that it will go well when you apply them.

So, Are Alternatives To An MBA Worth It?

So we started this video asking ourselves if the alternatives to an MBA are worth it. My answer is absolutely! Every dollar, every hour you spend investing in your own development through whatever avenue will pay off, that's just how it is. So if you're interested in any of the MBA alternatives, I hope you'll check them out. I've engaged, I've consumed a lot of them, and I actually have an MBA. So you can never overinvest in your own development as a professional, as a leader, and as a competent person. Whether you decided that you're going to go for one of the MBA alternatives or you're going to go straight for the MBA yourself, you can find me right here, every Monday on MBA Monday. Good luck. I'll see you soon.

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Angela Guido

Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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