Is a “Bad” MBA Program Worth It?

Do MBA rankings and the MBA brand of your chosen actually matter? With the disappointing conclusion of “it depends” aside, Angela Guido is here to put you at ease in the MBA application process that any reputable business school is more than likely to help you get to where you want to go. Even at a time where, apparently, business school applications are down (data, anyone?).

Our YouTube channel’s getting long in the tooth and we’ve approached this topic from other angles before!

MBA Salary
Is an MBA worth it?
Do MBA Rankings Matter?

YouTube video

Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Now, I know it's an incredibly controversial statement to say that the brand of your MBA doesn't actually matter, because anything you read on the Internet will tell you something along the lines of: if it's not a top 10 program, forget it; or top 5 or bust; or the lower-ranked MBA programs aren't worth the investment. There are a lot of people who are saying that the weaker, lesser-known, less popular MBA programs aren't worth your time and money…

Hello, everyone! Welcome back to MBA Monday. I'm Angela Guido, the founder of Career Protocol, a Career Coach, an MBA Coach, and someone who is deeply passionate about helping you achieve your dreams and get what you want in your career. Which is why we get so excited when we read headlines like, The Job Market Is a Problem for Harvard, Wharton, Other Top MBA Programs in the Wall Street Journal. You may have read this article quite recently that says that MBA applications are down at all the top schools. Now, part of my job is to help people get into business school so why would I be excited to know that MBA applications are down? Well, because we don't really care about business school at Career Protocol. I know that sounds crazy. What we really care about is helping people get what they want in their career. The fact of the matter is, there is no job on this planet for which an MBA is truly, truly required. Even when employers say they prefer an MBA, it's just a proxy for the kind of knowledge and experience base that they'd like the applicants to have. You don't need an MBA to do anything. You can do anything you want in life without an MBA. Now, that doesn't mean that the MBA isn't a really great vehicle for lots of people to bridge where they are today to where they want to be faster and more expediently than if they just climb the ladder on their own. So, of course, the MBA is a very valuable degree for many, many people, but it's not necessary, and it's always great to see that people are happy achieving their goals and dreams without the expensive investment in an MBA. So this relates to the topic I'm going to talk about today, which is why the brand of your MBA doesn't actually matter.


1. Why A Good Business School Matters

  • It provides career opportunities
  • It provides the knowledge to succeed
  • It provides future opportunities

Now, I know it's an incredibly controversial statement to say that the brand of your MBA doesn't actually matter, because anything you read on the Internet will tell you something along the lines of: if it's not a top 10 program, forget it; or top 5 or bust; or the lower-ranked MBA programs aren't worth the investment. There are a lot of people who are saying that the weaker, lesser-known, less popular MBA programs aren't worth your time and money. That may well be true for some of you, but the fact of the matter is, the brand of your MBA doesn't matter that much, and it certainly doesn't matter for the reasons you think it does. So when most people talk about wanting to get into a top-ranked MBA program, what they're mostly thinking about is, how will my MBA pedigree be perceived by the average person on the street? This school has a better reputation worldwide. This school has a better reputation across North America. But when you're looking at the brand of the MBA from the perspective of its mass appeal and from its reputation, what you're basically saying is, I want the guy who's pouring my coffee to be impressed by the brand of my MBA. But if you think about the reality of business school, first of all, the guy pouring your coffee — hopefully you're not telling him where you went to business school, that would be super douchey — but that guy is not in a position to give you a job. If you think about what really does matter about the caliber of your MBA program, it's three things:

  • The first is that it needs to equip you and provide an opportunity for you to get the next job that launches you wildly successfully on the pathway that you want to follow. So you need opportunities in the short term.
  • The second thing you need is the knowledge and information to be successful in your chosen career in both the short and long term. So that's like about content. It's about information, it's about the academics, it's about what you learn.
  • And then the third thing that the MBA needs to give you is the ability to source future opportunities again to help you fulfill your long-term career dreams, and if you think about where opportunities come from, they come from other people.

So this means that you need to be able to find great employers and or great employees vis-à-vis your network. So when you think about how the brand of the MBA impacts these three things, most top business schools — top 30, top 50, even top 100 — are going to have a career placement system that's going to facilitate you getting a decent, if not great job post MBA. Second is the knowledge, information, and learning, and for sure, there are some programs that are more rigorous and more challenging than others. Even among the top ranks, there's quite a range in terms of the caliber of the content of the information you'll be learning at your MBA program, but the vast majority of top reputable and again, like top 100 reputable MBA programs, including online MBA programs, are going to give you the knowledge and information you need to be successful in whatever you're going to do in the long term. It's the third thing that is really the most important to think about vis-à-vis the brand of your MBA, because remember, we said that we shouldn't really care what the average person on the street thinks about your MBA program or whether they even know that it exists. This is kind of akin to like, you might prefer to have a Rolex watch, but that crappy Swatch will tell time just fine, and if the goal is just telling time, you don't need the super expensive fancy one. Yes, it might impress people on the street, but it doesn't actually improve the quality of your life that much more, and when you talk about the extent of an MBA investment, it's too much of a price to pay for the cachet of a brand that's going to impress strangers. The people that you need to impress are your future employers. Most employers who hire MBAs know about most MBA programs, so you don't have to go to the top 3 to have a solid MBA reputation. Likewise, the vast majority of the opportunities that are worth pursuing for you beyond your MBA five, ten years out and certainly beyond ten years, are not going to come from the ether. You're not just going to apply to jobs online anymore once you get ten years into your post-MBA career. You're going to source those opportunities through your network. Or in other words, you're going to source them from your friends, from the people that you went to business school with, from the alumni that you got to know during the recruiting process and beyond, and ideally, your school has an alumni network that is fairly responsive. So when you're going out there looking for the CTO to hire for your startup, or you're looking for the next opportunity to uplevel your general management skills, there's someone in your MBA network who will respond to your email and give you a hand. Does it really matter if that person is from a top 50 MBA network or from a top 5 MBA network? As long as they help you get where you want to go, it really doesn't matter. So when most people think about the brand of the MBA is really, really important, what they are usually calibrating the importance of the brand against is fluffy, Inconsequential, vanity metrics. It's like, will my auntie who knows nothing about MBA programs, be impressed by the brand of my MBA? Those are not the people you want to impress. The people you want to impress are the people who can actually hire you or who can actually work for you. Those people are going to be significantly more impressed by how you treat them, the quality of your work product, and the impact you have post MBA, regardless of the name of the program that you went to.


2. Think Carefully About The Schools You Apply To

  • It provides career opportunities

So, as you are targeting MBA programs, think carefully about your school portfolio. I'm not saying that you shouldn't aim high, of course you should. The caliber of the education, the abundance of opportunities, and the clout of your fellow classmates will be higher at the highest MBA programs, at the highest-ranked MBA programs. But if you are in a position where the MBA is going to bridge the gap from where you are now to where you want to be in both the short and long term, then you don't need a top 3 MBA. You can likely take one from a top 50 or a top 100 or even an online program to bridge the gap from where you are today to where you need to be. So consider a portfolio of schools that gives you the chance to aim high, but to also ensure that you're getting an opportunity to make the leap that you want to make through the MBA. If you want to calibrate your statistics against target schools, go to and enter a little bit of data and you'll get a 25-page customized report telling you how your statistics stack up against the top 30 US schools. Any school on that list will almost certainly get you to where you want to go, and there are many more that are not on that list that will also get you to where you want to go.

So, as you're applying to business school, don't prioritize vanity metrics over something that's actually going to get you what you want in your career, even if that means skipping the MBA altogether! I wish you the very best in your MBA journey, in your career, and beyond. I'll see you here next Monday!

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Angela Guido

Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder of Career Protocol

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