Get a MBA? Pros and Cons

I got my MBA 8 years ago.  It was a good use of my time, attention, and money.  That said, there are a lot of MBA skeptics out there, and they have good reasons.

3 CONS of the MBA:

1. MBA inflation: MBA programs are not created equal, there are more than 100,000 MBAs awarded each year.  A plain MBA (however you define that) is just not valuable on its own; the program’s pedigree and regional brand matter.

2. MBA is temporary: Peter Drucker said it 40 years ago, but knowledge workers should never stop learning.  A MBA is perfect at a certain stage of your career, but that is temporary.  Steven Covey said to “sharpen the saw”.  Seth Godin said to “Learn all the Time”  As trite as it sounds, it is true: What Got You Here, Will Not Get You There.   The value of a MBA at age 45 is about as valuable as a BA/BS is at age 30.  Which means, not very.

3. MBAs are not free: I would say that 1/3 of the value of a MBA is the core learning: marketing, strategy, statistics, negotiations, finance, accounting etc. . .  If you look at the curriculum at top MBA programs (e.g., UCLA, Michigan, and Yale) that is what you will find.

As shocking as it sounds, you can find a lot of that online for free.  For fun, I put together a nice curriculum for you from Coursera (one of the big MOOCs)

Some will say that these courses (e.g., Princeton) are not MBA-level programs, and that many are only 5-6 weeks long.  Fair criticism, but let’s remember it is free.  Clearly you can get 50% of MBA-type content online.  Not perfect, but if you are looking to get smart on a topic, it’s a great start.  You have the opportunity.  No relief for the lazy.

So why bother with a MBA?  Depending on the program and the timing in your career, it might be exactly what you needed.  For many of us, our career progression looks like the first S curve in the graph.  It ramps up, but then slows down.  For many of us, it’s when we are 27-33 years old and its when a lot of people head back for their MBA.

The MBA helps you jump the S curve in your early career.   It is a step-jump to the next level of career path.  You’ll note that the MBA doesn’t do anything for your next jump.  That one is up to you and has less to do with your credentials, and more with your achievements.  The MBA helps get your 1st good job out of school, but not your 2nd one.

When a MBA makes sense

4 PROS of the MBA:

1. Relationships: You meet good people.  Diverse people from different countries and professional careers. Lots of personalities – but all motivated learners.  Although I have been out of school for 8 years, I still email and talk to people from my MBA class monthly.

It is the relationships that last.  Trust me, after being out of school – being able to calculate the WACC (weighted average cost of capital) is a lot less important that being able to call a MBA buddy for some advice, referral or a favor.

2. Recruiting: My first consulting role was as a campus hire.  If you are looking to break into management consulting, the easiest entry point is through campus recruiting.  Transferring as a lateral hire into consulting is not an easy or a pretty process.

3. Redefinition: For those who are career switchers, MBA is the way to go.  I saw people successfully move from the military, or education, or sales to management consulting.  I came from a B2B marketing / strategic planning role and made the switch.

4. Recharging: If you are fortunate enough to spend the time and money for a 2 year full-time program, MBA life is a luxury.  It’s a chance to do college right.  The formula I came up with :  MBA = Business Learning + Good Paying Jobs + Solid Friends.

For those interested, there are many websites on MBAs, but here are the 2 best ones:

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5 thoughts on “Get a MBA? Pros and Cons

  1. Thanks for this helpful article. I’m beginning to do research in the space attempting to determine if I can build my own MBA experience through two years in three major cities outside the United States. My end goal is to make a career switch (mortgage banking to Impact Investing), get out and see another part of the world, and earn my stripes on the ground floor in countries I’ll ultimately be investing in.

    I believe the relationships I will build along the way will serve me well on into the future and prepare me for the ever connecting global economy.

    I will be enrolling in language classes in each of the countries (India, Kenya, and Brazil).

    I’m curious as to how much the credential will be relevant for me down the line. I will be working with high end investors, likely to hold MBAs, in the Impact Investing space.

    Should I consider linking up with a university, offering to be a guinea pig of sorts for whatever information they stand to gain in return for some sort of credentialing. Have you ever heard of a university doing so?

    Could speaking engagements and books during and upon my return hold enough strength to overcome the lack of MBA credential?

    Any thoughts you have would be helpful.

  2. Hello, I am not an expert in this field, but universities are rigid and traditional institutions. They will likely not be willing to offer a credential (e.g., a formal degree) to you or specifically 1 person, on an ad-hoc basis. They are just not that flexible.

    A few follow-up questions:
    – Is a MBA necessary for you to achieve your goals?
    – If not, what are the specific skills, experiences you need to reach your goal?
    – Would it be useful for you to do some informational interviews with people in the field you are going to?

    In terms of next steps, speak with people in that field, and see what approach makes the most sense. Also, be willing to think laterally as there are typically many different routes to get to the same place.

    Best regards,

    • Thank you for the reply. I appreciate the questions you pose and do plan on tackling them next. Whenever planning, I find myself bouncing back and forth between pushing ideas forward and jumping ahead to the end goal and working backwards. I’ve spoken with a few in the field already, but I’m sensing the need, thanks to your help, to use the next few weeks to fully engage with a wide arrange of highly regarded professionals in the field, discover what their day-to-day looks like, what skill sets are of highest value, and what suggestions they have in most quickly getting there.

      I’ll keep you posted as this all develops.

      Thanks again. I greatly appreciate the time and insights.

      • Surely. MBA is a fairly regimented way to go. Very useful for banking, management consulting, brand management, corporate finance etc. For entrepreneurship, non-linear career paths. . . not so much, in my opinion. Keep trucking on.

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