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Is an MBA right for you?

October 11, 2012
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When weighing whether or not to pursue an MBA, every prospective student’s situation will be unique. There are quantitative considerations, such as how much one makes prior to a degree and potential earnings after. But there are also qualitative considerations. An engineer wishing to transition their career from a technical to business role can use a MBA to help make that career transition. Additionally, two years in a dedicated MBA program can provide a great life experience and personal growth opportunity.

Two years is quite an investment, and the truth is, I’m of the age where I can consider returning to school to get my MBA.  So, to get a better insight of whether an MBA could be a good choice—even for me—I spoke to my coworkers here at NerdWallet.  We’re quite a diverse bunch, with those that have obtained their MBA, those who have bypassed it and those who are still considering it.  It was a great learning experience for me and here are the key takeaways:

Pros:

Employment Mobility:

In some industries, obtaining an MBA may be the only way to advance up the employment ladder.  For many young workers that have extensive experience in an industry, two years in an MBA would allow them to advance farther than working in industry those two years.

One graduate I interviewed had obtained extensive industry experience at a very young age by working full time throughout her undergraduate.  By a few years out of undergraduate she had peaked in growth in her position:

The only next move for my career was to make partner, but because I was so young, I wouldn’t be considered for quite a few more years.  All the partners had Business school degrees, so I saw this as a good opportunity to advance my career, rather than wait while doing the same tasks in my current job.”

Exploration:

Many of those that I spoke to that went in for the MBA to advance their position in their current industry were surprised by how much exploration they experienced in their MBA program.  For employees who are performing the same tasks in their industry and have plateaued in their learning, this might be what they need.

According to one graduate who held a job in a prestigious Venture Capital Firm,
You just don’t know while you’re in the job.  You’re so focused on the things in front of you.  I liked the people, I liked my job—but in B-school I was allowed to take a step back and try new things.

Another graduate who had a background of successful hedge fund management stated,
Business school was transformational for me.  I went in not expecting to get much out of it, but it changed the way I think about jobs, how I manage and how I view my work.  I would highly recommend [business school] to anyone.

Networking:

It’s no secret that a lot of the benefits of B-school can be outside of the classroom.  Networking with other classmates, alumni and even the staff allow for many B-school graduates to find a job they desire after they graduate. The graduates I talked to spoke of an alumni network and internship opportunities that came directly from the Business School.

Cons:

Unnecessary:

Is the MBA really necessary for upward mobility in your industry?

Those that passed up the MBA cited that they believed working in industry for those two years would allow them to advance just as far as if they had left for an MBA.

As one coworker who had passed up an MBA noted,

“There was definitely a point where I was contemplating an MBA.  I saw many of my coworkers and old classmates enroll in business school.  However, I also saw many of my classmates accomplish a lot and mayn were doing very interesting, worthwhile things with their time—and they did not have an MBA.  At that point I decided that an MBA wasn’t necessary for me, especially at the cost of tuition and the job I’d have to give up.”

Opportunity Cost:

A MBA degree may very well boost your earning potential, resulting in a substantial rise in your compensation. However do not forget to include the opportunity cost of not working for two years while you attend a full-time MBA program. Two years of lost earnings can dramatically change your ROI calculation.

So, what side was I convinced more by?  I honestly have to say that I still don’t think I have enough experience to make that call yet.  But truthfully, I was impressed by the answers of the graduates.  I had heard all of the answers of why NOT to get an MBA, but I had never really talked to those with an MBA to hear their side of the story.

The best piece of advice that I received from both sides was that if you do decide to get an MBA, you have to know why you are getting it.  Know what you expect to get out of it–this could change as you go through Business school, but knowing what you want will help you through your search and help you choose how to spend your time if you decide to attend B-school.