There is a lot of debate on the modern value of MBAs and higher education in general, especially in the U.S. Nonetheless, if you’re seriously considering an MBA, you’re probably thinking about one or more of the benefits it offers:
- Powering up your network
- Supplementing your existing skillset
- Helping make a career transition
- Advancing into higher positions/management
- Jump-starting your own company
But to actually commit to a school is a big decision, and considering the potential price tag, it’s not something one takes lightly. In this article, I break it down among a few different dimensions, and also walk you through my decision-making.
One of the main reasons most people go for an MBA is professional impact. Historically, it’s been viewed as a stepping stone to desirable positions in consulting, banking, management, and other prestigious careers. While that’s still the case today in many respects, there are many exceptions to this rule. Any prospective MBA student should ask themselves a few common questions:
- What are my career goals?
- What will the MBA provide?
- Does my dream job require an MBA?
- What are other avenues to achieve my professional goals?
And it’s OK to not have all the answers! Part of your time during an MBA program should be dedicated to explore different potential career paths, and to network with faculty, alumni, and corporations that partner with the university. But nonetheless it’s smart to have a gameplan, and to start developing that before you even start the application process for business school. There may be other alternatives that require less time or financial commitment. Can you pickup the same knowledge through online classes? Does your current employer give you opportunities and support your growth? How well are you able to organically grow your network? These are all questions that help evaluate your professional development opportunities.
To be honest, I wasn’t very clear on my career goals coming in, but knew the MBA would provide a great opportunity to network with people from different backgrounds. It also provides an opportunity to deliberately practice soft skill development (communication, leadership, conflict resolution) and get a basic understanding of finance, accounting, and strategy. I identified these as my most important professional goals, and knew the MBA would simultaneously help me achieve both. So far it hasn’t disappointed.
The costs of an MBA are often overlooked or neglected, as individuals may often side with what they feel in making the decision to attend or choosing a program. (This can also be extended to higher education in general, but for now we will narrow our focus to MBAs) While there’s nothing wrong with “going with your gut”, it’s important to consider the financial implications.
A common misconception or assumption students make is that after graduation, you’ll be able to land a job that pays at least 6 figures and after a few years, have no debt, a high-paying job and be set for life. Guess they should teach you present value of money before you enroll huh? I have come to know some students who were able to pay off loans Soon after they graduate, but also others who were saddled with it for years. Each situation differs, and you must also consider your own personal situation.
Much has been said about needing to get an MBA from a well-known school/program. Not necessarily. This ties to your career goals. Getting an MBA from a more prestigious university may provide more recognition from international companies, but does that really matter if you’re settled down and plan on staying in your region? There are many regional schools that offer great education and networking opportunities with alumni who have successfully advanced in or pivoted to their preferred careers.
This may also affect the types of programs you look at (Full-time, part-time, executive MBA, online programs). Do you want to work and continue earning income while attending the MBA? Will your company offer tuition assistance? If so, what conditions must you meet? How do you weigh grants/scholarships in your decision-making? How competitive must your application (including GMAT scores) be to get those scholarships?
Finally, two additional components to consider are cost-of-living adjustments and your financing options. Have you saved enough? Can you lean on help from family/others? What are local housing/food prices? (for international students) Will the foreign exchange rate be stable?
I wanted to continue earning income while studying, and filtered schools based on that criteria. While I eventually chose the most expensive of my 3 options (netting scholarships and cost-of-living adjustments) in final consideration, I did so understanding the financial costs of the decision. Luckily, I had been saving up for a few years and (very fortunately) had the safety net of parental financial assistance. In the end, I believed the advantages gained in having the Haas network, living in a favorable location, and obtaining a degree from a school providing global opportunities were worth the extra expense. But the circumstances for each individual are different, and the decision is one each person has to make for themselves.
Last but certainly not least, it’s necessary to consider your own unique situation. You actually should be considering this from the get-go – things such as the impact of your MBA on your relationships, family, social network, and others depending on what stage of life you’re in. Are you ready to uproot your network/life to go to an out-of-state (or international) school? Are you prepared for a long-distance relationship? Will the MBA alter the trajectory of significant life events (wedding, kids)? How will your loved ones react when you have to limit your time with them to attend school and do homework? How will you react? All are things you want to be able to answer or at least consider before pulling the trigger on a decision.
Additionally, think about what you want out of the experience. What post-MBA outcomes would you be satisfied with? What type of network do you envision having after graduation? In what areas would you like to see yourself grow? And perhaps most importantly: Is it possible to get there without an MBA? How?
It’s helpful to have a lot of these questions in mind when going to university info sessions and/or talking with current students and faculty. As you go through the application process, take advantage of all the information and resources available during recruiting sessions and online webinars. And if you do get into the more serious stages of recruiting, it’s highly recommended to take a campus visit, and talk to students while picturing yourself in their shoes.
One of the primary reasons I chose Berkeley-Haas is because of its location in a progressive, metropolitan area with lots of intelligent, forward-thinking minds. Having lived here before, I knew it always felt like home, a feeling I didn’t get in many of the other places I’ve lived (Boston, LA, Texas). Fortunately, I didn’t have to consider anyone but myself, and the move (from LA) wasn’t far. I made sure to attend as many info sessions, informal coffee chats, online webinars, and other networking events with students/alumni to learn as much as possible. I made trips to audit classes and visit out-of-town schools, and am so glad I did, because the experiential component made the difference for Haas. Seeing how students interacted with each other, professors, and even us prospective students at the time inspired me in wanting to become part of the Berkeley-Haas ecosystem.
It’s what you do with the MBA
Ultimately, if you do go the MBA route, know that it’s just the beginning. The minute you arrive for incoming orientation, there is a whole new set of decisions to make. What clubs to join? What leadership positions should to run for? To study or to
party network? It’s an overused cliché, but the MBA is truly about what you do with it, and to that end you should always be asking questions.