May 18, 2007

Plan to pursue an MBA? Read on...

Here are excerpts from a BusinessWeek Debate...

Peter

May 15, 2007 04:56 PM

I personally don't think the MBA pays off. I received my MBA from a "non-recognized" program, and of the companies I worked for, most small to mid-size, none of them paid above market price for extra training. All they cared about was your past experience. Also, if 80% of all business consists of small companies, and small companies don't really care about the MBA, why get one?

Midwest
May 15, 2007 05:32 PM

I have 20 years of work experience, and I just received my MBA from one of the "not so prestigious" schools this year. After having worked very hard on my grad degree, I can say that a few years of working will provide most people with a similar amount of knowledge. The MBA hype is more of an "I did it, so you need to do it" situation. MBAs look awfully good, especially to others with an MBA. I work for a very large company that does business around the world, and I will receive no additional compensation for my efforts.

brainfreeze
May 15, 2007 06:02 PM

People used to say the same thing about not needing a bachelor's degree that they now say about MBAs. Bill Gates couldn't get a job at Microsoft today with no degree. Times have changed--again. At my company, more and more jobs posted say MBA required. I've been turned down for jobs that require an MBA, even though I have more than 15 years of professional experience. Don't be fooled; get all the education you can.

Back2theBooks
May 15, 2007 06:42 PM

I don't have an MBA but am considering getting one. I think more and more people are getting them, and to compete in the marketplace, it's necessary. I'm just not sure if I'll do an online program from an accredited university or a traditional program. Anyone have thoughts on the pros/cons of either program?

Sean
May 15, 2007 06:50 PM

My experience was very different from those described in the first two comments. One of the most valuable networking techniques is to relocate. You're forced to build new relationships. I attended a full-time program from a top program in a city I had never lived in. That created a dynamic that made the location alone worth the two years. I could have just gotten another job in another city, but I hated the niche I had made myself valuable in. It's not just about the paycheck. Job satisfaction is critical. I now have a job that I would do for a lot less money. In the end, my quality of life is better because of my MBA. There are other paths that could have led me to this same place, but the discipline of a rigorous full-time program was right for me.

Rasputin
May 15, 2007 07:00 PM

Anyone going to business school with the primary goal of making truckloads of cash is clearly misguided in his career. Second, there are certain industries (management consulting being one) where an MBA is a basic requirement for landing an interview. If one wants to explore the consulting career option, an MBA makes perfect sense.

The question is whether you want to chase dollars or let dollars chase you? If you are good at whatever you do, the latter will surely happen.

Robespierre
May 15, 2007 08:31 PM

Rasputin,

I am not certain what your point is, and your quaint people chasing dollars chasing people example doesn't help at all.

Are you suggesting that having a primary goal of making "truckloads of cash" is itself a "misguided" career goal? Or are you instead suggesting that going to B-school to make "truckloads of cash" is misguided in his career--one that may focus on making truckloads of cash--pragmatically since "if you are good at whatever you do, "[the] dollars [will] chase you"? It seems to me a fairly important distinction.

If (1) all jobs pay the same, and (2) there is equal access to consideration for any position in any sector as well as, (3) absolute certainty as to the abilities of candidates, both of your possible points would make sense to me.

But, your cake is disappearing as you eat it. As you note, "there are certain industries . . . where an MBA is a basic requirement for landing an interview." These industries presumably offer pecuniary remuneration in excess of those industries that consider non-MBA applicants. If the difference is less than the direct and opportunity costs of attending B-school and there will be no further future benefit, you may be right if your (implied point) was the latter of the two I consider. Do you really believe this to be the case? If so, you should have shown as much.

In practice, individuals with the natural ability to pursue an MBA from a top-tier institution are likely to see pecuniary compensation in excess of the opportunity and direct costs of the two years studying (even assuming such an individual personally paid for the education). When I was at Penn in the late 1990s before the bubble burst, there were few undergrad Wharton students even talking about business school. Instead, what mattered to them was the pecuniary gain, and it was not enough to offset the other costs.

These people chased dollars, and they succeeded at that goal. As smart people in a mobile society, they demonstrated abilities in other subjects as well. In fact, these people often received the best marks in classes primarily composed of anthropology and history majors. Should they have pursued the truckloads of money or what they were best at? Or, do you even believe that they would have been compensated differently since, ceteris paribus, they were superbly qualified to do both?

Ankush
May 15, 2007 08:47 PM

I agree with Rasputin. I have more than 5 years of experience in the high-tech industry. How much more do I need to get an interview with McKenzie and the likes? Not sure...I don't know when I can expect a break. Apply the 80-20 rule, my friend. If 80% of the time, an MBA from a prestigious school will land me a shot at that interview date, I'll take the 80% shot.

UC MBA
May 15, 2007 08:48 PM

I'm going to a "top 100" business school. What does that mean? Most likely, not the $90K+ starting salary that the top 5 will give you. However, my thought process was: I'm in the military; I have eight years of soft skills and needed to learn some of the hard quant skills to make a better transition to corporate life. Plus, I wanted to have an MBA as a discriminator, so I could say yes, I have an MBA, or it was on my resume.

As for Back2theBooks, if you are looking for a fresh start I would definitely go with a traditional program. On militarymba.net, there is a lot of discouragement about getting the likes of a University of Phoenix degree—that is, unless you work for a corporation that only cares if you get an MBA. For example, the government/military only cares if you "check the box" and have a master’s degree; they don’t care where you got it.

Nick
May 15, 2007 08:57 PM

I went to a Top 3. It has opened many doors for me, gotten me a dream job I could not have gotten without an MBA, propelled my career, allowed me to meet brilliant people who I consider my best friends, and given me the chance to sharpen my leadership and teamwork skills in a nonprofessional setting. I agree that education is not a requisite for success (i.e. Gates), but it certainly does help a majority of people improve their thinking ability and widen their networks. Hey, we all aren't born to be Kirk Kerkorian or Bill Gates.

mbaALUM
May 15, 2007 09:28 PM

Get an MBA to learn not to earn. Value is how you measure it, not how others perceive it.

Rasputin
May 15, 2007 11:11 PM

Robespierre,
Thank you for actually reading and making a sincere effort to understand the rambling of a drunken monk.

I just wanted to convey a thought: Don't do an MBA with the sole intention of making more money. Learn to think beyond this rather myopic perception of an MBA. You will be much happier with the outcome.

Now, the next question is whether you ask about your bonus check or the bonus check is a pleasant surprise every time.
--HTH

brainfreeze
May 15, 2007 11:37 PM

@Back2Books: What I've been told from those who have an MBA is online doesn't offer you the networking opportunities and anecdotal learning from peers that classroom does. I'm still on the fence myself about delivery format.

Ayush
May 16, 2007 01:34 AM

Quite a generic and shallow debate. MBAs done exclusively for monetary gain have never been fruitful, and exceptions are always there. There can be hundreds of CEOs around the globe with a history of dropping out and not having MBAs, but there are hundreds more who do have an MBA degree.

Robespierre
May 16, 2007 03:20 AM

Rasputin,

Thank you for reading and attempting to understand the ramblings of a drunken (recently graduated) lawyer.

All things considered (i.e., working in Madrid as a lawyer for what amounts to the same salary with a J.D. I would have with my undergrad degree from Penn), I should have gone for an MBA over a J.D. But, I wasn't considering such things at the time....sigh. Then again, despite the low salary, I've never been turned down after an interview in Madrid. The signing benefits work. They just don't earn you very much.

Best regards.

Chris
May 16, 2007 08:34 AM

I'm currently in a (per Businessweek) a top 50 program. For me, it came down to this: Would I feel better about my chances in a job interview with an MBA in my pocket or not? It's one more tool that gives me an edge over the guy next to me. Furthermore, if I look even within my own company, more than 90% of the executives above me (I'm in middle-management hell at the moment) have an MBA. My chances of moving upward internally will be increased.

Do I think an MBA is required to be a top executive or successful entrepreneur? No, not at all. There will always be folks like Bill Gates. They are, however, by far the exception and not the rule. Playing the odds shows that the more education you have, the more likely you will be able to rise further. To me, that made it worth the time and money to pursue an MBA.


Back2Books
May 16, 2007 08:59 AM

I appreciate the comments. In doing an online MBA, or "distance learning" as they call it, I would only go with an accredited university (i.e., no U of Phoenix). Duke has a program and so do a few other top 100 schools.

Most have a residence requirement meaning you would do most of the work online (message boards, conferencing, video, podcasts) and then you would have weeklong trips to the campus to see the people in your cohort. So you get to see and network with people in person, not just online, yet it isn't every day.

With all of the technology, so much work is done online now that it makes sense to me to work with teams (many of the online MBAs have a large teamwork component) online just as I do for work. I rarely have face-to-face meetings with vendors, so why be face to face with other students twice a week?

My concern is that I don't want my MBA to be thought of as "less than" because I did it in the nontraditional format. Same teachers teach the online classes, and the degree doesn't say Duke Business School online, it just says Duke.

WG09
May 16, 2007 09:59 AM

There are many career paths where you reach a ceiling both salary-wise and title-wise without an MBA. This is especially true in corporate finance and investment firms that require MBAs.

I also think an MBA gives breadth and depth to the resumes of people who have worked at one company in their first few years after undergrad and been promoted quickly. It removes the question: Are you really this good, or did you just get lucky?

All this being said, I think if you already make six figures and are going to invest in $100,000 loans and go full time, you should try to stick to top 10 programs to ensure the ROI is high enough. If top 10 is not where you fall academically, an MBA certainly still puts you ahead of those without one, but part-time may be a better financial option.

Matt
May 16, 2007 10:42 AM

It disturbs me that so many individuals are still focused on making themselves more marketable in the job market. I, too, considered obtaining an MBA but realized I could pull the courses' syllabi and read those books. As a business owner, you don't slap your MBA on your business card. Nobody cares. The only thing your clients or prospective clients care about is whether or not you can get the job done right at a equitable price

Regardless of your education, I can promise you that you will make some big mistakes, and that is where the real education comes from. If you are a true learner, you will learn from them and subsequently prosper.

SN
May 16, 2007 11:28 AM

I am an IT professional currently finishing up an executive MBA from a Top 20 school. Within my own company, a whole new set of doors has opened up, and the executives no longer talk to me as the techie in the cubicle with no understanding of the business.

The new networks and a view into the world outside of your industry are tremendous benefits of being in the MBA program. Yes, it is expensive, but my new job gets me more than enough ROI.

Dan
May 16, 2007 11:35 AM

Not all MBAs are created equal.

There is a strong positive relationship between rankings and salary--the higher your ranking, the higher your salary. This relationship persists on a cost-adjusted basis (viewing salary net of the student loan payments for two years of tuition and living expense, hereinafter referred to as cash flow).

On a cash-flow basis, there are two schools (the usual suspects) that produce annual cash flow in excess of $90k, 15 that produce in excess of $80k, 25 that produce in excess of $70k, 45 that produce in excess of $60k, 65 that produce in excess of $50k, and then a few also-rans that produce between $40k and $50k.

Note I have not adjusted for the opportunity cost of two years' excess earnings (salary net of taxes and costs). Nor have I mentioned that the higher the post-MBA salary, the more likely it is to come from a consulting firm, an I-bank, a money manager, or a mega-corporation--and that three of the above four will expect you to work 60 to 100+ hours a week.

All things considered, I would expect there to be significant buyer's remorse at all MBA programs outside of the top 15 to 25.

I should mention that I am graduating from a top school this month and am pleased with the outcome.

Ted
May 16, 2007 01:01 PM

Regardless of one's career goals and expectations prior to entering an MBA program, the bottom line is that in today's marketplace, having an MBA will open more doors for career opportunities in the corporate world. It's a credential that symbolizes many things (hard skills, soft skills, polished communication skills, etc). So getting an MBA is not a complete waste of time/money, but the opportunity cost of not getting one is the potential compensation increase.

jim
May 16, 2007 01:34 PM

Having worked in middle management for 16 years at GE, I decided this year to get my MBA at Emory. Do I expect to make more money after this experience? Not necessarily. Do I think that my networking prospects will improve? Most definitely. Also, it really helps shake up the stigma of being with the same company for as long as I have. So at the end of the day it's been a positive growing experience.

Danny
May 16, 2007 01:44 PM

Any discussion about the benefits of an MBA that treats the experience as a commodity is missing the point. All MBA programs are not the same, and the benefits of earning an MBA are not uniform across all paths to that degree.

Remember that once you have an MBA, the first question you'll be asked for the rest of your life when someone learns that you have the degree is, "Where?" The ROI you can expect from investing in an MBA experience depends on your answer.

Yasser
May 16, 2007 02:34 PM

I'm getting my MBA part time at Michigan while working full time as a medical-device sales representative at Johnson & Johnson. Having said that, I am not a huge believer that the MBA is "worth it" in the vast majority of cases after examining opportunity cost. My company is picking up the tab at a top 10 school (top 5 for marketing, my focus) while allowing me to continue earning an attractive salary and bonus. That meant the only investment I had to make was time, and in that sense, it was totally worth it for me. I'm 27 years old now and will graduate by 29, so I figured, why not use these few years to get the credential instead of being out every night partying? Bottom line: All people need to think for themselves and analyze their own situations, not rely on some universal determination of what an MBA is worth.

JB
May 16, 2007 02:38 PM

@Matt

Overall, you make some good points, but...

"I, too, considered obtaining an MBA but realized I could pull the courses' syllabi and read those books."

This is the way I used to think; then I realized that at least 50% of the value of an MBA is in the network you gain. Also, so what if you read those books? Nobody is going to believe you. However, if you graduate from a top MBA program, that is evidence you not only read the books but also had to pass tests to prove you understood them.

"As a business owner, you don't slap your MBA on your business card. Nobody cares."

OK. But not everyone wants to be a business owner. Some of us want to work at an MC, IB, or top corporate firm. Now tell me that recruiters from such firms don't care about you having an MBA from a top program.

"The only thing your clients or prospective clients care about is whether or not you can get the job done right at a equitable price."

But how do they know whether or not you can do the job? If you are in business for yourself, you might have a string of past references. But once again, not all people want to go into business for themselves, or if they do, they need to gain experience at a top-notch firm and then strike out on their own.

Tarun
May 16, 2007 02:52 PM

Here's what I feel, and would like to know from you all if I am wrong:

There's always a doubt in most of us whether we need an MBA or not.

I would say spend some time alone rather than posting. Introspect, and make a firm decision and do that today.

1. If you are a born leader and have passion to excel, you will never need any sort of degree to prove yourself. Choose your line, and go ahead--face the world but never regret.

2. If you want a good and easy-going life, get an education of your choice and get balance in your life. But don't regret.

3. Realize your dream, and make a decision; it's your choice at the end of the day. Nobody counts how many bucks you have. It's the respect, knowledge, and power you should have.

4. If you do not feel [like getting an MBA], go and enjoy your life.

5. My advice is try to be an entrepreneur and put your best efforts there. You will learn everything you always wanted to.

Michael R
May 16, 2007 04:11 PM

I have an MBA from a Top 15 school, and it has done wonders. Doors are open that would not have been in new career paths. And from an earnings perspective, it has been night and day in terms of what I make now vs. just 2 years ago. But, a few key facts that need to be considered:

1. All MBAs are not equal. Outside of maybe the Top 30 schools, you won't see much lift from an MBA from the 1,000s of programs that have sprung up all over the place, so don't waste your money. There are people I work with now who went to a local university at night to get their MBAs, and they are given no credit for it, nor should they. What they learned one night a week does not compare to the intensity of a full-time two-year program.

2. An MBA is an accelerator. You have to have those critical basic skills to begin with for an MBA to truly provide value. So if you don't have the basic leadership traits, strategic/analytical thinking, and a strong passion and drive, it doesn't matter what school you go to--you won't be successful for long.

3. Of course you can be successful without an MBA. But as long as many of the top companies require one to even interview or get promoted, I would rather have one in my quiver than bang my head against that glass ceiling for the rest of my career without one.

John
May 16, 2007 04:54 PM

A top-tier MBA is only necessary if you want to crack Wall Street finance (read: investment banking) or management consulting.

Other than that, enroll in a program that suits your time, budget, and expectations, and focus on networking and actually developing yourself into a decent manager an leader.

Demanding the MBA credential is a convenient way for companies to absolve themselves of the responsibility of investing the time and resources in hiring qualified, experienced candidates.

They wrongly assume the MBA has trained someone in management, and for that matter, management consulting or investment banking.

Furthermore, I find it ironic that the Graduate "Management" Aptitude Test has absolutely nothing to do with assessing management potential. Any dean's want to respond to that?

The MBA is overrated, and a significant reason applications are higher than ever is not because students are seeking the intellectual adventure. Rather, they do so because the companies have established it as a minimum criterion for associate and middle-management positions. When the system rewards a piece of paper, people have no choice but to fork out the cash. Otherwise, go work for a small company or become an entrepreneur.

Sunny
May 16, 2007 06:53 PM

If you are planning to work for a company operating in traditional space (like the auto industry) where pace of innovation is slow, an MBA is important. On the other hand, in today's IT industry or tomorrow's biotech world, where rate of innovation is relatively faster, an MBA can turn out to be optional since ample entrepreneurial opportunities exist in such places.

Midwest
May 16, 2007 11:45 PM

Good MBAs vs. mediocre MBAs? My MBA is better than your MBA? Sure, some schools are better than others (way better), but the elitism of top 30 vs. top 100 vs. all the rest is readily apparent in several posts.

I've worked closely with staff that have had MBAs from major (top 30) schools and those from less prestigious schools, and I've seen little difference in them. Why? Because so many programs stress metrics only and zero management skills.

These jokers step out with their newly minted MBAs and somehow feel privileged to run the world. They have no interpersonal skills but also have no idea how to conduct themselves other than to toss numbers around and then data spin. A couple of them were downright thick-headed and couldn't analyze their way out of a paper bag.

There is nothing that suggests an MBA is a requirement for success. Many who get one find themselves with greater opportunities, but I would venture to say that vastly more find limited returns on their efforts.

I received my undergrad with honors from a college recognized as one of the best in the world (yes, the world). In the states, it's always mentioned in the top 2 colleges in its area of specialty. I know what a difficult and demanding education asks for.

Online programs require multiple days of interaction each week (usually a minimum of four days) and consume far more hours than most people think they do (my minimum was 20 hours of time spent on schoolwork per week with only one class at a time).

I am a father and a full-timer, and dropping everything to go back to school was never an option. The online world was a blessing, but I never fooled myself into thinking I was getting a Northwest or Harvard MBA. I got what I worked hard for and also what I paid for. Those $99K programs are only for those thinking they will work on Wall Street.

Get an MBA only if you want one--not because you think you need one or that you'll suddenly become legitimate if you attain one.

Arjun
May 17, 2007 02:28 AM

An MBA acts as a perfect bridge between your careers. From law into finance, from IT into management consulting, etc. Whatever you want to do, an MBA will make a difference. Also it breaks your monotonous work life.

Accepted
May 17, 2007 09:47 AM

I've been accepted into a top three school to begin this fall, and without having even started, I've already seen huge benefits. The recognition and network that is instantly made available is unreal. If you have that opportunity, it's a no-brainer.

Naveen
May 17, 2007 10:10 AM

I think all the hype surrounding the MBA is just bogus. I have been working for more than a decade in various fields, and I have yet to meet an MBA who actually needed it or for whom the education made a difference.

Sometimes I think MBA is just a "sophisticated" way of filtering people for investment bank jobs. And nothing more.

Augustus
May 17, 2007 10:50 AM

I have an MBA from Creighton, obviously not in the top 50 but probably in the top 1,000 or so. Whether the MBA is important or not really depends. My goal was to succeed in my own business, so I wanted good exposure to all aspects of a business.

One thing about education that people don't understand is that it is very hard to stop and develop the basic skills once your career is in full gear. The MBA gives practical skills and knowledge to build on. When you have your own business and survival is critical, such skills are vital.

So my answer to whether an MBA is useful is that it depends on your long-term goals.

Thanasis
May 17, 2007 10:56 AM

An MBA is not just a postgraduate course. It's a lot more. How can anyone judge an MBA when he/she doesn't have one? People who depreciate the MBA course in this debate don't really have one. The only real MBA course is the full-time MBA. Online and part-time MBAs are ersatz.

Cheers.

Chitra
May 17, 2007 12:17 PM

In the IT world, you constantly hear about "upgrading" of skills. You upgrade by not only learning new languages but also learning them in such way that you can build and remodel technologies. There is always a body to certify these skills. And upgrading in nontechnical fields can be learned via the right MBA.

My choice is an MBA from a top school, because here you get what you pay for. I work as an independent business research analyst. I have the necessary experience (8 years) and expertise for the job, but more companies would be comfortable to work with me if I had a MBA.

Cleo
May 17, 2007 12:47 PM

I have an MBA from a top 25 school. The coursework was not particularly technical. Anyone who was reasonably well-read already could not have learned much from the program. The degree has value in helping one compete in the escalating educational arms race. My company is currently requiring MBAs for positions that were previously open to those with bachelor's degrees or in some cases, high school diplomas. As discussed previously, requiring an MBA is a lazy but increasingly common way to screen candidates.

ujjib
May 17, 2007 02:01 PM

My thoughts:

1) Never let an MBA convince you on how great his school is and how going back to school was the best decision he could have made. Hyping the program and school is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It just can't happen that so many people can be happy with the product (especially one so expensive) they get. It is just not human nature to be so satisfied.

2) MBAs are good, and it is primarily because of the highly motivated and talented people who choose to go the MBA way. We need a test/control approach to see where these people would go without an MBA. Can't do that, but the high number of non-MBA people at the top tells us something. We can also look at countries where there is no real culture of professional business education to act as a control.

3) The counter-argument above by Cathy Dove (from Johnson/Cornell) is BS. Firstly, she is never going to take an objective view as she is a dean of a B-school. Second, she talks about consumers and recruiters being smart and hence the increasing applicants show the value of MBA. My instincts say that the b-school success stories get overhyped (the rest of the stories are never told), the recruiters are mostly MBAs themselves (they want more of their kind), and schools want more tuition. Finally, she talks about ROI and says that it is better than most investments. Again, there is no control to compare it with, and also she doesn't really talk about the risk/return trade-off. You expect higher returns on a risky investment.

4) I think b-schools are more about business than about schools. They certainly lack the sanctity of higher education, there is no real pursuit of knowledge, the application and decision-making process is nontransparent (do you really need ED?), case study approach is still theory, grade nondisclosure betrays the students' fear of competition, clubs can be so artificial etc.

Gallant
May 17, 2007 02:37 PM

I am wondering: Does this debate apply to master's degrees as well as MBAs?

Calvin
May 17, 2007 04:48 PM

I am a year out of my undergrad, and chose to read this thread because I am interested in doing an MBA. I'm not going to get into the debate regarding the value of an MBA. What I am more interested in is, what does it take to crack into the top MBA programs? What can I start doing right now to make myself a good candidate for these programs?

I'm not knocking people who didn't attend the more highly ranked programs. My intention to go back to school is to better my education when the time is right. It is truly for a learning experience, not an effort to increase my earning potential. With that being said, getting into a top program is key to getting a good return on your investment. Any pointers?

(Courtesy - BusinessWeek)

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