Career

Reader Question: Should I Get an MBA?

I graduated from business school with my MBA a couple years ago, and over the years I’ve received quite a few questions about:

a) Whether or not I would recommend an MBA,
b) If I think it was worth it, and
c) Any other advice I might have.

I hesitated to write this post because I wasn’t sure if there was enough interest and also because I am far, far from an expert on this topic. An MBA like any graduate degree is highly personal and so dependent on so many factors – from your career goals, to your personality, to the school you go to and the economy at the time. However, I seem to be getting more and more emails about this topic (maybe because application season just ended?) and so have attempted to share some of my thoughts here today.

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Yours truly, graduation day

Would I recommend an MBA? 

The answer from my experience is a definite yes. I loved my time in business school and it was two of some of the most fun, interesting years of my life. One of the best descriptions I ever heard was from a classmate and good friend of mine who said that two years at HBS was “a present to herself.” I totally agree. It’s one of the last times that you can take years off from your career to learn, experiment, have fun, travel, and actually have it be seen as a benefit on your resume. I learned so much while there and it also gave me a chance to live somewhere new, the beautiful city of Boston.

If an MBA makes sense to you given your personal financial landscape, career goals, and other considerations, I’d whole heartedly recommend it.

Was an MBA worth it to me?

From a financial perspective, my degree was worth it. I don’t see a problem with earning back the tuition/foregone income over the years and I definitely saw a bump in my salary after school compared with before.

From a career perspective, the best advice I’ve heard about a value of an MBA is that the biggest value you will get from it and your network won’t be in your first job – but rather your second, third, fourth, etc. In my experience, that’s held pretty true.

Finally, I would say that my MBA was worth it to me for a few other reasons. I met some great friends, that I now consider very close ones. You haven’t known your classmates for very long, but you’re all meeting each other while you’re a very similar times in your lives, with similar interests. I met people from all over the world and the friendships I made I consider invaluable. I also learned a ton and got the chance to travel a lot more than when I was working.

Any other advice to offer? 

Almost every question I receive about MBAs also mentions school ranking/reputation and how that may factor into the degree’s value. I would be lying if I said my advice would be to just “go with your heart” and not factor in a school’s reputation when making your decision. From what I’ve seen over the last few years, it seems that the MBA degree is heading down a similar path to the JD – a lot of graduates on the market, and a very competitive employment landscape . A school with a well known name is always going to be useful in protecting yourself against that – and can be especially valuable in international markets.

However, it isn’t as simplistic as just going for the brand name (of course)! I know plenty of people who could have gone to very famous, very expensive schools, but chose to go to other institutions for a variety of reasons (geography, cost, scholarship money, part time paid for by their company, etc). As long as you are reasonable, and understand clearly the benefit a school is providing you versus it’s cost, and are fine with the tradeoff, an MBA from a lesser known school can be the ideal decision.

 

Enough of my prattling now! I know that there are many readers (MBA and no MBA) who have great opinions, input, and are overall way more qualified than me to speak on this topic. So I’d love to hear from you all, whether or not you have an MBA – is the degree worth it? I’d love for the comments area of this post to eventually serve as the real resource for readers with questions.

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  • Eva
    April 27, 2013 at 1:25 am

    Great post Katherine! Though I come from the field of humanities and I’m terrible at math (which means no MBA for me – LOL), I know quite a few people who decided to pursue this degree and are very happy with how it helped them understand markets better and improve their job performance. Though by no means can I be considered an expert, I think that for someone who wants to work in the field of marketing / business / banking / finance etc. an MBA is a very good choice. From what my friends who pursued it have told me, it not only improves your marketing skills but it’s also a chance to meet new people from all over the world and – who knows? – maybe get the chance for some very interesting job interviews.

    • Jane
      April 27, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      I second this. Unfortunately MBAs are a requirement now like bachelor degrees were back in the days. As such, it helps you get a foot in the door.

      • Katherine
        April 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm

        I agree with the foot in the door comment – however I have found that if you are an internal candidate, know someone referring you in, etc – those “MBA required” jobs are a bit more flexible if you have the right experience.

  • Jill
    April 27, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Great post, which I bet will be beneficial to a lot of people. I don’t work in a business or marketing field but I have friends and family who do and from what they say it seems like an MBA is pretty much required at this point in so many corporations if you want to be competitive and get ahead, especially in NYC.

  • Megan
    April 27, 2013 at 11:56 am

    My brother-in-law considered getting his MBA. At the end, his work experience was considered more valuable than the degree. He makes a boat load of money now, is now a partner at his firm, and hasn’t regreted pursuing an MBA. So I guess it all depends as you stated.

    I know of other HBS grads, they ended up doing what they did prior but bumped up a grade level at work. Others job hop like crazy. One thing for sure, the MBA tuition is expensive regardless of the school you go to.

    • Katherine
      April 27, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      This is similar to me – and I totally think getting job experience is more valuable than an MBA. Your brother in law sounds like he is doing fantastic!

  • Anonymous
    April 27, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Wow! Harvard? Impressive!

    • Katherine
      April 27, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      Thank you however I should not by any means be taken as any kind of example of a successful H MBA graduate…!

      • Anonymous
        April 27, 2013 at 5:50 pm

        Why do you say? I find you to be successful and honestly, an inspiration. You seem to have a good job, a nice car, nice clothes. And beyond that (and more importantly), you seem to have a good husband, great lasting friendships, and you seem comfortable and happy in your own skin.

        Or did you say that because you don’t own your own company…..yet? 😉

        • Katherine
          April 27, 2013 at 10:00 pm

          You are too kind to say that, thank you! 🙂 No company in my future…unless one day I open that hand pulled noodle shop I’ve been thinking about!

  • Cee
    April 27, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I figured you had either a JD or MBA, but wasn’t sure if it was too personal of a question to ask before. It’s so cool to hear things from your perspective, Katherine. I wholeheartedly agree with what the anon above me said — you truly are an inspiration!

    I don’t have a MBA nor do I plan on getting one, so my opinions are ones of an outsider looking in. My brother just finished his application process and will be starting his MBA full-time in the fall. I also have friends/co-workers who’ve gone through the full-time route and some who chose part-time. I think what sets a MBA apart from other graduate degrees is the work experience necessity (even for law school, one can start right after undergrad). I imagine it must be extremely difficult for full-time students to go from making decent money to nothing for two years. Combine that with the possibility of student loans (could be up to $150k?), lots of graduates, networking being a big deal, then I do think it’s very important to place a big emphasis on school rankings/reputations. It may not be a big deal choosing between say, a school ranked 7 vs one ranked 14. I don’t know. But if I’m funding the degree myself, I don’t think it’s worth going to a school that others haven’t heard of/low in rankings.

    • Katherine
      April 28, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Cee you bring up some really great points. It is really hard to go from making money to not only foregoing that entire salary, but then paying out a ton for school – and that is where the ranking questions come in. However, if you get a huge scholarship, that can also swing it as well (As well as the allure of having an employer pay for a part time degree). Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • SS
    April 28, 2013 at 6:40 am

    Really interesting post. Thank you for sharing your experience and idea.

    I’m not working in business nor financial area, and I don’t have an MBA. But recently, I have been thinking about getting higher degree (not for myself for now). So this post is really interesting for me.

    Even though right experience could prove someone’s ability, it’s easy to imagine an MBA is requirement for somebody who wants to work in business like other degrees for other people. When I got my degree, I was told ‘welcome to club’, which means just people would take me seriously when I speak, that’s it. But I knew I needed that. Now I appreciate that system as young professional (especially I look young for my age too) since otherwise nobody would believe what I’m doing (I know some people referring me ‘that little girl’). Nowadays more and more people is getting degree so even though you can do that job without degree, you probably have to get it – to prove your ability and your seriousness towards your job.

    • Katherine
      April 28, 2013 at 6:30 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experiences too, SS. Best of luck and as a petite female I’ve been called “little girl” once or twice as well 🙂

  • Amy
    April 28, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Great post, Katherine! I wholeheartedly agree that getting an advance degree is always worthwhile, and if anything else, a present to oneself. It’s an investment that gives back in so many ways to go beyond what we do for a living. Of course, when one is a full-time student without the obligations of a career and family, it makes it easier to pick from a lot of great schools and curriculum.

    What are your thoughts on an EMBA program? We are looking to a few schools, including some locally here in Los Angeles, and campuses, including Wharton, up in San Francisco, where it’s a short flight on the weekends. At that point in one’s career, would you consider it more important to find a strong network, or to use the classroom experience to choose between campuses?

    • Katherine
      April 28, 2013 at 11:14 pm

      Hey Amy! What point in one’s career are you referring to, and would the EMBA be employer sponsored?

  • Groupthink7
    April 29, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Speaking on a personal note. I work in education and I have a MBA from NYIT and a MPA. I made more money with just my bachelors degree. I think getting a degree just to get a job is the wrong reason to want to pursue education. Honestly, I think that getting experience along with a bachelors degree is substantial. I know people who have just a bachelors and they make triple the amount of money that I make.

    • Katherine
      April 29, 2013 at 8:02 am

      Yup – I agree about the degree just to get a job. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • jenn
    April 30, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    What a great post! Thanks for sharing.

    I have great mentors and coaches who advised me to get my MBA. While none of them pushed me, I thought long and hard before I applied for the program that was right for me. I just finished my 2nd year and I have a lot of love AND hate for the program. I’m learning a lot and I feel a unique sense of accomplishment – however, I feel like I’m on the brink of insanity from sleepless nights and trying to survive my work week.

    However, the best advice came after I got accepted into my program. My mentor basically told me to get ready to receive a lot of hugs (since I’m not a hugger) and to get ready to see who my real friends are.

    ….oh…so true….

    From my experience, emotional support is really important. I’m a strong person, however, I can honestly say that I’ve been overwhelmed with reading and both work and school projects. But it was my friends and family that patted me on the head and helped me get back up again. Also, I found out who my real friends were when I had to skip out on wedding’s or on birthday’s. My real friends never made me feel bad for missing out and they knew that once the program was over, I’ll be back to the old Jenn…that would make time for them.

    Thanks again. I love reading your posts. 🙂

    • Katherine
      May 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Thank YOU Jenn for providing such a valuable point of perspective! 🙂

  • Chic 'n Cheap living
    May 2, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    I get asked that question as well and I always ask the person – what do you want out of an MBA and how will this school help you? If the answer is more on the lines of “Oh I just think it would be useful”, I’m not sure it would be helpful. I will also admit that I didn’t take as much advantage of my MBA classes, like entrepreneurship classes, that I should have taken back then.

    Business school was an intense and interesting personal experience. My group of friends there are among the coolest people I know and I now have friends in many cities around the world. I unfortunately graduated at the time of the economic crisis so our professional luck varied greatly and I hear that the job market is still tough (i.e. no guarantee of a dream job after school). I also didn’t make as much of the functional switch because I also switched countries. A potential student should be aware that it is very difficult to make both a career and country switch. As you mentioned, even now there are so many MBA holders that it somewhat diminishes the value for some companies.

    Like you, I also advocate potential students to apply for the best school they can get into in the most relevant field (e.g. Wharton/NYU for finance, Stanford for entrepreneurship, etc.) Even though I haven’t made the functional switch yet, I have found many incredibly helpful alumni.
    I definitely believe the biggest benefit of an MBA is the network (my husband’s boss liked the fact that he and I were alumni when my husband was interviewing for his job!) I have spoken to people that have attended other business schools and the fact that they didn’t love their MBAs also seem to be wrapped in the fact that they aren’t passionate about their schools or other alumni. So why get an MBA then?
    I know that b-school applications are still high but one really has to think whether hiding out in school and foregoing salary/additional work experience is worth it when she gets out.

    In a nutshell, think about whether it makes sense for your career and pick the right school if you go!

    xoxo,
    Chic ‘n Cheap Living

    • Katherine
      May 3, 2013 at 10:19 am

      Love this response and agree with so many of your points, especially the one around being passionate about your school. If you don’t feel enthusiastic about where you’re going to be for 2 years – should you really be going there? Thank you so much!

  • UrbanJungleFashion
    May 5, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I have been debating on the whole MBA thing myself. For those that don’t have one I would say not to worry. I myself make 6 figures (all below the age of 30) and don’t have a MBA. Do I want one? Yes, but I honestly believe that not only is hard work and dedication key, but as women, we get scared to leave our jobs and when we get new ones are are scared to ask for more.

    Never be scared. You place limits on yourself that way.

  • Diva In Me
    May 13, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Well, I’m definitely from a non-MBA side and I think my greatest achievement in studies was completing my Undergrads. I think secretly, my dad was the happiest and proudest man on earth the day my name was called on stage to get my certificate. Non of my family members can believe I made it and wonder how I actually skated through my undergrad LOL! Yea, I guess I’m not the studying kind.
    I’m glad you shared your insight. Those are some of the important points which my sister told me before she went to get her MBA. She wanted it for her personal achievement and attain more opportunities to work for larger companies and I suppose eventually strive for a larger number in the bank account. I saw her having fun but besides all those, I also think that getting an MBA requires greater dedication than Undergrads and more hard work. She’s almost done with her MBA and my family and I are about to attend her graduation soon. She’s the total opposite of me and in a way, I’m so proud of her for doing what she believes in and it made those tears when I saw her packed her bags and sent her off to Cali worthwhile =)

  • Sonita Lontoh
    June 4, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Katherine,

    For some reasons I tried to post twice on this subject, but it never went through.

    A few years ago, right after I got my MBA, I wrote an article “Is Pursuing an MBA Worth It?” for a magazine reflecting on my experience. It’s since then been repurposed for another publication last year. It’s rather long (so just read it when you have spare time), but may be interesting to some. As with anything, everyone has different reasons, experiences and the answers are different.

    http://indonesiamengglobal.com/2012/04/was-pursuing-an-mba-worth-it/

    As for me, to quote from the article:
    “So, was it worth it? Somewhere in that fog – and here is where business school comes in – is a set of tools any old Joe can use to improve his chances. Whether it is drafting a list of personal priorities and sticking to them, managing the brand called “you,” or learning how to apply a balanced scorecard to your business. I think b-school has allowed me to develop that sixth sense in trying to define a good business, similar to finding that elusive “soul-mate” — it is hard to define, but you will know it when you see it.” 🙂

    Regards,
    Sonita

    • Katherine
      June 4, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      Thanks Sonita! This is so helpful. I’m so sorry about the comments not going through!