Is an MBA worth it? The 3 main benefits

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Is an MBA worth it? Ask someone who has one and they’re likely to inflate its value, ask someone who doesn’t and you’re likely to receive advice against it, perhaps some outright hate. In this post you will learn:

The reasons people give for having done an MBA

The REAL reasons why they actually did an MBA

Main objections to the MBA and why they’re important

Whether to quit your job to prepare for the GMAT.

So again, is an MBA worth it?

 Excellent question, and certainly one you should not avoid asking. Any time you have doubts, I advise you to entertain those doubts and ask as many questions as you can.  

Ask people why they want to do the MBA or why they did, and here’s what you hear:

“Advance my career”
“Challenge myself”
“Work outside my comfort zone”
“Broaden my horizons”

The average MBA hopeful

Is that true? Well somewhat.

Sometimes, the answers are well disguised but generic. Example

“I want to transition from accounting and operations into forming company strategies”.
“I feel limited in operations and instead want to see the big picture and set company strategies”.
“I want to gain a broader perspective and understand the market from all angles of business”.
“I want to make a difference in the lives of others”.

MBA candidate with better story telling

To which my response is:

should you pursue an MBA?
Heard that one before

This is another

“Learn how to start companies”,

To which most MBA haters reply by

You don’t need an MBA to start a business already
MBA hater

(True you know – but not all entrepreneurs are created equal).

Though the above reasons are quite tacky, generic and lacking any literary punch (apologies if you thought your ideas were creative), they have some truth. They are not the greatest truth however, certainly not the most valid one.

Don’t think I was any better by the way

Here’s my ‘somewhat truth’ reason I used almost 10 years ago:

“I want to move from the service sector and transition into one of the big oil companies and create more sound energy policy, focusing on supply chain management”, or something to that effect.

Me 2009

(It worked by the way, and certainly you need to use such ‘cliche’ phrases, but the reasons are different – more on that below. Regardless, I ulitmately chose another path).

We all come up with reasons. If you ask anyone who did an MBA, expect a very well formed answer that suggests what was a clear vision and absolute clarity looking into the future.

Be very wary of answers given in retrsopect

Me 2019

Anyways,

The reasons you hear above are not untrue (After all you have to demonstrate you’re employable post MBA – that’s why you need them), but they are not the core truth. They are reasons and stories we tell ourselves and others to justify our choices (especially expensive ones) and put together a strong application. This is a conversation I had with a relative in his car a few years ago.

Him: So you’re doing an MBA

Me: Yes.

How much does it cost? I heard they’re expensive.

Me: Seventy thousand

Him: Seven thousand??

Me: No. Seventy.

Him: Seventeen???

Me: No no. Seventy. Seven zero thousand.

Him: Nods.

Awkward silence for a few hours.

My relative and I

I mean the guy was already a successful businessman so to him I seemed insane (or an idiot).

The MBA is an expensive pursuit. It’s a lot of time and money. For anyone who is not familiar with the environment it may seem like an unjustified risk and cost to your life, and you are better off pursuing a career change through alternative routes.

You yourself may be considering the following

  1. Applying for a new better job
  2. Making a career switch
  3. Pursuing an online degree on EdX or coursera
  4. Taking a year off and traveling through Asia
  5. Learning how to code (who isn’t?)

The landscape of careers and education changes fast, so one may question the wisdom in spending thousands of their money and almost two years of their life on an uncertain outcome.

It’s like trying to strike a target that’s always changing. You buy new gear and some new path or choice is now more shiny. What can one do with so many variables?

Is it the right target?

How do you decide whether to MBA?

Ask yourself why you’re really considering an MBA, career, or life change in the first place.

The real honest answers you will find are same as the ones I had and many others had but may not have wanted to admit or were not even aware of. Don’t be embarrased about why you’re worried about the future.

Trust me. You’re not alone.

So, without further ado

Reasons why people really pursue an MBA but never admit

“I hate my job” – guilty
“I feel stuck in my life” – guilty
“I hate my boss” – I actually liked my old boss – great guy
“I don’t know what to do with my job” – I knew I didn’t want
“I hate where I live” – perhaps I was too negative
“I am bored” – I had phone ring anxiety, so they certainly were not boring times, but not good for a sound mind.
“I don’t know what the hell to do with my life” – guilty
“I feel trapped” – guilty
“Everyone is doing it and I feel left behind” – so so.

Feeling lost in life is not unusual. Most of us are at one point or another in our lives, and we are bound to be in that spot at some other time in the future.

If you relate to some of the reasons above, then consider a career change. If you are guilty on most then you HAVE to make a change.

 Life change. Not just career change.

What change is another question (but we’ll get to that in a moment).

Why am I telling you this?

Because if you are considering an MBA, then it usually means you are sufficiently unhappy, perhaps unconsciously, with a significant proportion of your life, and when you are unhappy you are bound to make dangerous (dumb) decisions that can manifest in the following ways:

  1. Quitting your job and life to focus only on the GMAT for a year (bad decision – more on that later)
  2. Forming an obsession with the GMAT and trying out every single solution out there and wasting a lot of money when you’re score is not improving.
  3. Applying too soon to business school and submitting a weak application.
  4. Applying to the wrong school.
  5. Not resolving your real reasons of unhappiness. Even though you may emerge with, yes, a better more high paying job, you will have debt, more responsibility, and consequently more unhappiness.

Fix the unhappiness first

Usually, the unhappiness comes from a lack of purpose or goal in life. Find out why you are unhappy. An MBA will not fix it. Perhaps it will only delay your unhappiness. Understanding what you want may lead to ‘happiness’ or more adequately: purpose. If you find a calling or purpose, then you can move through life. You will be happy 20% of the time, which I think is not bad. If you have purpose you can cut through that unhappiness with a clear direction towards your goal.

20% happy is good. Trust me. If you’re always happy then you’re not.

You may find happiness during the MBA, but the MBA will not be the solution. If you are not sure what you’re getting into then the expense you take upon yourself will be extremely stressful first day of class.

Think buyer’s remorse except it’s more expensive, there’s no return policy, you’re in a foreign land, and the life change is too public for you to back down in front of your clan and suffer humiliation (albeit only in your head).

So should you pursue an MBA? I have had a positive experience, but you have to be very clear about what you get out of it.

The three main benefits of an MBA:

MBA benefit number I: Information

And not the stuff you learn in class. That’s easy, and you can learn it off the internet for free. The real value is what you learn from tens or hundreds of other people in your class. Think of the MBA as a very long networking event where you hang out with others your age for about one or two years. You become part of a network whose bond is forged through an expensive form of hazing.

This will last you a long while, and you will learn from your peers new ways to think, work and live.

A popular word today is ‘awareness maps’. So for about 18 to 20 months you will get to see and understand other people’s awareness maps or alternative realities (some a bit out there).

It doesn’t mean you have to change your reality. It will certainly be enhanced as you become aware of other ones.

That’s incredibly valuable. Perhaps the most valuable thing you will get out of the MBA. So yes, indeed if you are admitted remember the most value will be the time you spend with your peers, learning about their life vision and experience.

Your life skills vs their life skills

Understand that the things that come easy to you may well be a super power to others, and vice versa. For me the super power I learnt was better time management and the value of artificial deadlines.

You think your power point presentation needs one whole day blocked off to finish?

Think again. The next time give yourself only 1 hr and 15 minutes and your mind will take care of the rest.

The greatest learning experiences will happen outside the classroom. Looking back, the most important lessons I learnt were outside the class with the people from my class (and their people).

MBA benefit number II: Serendipity

“That MBA program is a party program”

MBA naysayer

To which I say: Good.

Go to as many parties as you can (but show up to class the next day).

That intro you need for the job might be at that meet-up you just missed.

That job you want at that bank? The hiring manager was there.

That investor you wanted to meet? His cousin was at the party.

What’s the point of what I am saying?

Am I telling you your dreams will come true at the MBA?

No, I am telling you that the bigger your network and the more frequent your meaningful interactions, the more likely you are to stumble upon something that will multiply your life’s trajectory by a factor of 10.

Luck is proportional to the sqaure of interactions you make.

I won’t claim I came up with this

MBA benefit number III: Brand

The stronger the brand of the school, the easier it is for you to open doors.

Period.

Whether or not this is good or bad, right or wrong, is another matter.

Whether you like it or not, social status can be achieved via

  • Creating an insanely incredible invention
  • Wealth
  • Making a great movie
  • Being a great writer
  • Having a degree from a reputable university.

A prestigious degree does not mean its holder is particularly gifted or better than you. It just means that he or she has paid the dues to get one.

It’s just another tool in a bag of tricks.

It’s not the only tool one can acquire.

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t acquire it.

BUT,

It is an advantage for a few years.

Again, right or wrong, fair or not is not the point. The point is:

Will it open doors? Yes.
Will it be an advantage? Yes.

How long will this be the case?

I don’t know.

But I do think that information, networks and brand will always be useful regardless of how they are acquired.

ME

So now, ask yourself:

What door do I want opened and is the cost worth it?

you

Perhaps you one day want to:

Become better at setting business strategy
Learn to trade
Start a business

Is the MBA for you?

Let’s first respond to some MBA hate.

You learn business by doing business.
You learn trading by trading.
You learn how to become an entrepreneur by being an entrepreneur.

To which I respond

True
Also True
100% True

However, here are some considerations

You don’t have a mentor that guides you in business or the mind of Sun Tzu.

You have no idea what trading is or how it’s done, or you’re don’t have Warren on speed dial.

You have no special skill, uniquely identified problem, and extreme competitive advantage to start a business.

Or like me, you were stuck in a job with no way out and the most realistic chance at the time was an MBA.

What do you do in this case?

Do you start a business on the side? Do you…

LEARN TO CODE?

Or do you partake in an MBA with the hope that during the two years you will get a better idea about your career path, perhaps discover a business opportunity, and if that fails, you will nevertheless end up with a better job, larger network, and a new outlook on life?

The downside is OK at worst.

Always think of the worst possible downside to any pursuit and decide whether you can survive it if it happens.

The downside of a failed venture is dire. (I ate lentils for a long time – for another day).

To me the decision was as follows:

Be stuck in an industry I don’t like for the rest of my life.

OR

Take a chance with some debt, and open the opportunity to something new, with the downside being that I will be back at the same spot if I fail, with better pay.

The decision was easy.

After all, most of us are not Warren Buffet and certainly not the intersection of superior coding skills, timing and the luxury and ability to experiment towards a profitable business.

Starting a business is scary, painful, and requires that you set yourself up for repetitive experimentation.

So what do you do in this case? Start a business or pursue an MBA or learn how to code or learn a new trade?

In any case, do indeed pursue a new purpose, outlook and career in life but think about minimising the downside in whatever choice you take.

The MBA is just one of many paths to more options

And that’s how I encourage you to think about the MBA. It’s one, of many, many, ways to redefine your career and life path. It’s not the only one, but it’s one that comes with the advantage that, if it fails to lead to spectacular results, it will probably provide you with a better outcome because of (I repeat from above):

What you learn from others, network, brand

Remember that the most expensive information is the information you don’t know you don’t know. Who the hell knows what you don’t know and what you may come to know. Information is a super power – especially information you don’t know.

Another thing I learnt for example is that what you can do for a living does not have to be traditionally defined. In fact, you can create a life where you can sell your skill and pretty much live anywhere you want (it’s not easy, requires a lot of sacrifice, but it’s doable – but that’s for another day).

I also learnt that whatever you think you’re good or smart at, there is probably someone out there 10 times better than you are. Find them.

Pre YouTube post YouTube

Yes. For me the MBA may not have been the only way. But this was pre youtube explosion, pre edx, pre coursera, social media advertising, coworking spaces, and crazy startup mania blitz on steroids.

Maybe you can learn these things now for free online. But remember, that the disadvantage of the online experience is less contact with real people.

And the most valuable learning experience comes from interaction with others in the real world.

The naysayer can object that you can do that by cheaply backpacking in Asia and reading a lot of books.

To which I agree. If you have the resources by all means do, but provided you go to a school with a good brand, downside is minimised.

For the risk averse, or the young professional who cannot afford to make a mistake an MBA is a backpacking event from which you emerge with a better network and generally improved work prospects.

In short
a. Probably have a better job after your long networking event
b. You will be hanging out with others who are looking for a better career. As the saying goes,

        “The company you keep….

I understand that the landscape of education and career is rapidly changing, has changed already, so pick a program that’s keeping up with the times and be very aware of what you get out of the program.

An MBA is more a networking event where you learn from others than a formal education

But, remember that whichever program you go to, it will NOT be a golden ticket. You will have more access to better jobs and opportunities, and the brand name will give you some introductions, but any unhappiness or stress you experienced before will be amplified when you graduate unless you sort that out.

So, sort your life out by first asking yourself what you really want in life.

gmatbuddy

Don’t relax when the MBA starts and think you’re done. Keep searching and learning about career opportunities. Finding purpose takes time and experimentation.

Pursue an MBA or start a business? Practical questions.

Well ask yourself this

  1. Are you unusually gifted in a skill that is in high demand?
  2. Do you know how to find customers and sell to them?
  3. Do you have the means to indefinitely survive as you experiment ?

If yes, then start the business.

10 years ago I certainly had no unique skill I could sell, or at least I had no idea that I did.  What was missing was new information  and a bigger network, which I found.

The scary thing about information is the information that you don’t know you don’t know. And that’s where I think the main value of the MBA lies.  Two years of being around information new to you. 

In that spirit, my first advice is to begin by gathering as much information as you can. The purpose of this is to discover what you may want in life.

Do you have a calling?

If yes –>pursue.

If not then ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you a reasonably successful professional with some leadership experience?
  2. Are you unhappy in your job?
  3. Do you lack some vision in life?
  4. Do you have a hard skill you can sell?

If you answer Yes, Yes, Yes, and No, then an MBA can be for you if you are ok with:

  1. Not working for a couple of years.
  2. About 150 K debt upon graduation.

Now, debt is crazy. So if you answered YES,YES,YES,NO then I invite you to:

Sell your expensive car.
Stop going on expensive vacations.
Sell your fancy clothes and watches.
Stop going out for dinner.
Save money to graduate with no more than 40 – 50 K debt – less if possible.

It’s still a lot, but it’s not crippling. And cetainly not as risky or expensive as withering away in a career you are unhappy with.

So save up some money, apply for some scholarships, take on as little debt as you can with the purpose of minimising the downside in order to take advantage of:

New information
Larger network
Brand to open doors.

Is this plan fool proof?

No. Spectacular success is a prospect, though not guaranteed, but the downsides are manageable and the gains are valuable at the least.

Should you quit your job to prepare for the GMAT?

NO!

That’s a bad idea most of the time.

I thought I would have time to address this here but my post has been too long. My next post will explain why you should not quit your job to only focus on the GMAT.

Why listen to me?

That’s just my story.

Before the MBA I worked as an engineer in the oil industry, on call all the time and suffering from ringxiety (that’s where you imagine your phone ringing when it’s not).

Now I help others prep for the GMAT, design elearning websites, live with a writer in Barcelona, and play guitar well enough for a Smooth-haired Fox Terrier.

But what do I know.

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