Since I began business school two-plus years ago, people have been asking me if I enjoyed it, if I’d recommend it, if I thought it was worth it.
All the while I gave a rather boilerplate answer. Something to the effect of “Yea I’m loving it so far”, or “too soon to tell”, or “I’m enjoying the challenge.”
Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it it’s hard to be reflective and honest with yourself and even harder to give practical advice.
Having said that, with a newly minted degree in my rearview mirror, I now think I’m at least somewhat suited to present my responses.
Going back to school is awesome. Yup, it’s true. And here’s why:
You’re able to reflect. When you’re grinding out a 9–5 job or hustling away as an entrepreneur, there’s not a lot of time think about your career. You’re too busy hacking away at your todo list, filling out those tps reports or worse, in a lethargic state of mind. It’s hard to be contemplative when you’re always on the go. When you’re in school mode, it’s much easier to be relaxed and set the proper inner construct for reflection.
You’re able to dream. When you’re busy hustling away, you’re worried about making your next dollar, your next deal — not scheming for what’s next or planning your future. Business school is all about planning for what’s next. Their infrastructure is set up to help you figure out what you want to be when you grow up. In fact, their incentives are set up in a way that they are judged primarily based on the placement rate of graduates. Make sure they earn their keep by dreaming big.
You’re able to talk to smart people about smart things. I love hanging out with my friends, but it’s not like we get together and talk politics, M&A or VC. The most thoughtful conversations we’ll have is dissecting the Montreal Canadiens power play (shoot more and stop the dump and chase!). Instead, it’s nice to spend the time debating interesting businesses cases with passionate, motivated, like-minded people and professors and confidence boosting when you can carry a conversation.
You’re able to organically grow your network. For most people, myself included, networking sucks. Going to conferences and events is so unbelievably forced, and unless you are super extroverted or have a well-thought out plan they’re an enormous waste of time. Networking events are all about “what can you do for me”, or “how can I help you”. For me, formal networking is a bullshit way to grow a strong network. In school, however, you bond with classmates over group assignments, cramming for exams or just beers after class. These relationships, these authentic relationships, are exponentially more powerful and significant. And then, years down the road, when Joe ABC becomes CEO of Company XYZ and you start asking “what can you do for me”, or “how can I help you”, they’ll listen, they’ll care and they’ll be much more willing to help you out. It’s the long game, and it always wins.
At the same time, I would not recommend an MBA for everybody. An MBA is super expensive relative to tangible benefits you’re most likely to receive (average salary bump and tools and skills). And the cost is compounded through your 2–3 year hiatus from earning any real money (side-hustles aside). That’s opportunity cost at work for you MBAs out there….
If you ask me, there are only a few specific contexts in which an MBA makes absolute sense:
1. You majored in arts, engineering/CS, foreign languages…etc. Pretty much anything besides a bachelor’s in commerce or economics; there’s just WAY too much overlap and redundancies. Plus your brain is already wired to understand business concepts. With that base, you can learn masters level stuff by subscribing to the Harvard Business Review or other publications, reading great books and taking some online classes (MOOCs).
2. You get into a top business school. This is probably the biggest caveat. Take a look at this list. If your school is not in the top 30, don’t go. You’re throwing away your money. And when the list shows Harvard, they’re referring to the Harvard, not Canada’s Harvard or Romania’s Harvard — Harvard’s Harvard.
3. You understand precisely what field or industry you want to be in and then you choose the school that fits that requirement. If you want a career in technology and dream of living in Silicon Valley, go to Stanford or MIT. If you dream of working at McKinsey, go to Wharton. Make sure your school is focused on your interests. Do not compromise. McGill, for example, funnels their graduates towards a career in consulting (not big four firms, see point 2) or investment banking. All their resources are dedicated to those fields. It extends to the type of teachers they employ to career services to guest speakers. Hence, if you’re a marketer or tech buff, it’s not the school for you. If you want a job in another area, no problem. Just makes sure your school’s core competency is aligned with your dream. Don’t waste your time otherwise.
4. You want a career in anything besides sales. If you want a career in sales, just sell. You can’t learn anything from two years of business school you can’t learn from making a cold-call.
5. You want to be an entrepreneur. Again unless you plan on getting into the Stanfords, MITs and Harvards of the world, getting your MBA is a waste of time if you know right off the bat that you want to start a startup.
Actually, I think it’s dangerous.
When you’re starting a startup you don’t want to think like everybody else. You need to have your own views on the business world and your own unique strategies to take on incumbents.
And when you pay an exorbitant amount for your education, anywhere from $50k to $250k, you’re destroying your runway. That mountain of debt reduces your ability to fail. How long can you afford to go without a paycheck when you’re required to pay $1k a month in interest? If you believe in your startup wholeheartedly, but can’t pay your rent, you can always go crash on your buddy’s couch for a while or move back in with your folks. There is no couch surfing debt.
So with that said, I enjoyed my time completing my MBA, and I’m proud to have done it. But it’s not for everybody. Like everything in life, there are pros and cons. Hope I helped shed some light on them.