As a relatively recently minted MBA, I am asked this question with some frequency. It’s a great and weighty question as business school is tremendously expensive (~$100K per year including tuition and housing + $XX(X)K in forgone income) and time-consuming (1 to 2 years of professional experience). Depending on where you go, you may all of a sudden disappear from the face of the earth as you’re transported to your business school bubble leaving your friends and family to wonder where you’ve gone for months at a time.
The right answer will vary by individual, but it depends on: Where are you coming from? Where do you want to go?
People pursue MBA’s for numerous reasons, including: switching careers, moving to a position with more responsibilities / pay, acquiring business acumen, and even starting their own business. Since everyone’s circumstances are different, I’ll give a few examples and possible reasons for / against going.
Some reasons to go…
- Promotion: Your company highly encourages an MBA to get a job at the next level, a bigger pay check, more responsibilities, and a fast tracked career path. Most importantly, you want all of those things more than zombies want brains.
- Industry Switch: You’ve been stuck in an industry that makes you want to stab your eyes out and desperately want to switch into another industry that gets you jazzed.
- Function Switch: You can’t stand your “function” as an internal compliance officer or consultant or investment banker. You want to do something “sexier” like product management or “dirtier” instead of strategizing in your ivory tower.
- No idea what to do: Business school is a pretty costly way to figure things out. However, there are some benefits: you could (a) meet people from varying backgrounds, (b) learn about various companies / industries / functions through classes and professors, (c) buy time to test and develop your interests, (d) keep progressing on your resume.
- No business experience: There are some (but few) people from non-traditional backgrounds in business schools, such as marines or doctors or ballet dancers. They may have no business experience but aspire to get into the business world. Getting an MBA could be a great way to transition, gain some business knowledge (through classes), and some (not alot though) of business credibility.
Some reasons not to go…
- Too senior: This is a very difficult one to assess as it depends on what you want to do after business school and which business schools you want to attend. Stanford and Harvard, for example, tend to lean towards the younger population while others, such as Tuck and Darden, have a more experienced student body. Generally, I think if you end up going into a cookie cutter bschool graduate job (e.g., Associate level at a consulting firm or Management Rotational Program at a Fortune 500 company), then I think it’s probably a bad idea for you to go to business school after 5+ years of experience (unless that’s the only thing you want). Most likely, you’ll be making more and have a more senior level if you stuck to your current job. (Imagine working at the same level of some management consultant with 3 years experience + MBA while you have 8 years of experience + MBA. Awkward!) However, if you want to pursue a job that not many MBA’s are flocking after (e.g., general manager at a sporting good company), then you probably have a good chance to use your previous years of experience to negotiate your way into a position commiserate to your seniority. However, perhaps you could have done that without the MBA?
- You didn’t get into a “relevant” business school: I put “relevant” here because I think a good business school depends on what’s good for you. For example, if you’re determined to work in California in the tech industry, then going to one of the less connected business schools in Europe, for example, would make a more difficult case. If you didn’t get into a business school with strong West Coast and / or technology ties, then you’re probably better off just moving to Silicon Valley.
- Same Industry / Function: You want to stay in the same industry / function. Also, your group / company as well as those that you would want to work for in future put little value on the MBA.
- Party like a rock star: Go to Vegas instead.
- Entrepreneurship: I have some mixed feelings about whether or not an aspiring entrepreneur should go to business school. On the one hand, I agree that business school can provide you an opportunity to meet potential co-founders, to have time for working on a start-up, to be surrounded by new ideas, and to have seed funding through business case competitions, etc. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s a pre-requisite for an aspiring entrepreneur to go to business school. If you know what you want to do and have some contacts, then you should just go ahead and do it. You might as well use your business school money for seed funding.