Read This Before Getting an MBA Degree

Here I am, father of five grown-up children, 37 to 22 years old, all of them working in small high-tech companies, all of them college grads, two of them with graduate degrees. And, while my MBA studies were exactly what I wanted, and worked great for me, not one of my five kids has a business degree, much less an MBA. Yesterday somebody asked me why that is. This post is my response.

1. Don’t do it for the money

Search Google for Is an MBA degree worth it? and you’ll find lots of people showing that the average incremental income linked to an MBA degree doesn’t compensate for the expense plus the lost income for two years. They’ll use buzzwords like opportunity cost. Ironically, I’m sure my MBA degree paid for itself in money terms many times over, but the analysis seems to indicate I’m the exception, not the rule.

So why do it (and if you have to ask, that’s a bad sign)?  You do it because you want to learn about business: entrepreneurship, marketing, finance, operations, strategy, management, planning, and so forth.

2. Don’t do it when you’re on the way up

Don’t ever quit an exciting new job to go get an MBA degree. Do quit a boring job or one you’ve mastered so much you’re not learning any more. Do use an MBA effort as a catalyst to change locations, the life you’re living, your business interests. Don’t do it when times are good.

3. Don’t do it if you hate school

If getting your undergrad degree was a long hard haul; if you don’t like school or classes or homework or teachers; then you’re going to hate the MBA program. You know who you are: some people like school, and some don’t. If you don’t like school, even if you successfully dragged yourself through it because you’ve got good discipline and you’re highly motivated, then you’re going to hate the MBA classes. And that’s hell. That wasn’t my case. I’d grown up (finally) when I went back to school.

4. Do it at the best school you can get into

Listen carefully for a while and you’ll start to hear people saying so-and-so is “Harvard MBA” or “Stanford MBA” or “Wharton MBA” and so on, in a way that changes the title to incorporate the school name. Northwestern also works for that, Duke, Babson, and for sure a few others (and I apologize for leaving them out). I have to recognize that this is easier said than done, because they are tough with admissions and expensive, but there is a difference between an MBA from one of these name schools and the MBA from one of the others. Even that return-on-investment analysis that I brought up in point 1 above looks much better when it’s an MBA from a name school.

5. Don’t do it if you can’t afford it

My wife and I worked my way through. I didn’t have scholarship or family money. I worked a lot at consulting while studying full time. We ended up with a lot of debt. But in the end, we were able to afford it. It was a lot cheaper back in 1979. If you can’t make the money side of it work, if it’s going to be two years of financial hell, don’t do it.

6. Don’t sacrifice a lifelong relationship for it

There’s a catch 22 problem here: first you have to say, if it’s a matter of either your marriage (or a lifetime couple relationship) or your MBA degree, forget the MBA. Lifetime relationships are way more important. But the catch is: in a healthy relationship each person makes the other one better. When I quit a job to get an MBA my wife encouraged me. “Let’s take the risk,” she said, “if we fail we fail together.” We’re still married. If you’re married or in a real long-term relationship, and your spouse, partner, or significant other doesn’t like the idea, it could easily destroy your relationship. That’s too big a sacrifice.

And be honest with yourself on this point too: if you really want it and the boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t care enough about what you want, realize it’s a bad relationship anyhow, one person pulling the other down, then go get the MBA anyhow. Meet somebody new.

Yeah, I know, that last bit has too much paradox.

18 thoughts on “Read This Before Getting an MBA Degree

  1. Great advice, Tim!
    I earned my MBA from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and fit into the category of someone who LOVES school and a university environment. When looking at a business school and deciding where to go, one of the most important things to me was a school’s alumni network. A big part of the experience was forming lifelong friendships with top-flight classmates and having a large alumni base to assist in my career development.

  2. Even though I read your blog for the business and BP advice, this is one of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve ever read anywhere: “if you really want it and the boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t care enough about what you want, realize it’s a bad relationship anyhow, one person pulling the other down”. Unfortunately I learned that lesson far too late.

  3. This is definitely a great response.

    Thank you so much Tim.

    I’m just starting down the path of deciding whether I want to get my MBA or not, having already completed my undergrad in Business, and I stumbled upon this post.

    Some great insight, and I really appreciate it.

    Thank you Tim.

  4. Thank you for this post. I am a 36 year old who has gone back to school to finish what I started over a decade ago. My desire is to move up with the company I am already with and I am seriously considering going for my MBA because I think at some point in my career that will be what pushes me to the top. Definitely some good things to consider before I decide.

  5. Hi Tim,
    Thanks a lot for your post. I am a 24 year old in the position you described in bullet point #2: a job where I have maxed my potential so I appreciate the tips you give. I appreciate your factoring in the aspects of personal lives as well.

  6. It is really inspiring that a nice article .lam aged 28 years pursuing MBA in one of the universities here in Kenya, putting into consideration rule no. 1 &4 but against rule no .6

  7. pls am about going for an MBA degree but confuse whether it will gain me employment (dont have a job).Also what area to specialise.doing it with crawford university what is your advise for me pls.

    1. Austin, my opinion is that there are more practical ways to get a job than by getting an MBA. If you were to put the effort into job hunting that you’ll have to put into getting an MBA, you’re likely to find one. How much the MBA degree will help depends very much on you, and somewhat on the placement services of the institution that gives you the MBA. And what you specialize in should be what interests you the most.

      As I say in the post, the MBA isn’t the easiest or the best way to find employment. It works only if you’re interested, you can afford it, and you want to know what they’re teaching.