To MBA or Not To MBA?

MBAThat is the question – and one that I get asked, now that I have completed my MBA, often.

To start, we must all understand what an MBA degree is.  As defined formally, “the Master of Business Administration (MBA or M.B.A.) is a master’s degree in business administration, which attracts people from a wide range of academic disciplines. The MBA designation originated in the United States, emerging from the late 19th century as the country industrialized and companies sought out scientific approaches to management. The core courses in the MBA program are designed to introduce students to the various areas of business such as accounting, finance, marketing, human resources, operations management, etc.”

In short, an MBA program teaches students how a company operates or alternatively, how to operate a company. Be mindful, however, that an important aspect generally overlooked of an MBA program, as with most education, is that it is nothing more than structured guidance. What you choose to do with the guidance is solely up to you and that is ultimately where its value truly lies.

There are two main tracks in which you can achieve your MBA and they are solely predicated on where you are in your life and/or career. First, as a new college graduate without a history of real work experience, a traditional MBA program may be the best option for you. Its greatest benefit is that it allows you to continue learning and also defer those student loans you’ve taken on during your undergrad years. Granted, the hope is that when you come out of the program, you are better educated ergo you obtain a better job with a higher salary, which will help pay back your student debt – dare I say, faster?

Conversely, as an executive with some practical years of work experience under your belt, the newly coined “Executive MBA” may be a better choice. Be mindful of the fact that beyond these two main tracks, there are additional flavors of the MBA program and they stem mainly on how to obtain the education and/or whom to obtain it with.

To illustrate, online education is rampant in today’s digital world and the University of Phoenix is widely recognized as the original leader in developing an online MBA program. One of the inherent benefits (and I use the word “benefits” loosely) of online education is that it minimizes, if not completely eliminates the need to attend a classroom with your fellow cohort. (Side note: if you are interested in learning whether online education is a good choice in general, get some facts from a fellow Pepperdine Alum here.)

And alas, we have a program that is very close to my heart – the Pepperdine PKE program, of which, I am a graduate. It’s an executive program unlike any other that is tailored specifically towards senior executives who have either been leaders in large organizations or are CEO’s of companies – in an entrepreneurial capacity or otherwise. Unlike a traditional executive MBA program, my cohort within the PKE program consisted of senior thought leaders with years of practical experience. Ultimately, as I tell people, our conversations were completely different. It wasn’t a technology person wanting to make a career transition; it was the CEO of a company wanting to grow revenue in an economically challenged environment.

Now, to find some semblance of an answer to the question originally posed, I ask you, now that you are clear on what an MBA is intended for, does it fit into what you want to do with your life? If the answer is no, congratulations – you have answered your question and I encourage you to seek out what you love to do. However, if you have a love for business as I do, an MBA can be a wonderful educational tool, and more importantly, a wonderfully life changing experience.

Okay – now some of my quick thoughts on MBAs in general:

  1. One of the most common reasons people choose to enroll in an MBA program is because they want to make a career change (ex: technology person wanting to become a marketing person). Good, bad, or indifferent, sometimes you need those three letters after your name for people to give you a shot outside of the traditional discipline you were either educated or working in.

  2. If you don’t get into (or don’t choose to go to) an Ivy League school, it almost doesn’t matter where you go.

  3. Pick a program that best suits what you want. (I chose Pepperdine because of the PKE program – it had what I wanted in a program).

  4. A school is a business and a student is its customer – customers create revenue for businesses. At the end of the day, you are $$ for the school.

  5. Think about going abroad for a program – in addition to the education, the international exposure will provide you additional perspective that may provide future benefits.

  6. If you pick a program based upon how much it costs, you’re looking at it from the wrong perspective. Pick a program that you love because when academia starts to weigh down on you, that love is what is going to keep you moving forward.

  7. Don’t get fooled by MBA “info sessions”. Remember, it’s a marketing attempt and if a school, that teaches marketing as part of the MBA program, can’t market itself well in an info session – look elsewhere.

  8. The hardest part about any MBA program is getting in – once you are in, you’ll likely complete it because you don’t want to be that person in your cohort that failed or dropped out. You’ll feel like a jerk and further feel like you let others down. And don’t forget, you’ll have a cohort that will help you make it through – it’s part of the MBA code.

  9. A great program ultimately is defined by your cohort – your fellow folks that you are going to “share the educational field of battle with” for approximately two years of your life. Education is education… the books are pretty much the same across any program. It comes down to the people you do it with. If you love them, you’ll love your program even more. If you don’t, you’ll not enjoy your program – as much, or maybe, at all.

  10. Don’t get emotional – it’s just business!

Now that’s out of the way, let me ask you an even more important question! In fact, it should be the ONLY question you really ask yourself BEFORE you start down the MBA journey. What are you going to do with your MBA degree?

Personally speaking, I think one of the greatest losses is when a student completes the MBA journey and then does nothing to change their life with the guidance they received. Now, if that’s intentional, then fine but in many cases, it’s not.

What happens is that people just don’t know what to do? Initially, they are charged up and ready to make a change and then life comes calling (bills, student loans, family responsibility, reality, fear, etc.) and their focus shifts and they end up back in the rat race they originally intended to get out of – but now with an additional $100K+ of student loans.

So, before you consider going through the efforts of embarking upon a program, ask yourself the above question. Most importantly – be honest with yourself. You can still choose to do it “just because” but be intentional. Going into something with a false sense of reality will certainly yield a fate not desirable.

In my next post, I’ll write about the real hidden value of obtaining an MBA. I’ll give you a hint… it has nothing to do with the education.

To your continued success…

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