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To MBA or Not to MBA? That is the Question

   Posted On: December 31, 2013  |    Posted In: Career  |     Posted by: Broke Millennial®

confused
How I feel when I start this thinking process.

The internet (and newspapers) are flooded right now with articles about making New Year’s resolutions. Some are about money, others focus on continued educations and a ton are about dropping those last 10 pounds that have been hanging around for a year — or five.

Instead of making a stupid goal that I’ll give up on within six weeks, I’m focusing more on crafting a larger life plan. In 2014 I’ll turn 25 and feel it’s the time to decide the big “what’s next?”

Unlike many of my peers I’m not interested in some of the more typical next life steps like moving in with a significant other, getting engaged or making babies. I still have issues letting my roommate use my pots and pans without going, “No, no, no that’s mine!” So it seems as if I’m not ready to share everything in my life with another human who is expected to be sleep in MY room.

Hey, at least I know myself.

You may be wondering what is this “larger life plan” I speak of? Good question. I’m not entirely sure myself. One of the biggest questions I’ve been wrestling with for a few months is: to MBA or not to MBA?

Currently, I hold bachelors degrees in journalism and theatre. Clearly, that makes me the ideal person to listen to when it comes to all things finance! (Yes, please read sarcastically).

You may remember I have a bit of a turbulent relationship with math, which scared me off from majoring in anything that required more than a easy-to-pass math class. As my passion for not only learning about finance but sharing the knowledge continues to grow, I’m trying to figure out how exactly to have the credentials to be a credible source. Ultimately, I’d want to be able to help people as a job not just through my writing.

You wouldn’t go to a doctor just because she decided later in life she wanted to help sick people and read a bunch of books and started a moderately successful blog.

Here is where my simplistic thought process stands with an MBA:

Pros:
Knowledge

Network
 (I’ve harped on how important this one really is for a career)
Credibility
Expanded job opportunities
Potential to avoid a glass ceiling later in my career

Cons:
Cost
Time

I can feel the cogs turning in some of your heads who want to tell me there are ways to cut costs — like online courses or cheaper schools or grad assistantships/residence life work or trade indentured servitude to have a company pay or even instate tuition.

Before I continue, there are a few stipulations to my MBA thoughts. The ROI for an MBA education is clearly highest if you go to top tier and a top 30 program would be my goal. I have the undergrad transcript to be competitive, but would need to have an excellent score on my GMAT. Naturally, this would require a serious dedication to study two to three hours a day for a few months. With a 40+ hour a week job, this blog, freelance work and a social life — something would have to give in order to make room for studying.

I’m not interested in an online program. I also work best with a more traditional (in-person) education. Plus, online would negate a lot of the networking opportunities.

There are state schools (like UNC) with top tier programs and instate tuition, but that would mean moving and living instate for a year before even getting in. Yes, this would be an option but I’d have to make a decision relatively soon and it’s bit of a “put all your eggs in one basket” scenario.

Cost-of-living is another important consideration. Going to a school in New York City would mean continuing to live with an high financial burden, while moving to Durham or Atlanta would more manageable. Then again, I’d have to pay for the cost of moving and buying a car.

Obviously, there are other options. I could look into becoming a CFP (certified financial planner) instead of going back for a costly education that could more about management tactics than how to help people handle their financial assets.

Is your head hurting yet?

This is just a small taste of the mental debates I’ve been having in my head for the past few months which is why I’m using 2014 to truly start crafting out an action plan instead of just resolving to read more and practice Mandarin.

So tell me, what do you think? To MBA or Not to MBA?

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68 responses to “To MBA or Not to MBA? That is the Question

  1. I have been considering graduate school as well and it makes my head hurt too. One way of affording grad school would be to see if your employer will pay for some of it? I know at my company we get 5K a year (which would only pay for a class or 2 per year) to use on education if we want to. It will take you longer to finish your degree, but at least it is paid for.

    1. It seems few companies actually do that anymore so you’re pretty lucky! I’m off the mind right now that it would be more beneficial to just get it over with quickly and re-enter the workforce than stretch it out for several years. Plus, my current company doesn’t offer tuition assistance anyway.

  2. I have my MBA and I don’t regret it at all even though I have switched to full-time freelancing.

    I definitely worked my butt off though. I kept my full-time analyst job while taking around 12 to 15 credits each semester and working on my freelancing on the side. I pretty much had no life outside of those three areas while I was in my MBA program.

    I did go to a state school (but it still had a great MBA program), but that is because in the field that I was in, it was all about who you knew and networking really. I didn’t really see a huge difference in ROI for me between the program I chose and another that I could have done because of the field that I was in.

    I do sometimes think that I should have gone to a top school but that is really only because one of the top MBA programs is right here in St. Louis. However, the cost was astronomically high and about 5X higher than the state school that I chose.

    1. Do you have more time in the day than the rest of us? It is insanely impressive how much you get accomplished. There are certainly state schools with great MBA programs. UNC and UVa are notable ones for me, but I’d have to move to those states, get residency and then apply. It’s a tough call.

      It’s really great to hear a pro for the MBA though. I’m sure I’ll be emailing you during my thought process!

  3. I’m doing my MBA now and it’s pretty fun, though I definitely miss the salary and freedom of working full time (I HATE always having to study or work on projects instead of just relaxing at the end of the day!)

    I decided to do an MBA because I really wanted the business knowledge. My undergrad degree is in Chemistry so an MBA was the right step for a career change. Looks like it might benefit you the same way too because you have a bachelors degree in something else — I never understood why people with business bachelor degrees go for MBAs.

    As for choosing a school, I don’t have a lot to say since Canada is both less competitive and more affordable than the US = my school was ranked #2 in Canada by the economist (but varies anywhere from that to 7th depending on who’s doing the ranking) and costs $25,000 per year. I know in the USA it’s really important where you go and you definitely pay for it. I actually mostly chose my school by the city it was in: highest concentration of corporate offices in Canada and best economy/job market in the country.

    The GMAT is not scary and doesn’t take a lot of studying. I really didn’t take it all that seriously.. only studied for about 2 weeks and got a 680. That’s not above the magic 700 but it was high enough to get in anywhere I wanted here so I was happy with it.

    1. I’m with you on wanting the business knowledge. I feel under-qualified for what I’m interested in doing long-term and an MBA would be a solution for that issue.

      Lucky you for having cheaper options! I’ve been saving up for a while in the case I decided to go to grad school so I do have some cushion and already being debt-free gives me a nice starting point too. Lots of factors to consider though.

    1. We’re in pretty different situations with current job situations. If I were pursuing my dream the way you are, I’d probably elect to defer grad school too. It feels as if you have to decide to give up on the dream in order to go after grad school.

  4. I used to have this debate all the time, and ultimately, I am glad that I chose not to. It would have set me back financially too far and prevented me from reaching my goals for too long. The good news for you, is that you have this pretty darn popular blog and have done a great job at networking on your own as far as I can tell. Getting the appropriate certifications plus your already robust networking could be enough for you without setting you back in terms of not only money, but time.

    But as always, this is a very personal choice. Best of luck with the tough decision!

    1. Thanks, Dave! Networking certainly is the key to success no matter what you’re doing.

      It seems the MBA debate is a pretty common one and I’ve gone back-and-forth a lot. Because I would really be switching careers, it’s what makes me lean towards it. I’m not sure if the CFP is the proper certification for what I want to do long-term. But I’m glad to have an open mind and people giving me some great tips.

  5. I would try to talk to students or professors to get a sense of the course material if you aren’t looking to be overloaded with management information. I’m pursuing an MS and it’s still way too much from the management perspective than I originally pictured.

    1. If you know it won’t help your career, I think not getting one is the right move. Because I’d be switching careers, it’s a big factor about why I’m considering getting one.

  6. Oh I’ve written about this a few times throughout the past year. I turned 25 last year and have struggled with the MBA question for a while now. It’s hard to believe I’ve been out of college and at my company for 3 years now, it forces me to question constantly what to do next!

    As for now I am not getting my MBA. I would have to sell my site most likely simply because of lack of time (though I did get an offer a couple weeks ago to sell which was tempting). I don’t want to be in corporate America forever so I don’t think I’d get the full benefit of an MBA. Whether or not you should get it? That can only be answered by you : )

    1. It’s true, I’m the only one that can answer it but I love getting all this feedback! Helps make a more balanced, well-thought-out decision.

      Sounds like you graduated with me in 2011. I’m constantly in shock that I’ve been out of school almost three years as well. I’m not sure I’d want to be in corporate America forever, but I am leaning towards an MBA being advantageous, especially with my lack of business background.

  7. You bring up a lot of great points, pros and cons of an MBA. Not sure what the best plan is, but ideally I think working for a company that promotes education and pays for the degree would be the best! Easier said than done 🙂

    1. It would be a good gig, but I feel it’s much harder to find these days. The indentured servitude aspect scares me off a bit, but I wouldn’t reject the idea outright.

  8. I considered an MBA for a while too and ultimately decided against it. I really think it all comes down to what it is you want to do. Talking to my friends who’ve done it, they all pretty much say the same thing: the learning can be gotten anywhere, and probably better from other places. It’s the networking that really helps. Or in some cases they have specific jobs they want that will only consider an MBA.

    If you’re looking at becoming a financial planner, I’d say an MBA is a waste of time and money. I would also say that while it would certainly help with networking, my impression of you is that you’re already extremely good at that side of things. It might take a little creativity, but do you really doubt that you could get yourself in front of people without that forced connection?

    I would consider an MBA probably only if there was a specific job I wanted and I knew for a fact that it either required an MBA OR I had already tried for the position and found out for sure that having an MBA would significantly increase my odds of success. To me, the concept of doing it just for the networking or credibility is more fear-based than anything.

    1. Great arguments, Matt. Because you have the CFP certification (or are going that route), I agree that an MBA doesn’t make much sense.

      For the general vision I have of my future, I’m leaning more towards MBA than CFP right now. Although, a CFP may be good to get at some point. I’ve been writing lots of pros and cons lists though and really putting work into exploring different programs to ensure I’m not throwing any money away.

  9. Love this topic and have several spins on it in my queue.

    If you can get into a Top 10 program in the states, or INSEAD then I would say go for it, even with the crazy cost. But if not, then I would reconsider.

    Since you’re in NYC, I would highly look into the NYU or Columbia PT program. It also depends on if you’re paying for the degree or not. Can you afford the $42,000 a year in tuition and lost job income?

    Sam

    1. I think I might get out of NYC for a grad program. Cost of living hear on-top of tuition is just insane. I’m thinking about expanding to top 20 instead of top 10, because I still see an ROI with schools that aren’t ranked top 10. But A LOT of thought will be going into this process, along with a lot of research.

      Looking forward to reading your posts about this topic!

      1. Will your parents be paying? It shouldn’t change the dynamic, but it will.

        Top 20 is fine too, but it just gets a little dicey especially if you have to pay everything yourself.

        Another factor is how long you want to work post MBA. The longer you plan to work after MBA the easier it is to justify.

        1. My parents wouldn’t pay outright, but may offer a partial loan.

          I plan to work until retirement post MBA with retirement age being “normal” not mid-30s.

          1. One thing I can say is that things change the older you get. I thought I wanted to work until normal retirement age too, but I began to burn out after 13 years. There might be a family involved, burnout, etc. It’s hard to say.

            If you go part-time, you can write it off your income I believe.

  10. I wish I had some insight for you but this question is out of my league. My line of work never even came close to requiring one. I would say if you’re not comfortable with all the time and money involved don’t do it, but everyone I do know that has one has good paying jobs now so…

    1. Well, that is certainly a plus in the pro MBA column. There are some really great programs out in California too. My sister would love it if I ended up near her.

  11. As an MBA holder, I am probably a little biased, particularly since my pursuit did not involve any monetary cost to me – just the time and effort – thanks to the G.I. Bill. While there is no clear cut answer as there are a number of factors (e.g. cost, time, job market, economy, etc.) to consider and everyone’s situation is unique, I believe there is more upside than downside to pursuing an MBA for most people.

    1. Lucky you with that G.I. Bill!

      Thanks for your input. I’m starting to also see more value in having one than not, but that’s contingent on getting into a top school because I will be footing the bill.

  12. I recently got my CFP designation and if that is your ultimate goal I think the MBA would be a waste of time. You would be better off looking into the programs from The American College and the College for Financial Planning where you will just take the classes you need to sit for the exam. It would also be easier to keep working while you are doing one of those programs and cheaper! If you’re not interested in the CFP then I say go for the MBA!

    1. I 100% agree that if being a financial planner is my end game then an MBA is a waste of time (and money). The CFP is far more affordable. However, I don’t think that being a CFP is necessarily the answer for what I’m thinking about long-term. If I change my vision though, it may be the better answer.

  13. I went back and forth about getting an MBA and I ultimately decided not to. I think it depends on where you want to end up and if you want to “climb the corporate ladder”, so to speak. I’ve also spoke to many people who have MBAs and who went through the process and one thing I’ve consistently heard is that you need to go to a top MBA program for it to be worth it. Otherwise, the return just isn’t there.

    1. Agreed. One reason I mentioned in the post that I’d want to go to a top 20 program. It really does seem to be about the networking abilities and caliber of education. Not to say non-top programs are bad, but with an over-saturated field you need the most competitive edge.

  14. Such a great topic – I’m struggling with the same question and have some very similar thoughts/am in a similar position. My first ever blog post today included a 2014 goal of writing the GMAT and applying to an MBA program. I feel like it’s a good goal to set because I have nothing to lose by writing the test and applying to a couple of schools. It’s certainly a tough decision though to leave a good job and take on potentially a lot of debt. Good luck with figuring it out, I hope to read more about it!

    1. Welcome to the blogging community!

      If you have $250 to spend (that’s me assuming the cost is the same in Canada) then I agree there is no harm in taking the test to open up your options.

      Have you considered going to school PT and keeping your job?

    1. Thanks for the links, Holly. I’ll certainly check them out. I would like to make a well-informed decision either way which obviously includes reading about the negative aspects.

      A primary reason I lean towards it being worthwhile is because I’d be switching careers.

    2. I agree. I completed my MBA and it is basically worthless. Employers often will opt for a BA or BS candidate because they do not want to pay the higher salary or someone with a lesser degree is doing the hiring and they definitely do not want a higher degreed person coming in. Even in Knoxville, TN an MBA is is a waste of time. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told, “you are overqualified”. If you live in a more advanced city then an MBA might be useful.

    3. It is worth noting that both of the authors assume that somebody will pay the full price tag out of pocket ($150k+), which would be an outlier at best. Average MBA debt, even at top schools, is not even close to $150k after factoring in financial assistance (full time scholarships, work reimbursement) or money you paid as you went (part time students). I feel like I’m on the upper end graduating with 90k in debt, and I know what I’ll have to do to pay it back.

      Both of those authors look to be respected in their fields, but the articles are both opinion pieces lacking statistical evidence or anecdotes to support their claims, and neither author has an MBA (according to LinkedIn/personal websites). Their opinion articles were written in response to the debate that year on the value of MBAs for entrepreneurs.

      For the relevancy of the broke millennial post, the authors make a good point about needing to justify the mba investment. Understand the debt you are taking on and understand what resources you have to land the job on the other end that you desire, a job which should be able to pay back your debt. Understand that landing that job will take work, there are no free passes. But don’t let their headlines fool you. If you talk to MBA grads, most know what they are doing and leverage the MBA to accelerate or shift careers.

  15. I have thought about getting an MBA, but only part-time, with tuition reimbursement so it wouldn’t cost me any career experience or money. Finally getting out of being a professional student, I’ve really learned that employers care about experience far more than they care about a peice of paper. It might be good for a few people, but I think specific knowledge will trump a general degree anytime. And I’m not trying to scare you off! It might be the right move for you. But, there are a lot of considerations. Best of luck with your decision!

    1. Honest comments are valuable. Not scaring me off at all. I should have explained better that I am nearly three years out of college (graduated in 2011) and have been working steadily since graduation. However, I started in entertainment and now work in public relations. So an MBA would be about getting the education and credentials to switch careers. I do agree that work experience often trumps education for employers, I just feel like I’m getting the wrong work experience if that makes sense.

  16. I’m going to pick-up on Matt’s thought that “it all comes down to what you want to do”. Knowing who you really are and what fires you up is primary to what knowledge and skills you need for helping other people, maybe with their finances. Helping people is a theme I hear often from Millennials as a strong priority for being happy and fulfilled in their work. So, before you spend more money and time on growing your mind and sacrificing your body, you might nurture your spirit with some reflection on your deepest desires and what it is you have for the world. I like Chopra for inner work and he says “there is something that you do better than anyone else in the whole world”. What is it? When you begin to ask this central question, you can have greater clarity for making life choices.

    1. Spot on advice, Tinker. We often drown out our opportunities for reflection by tuning into TV, podcasts, music or a variety of other distractions. I’m certainly taking this to heart and will spend some time in reflection.

  17. Hi! I saw you mention having to move to a state beforehand to establish residency in order to get instate tuition. At a lot of schools, you can get a graduate assistantship, which gives you a small stipend and instate tuition. So no need to move to the state beforehand. The MBA has several rounds of application submissions – the earlier you apply, the better chance you have of getting a GA or scholarship. Try to get in there within the first round or so. The other thing I would strongly investigate in the schools is recruiting for your major or specialization. I would recommend going to a school that specializes in/known for the area you want work in versus a school where your major is not the main selling point. It’s much more difficult to find a job post-MBA if the career center doesn’t help you by bringing strong companies on campus.

    I got my MBA in 2012 and am very happy I did it…even considering my student loans. Let me know if you have any other questions. I’d be happy to help! Best of luck!

    1. All great advice! My parents really emphasized the point of picking a program with a focus on what I really want instead of just saying, “X, Y or Z school is top in the country so I want to go there.”

      I do plan to apply to grad assistantships or working in residence life, which I did for three years in undergrad. It would be an ideal financial situation.

  18. I’ve been thinking of doing this as well. My University that I am currently a business student of recently began a very affordable MBA program. Msudenver.edu. I am thinking of doing Accounting as it would allow for so many doors to be opened. I also work for my local government, so it would be beneficial for me since I already have an in (it is much easier to transfer/move up once inside). The program also seems very affordable for out-of-state students as well.

    1. Sounds like a great plan, especially if it will advance your career and pay for itself. It’s been great hearing other people’s plans for pursuing or currently using their MBAs.

    1. Thanks, David! I feel fortunate to be debt-free so I could enter from a better financial place than a lot of my peers.

  19. I was in journalism school with an MBA who was switching careers going the other way 😀

    Always interesting to hear from arts-type grads who later go for an MBA (Well Heeled also comes to mind…) I don’t have anything useful to add unfortunately but look forward to following your thought process.

    1. It’s hard to truly know what you want to do in life when you’re 18 and making a decision about your major. Some of my long-term goals still incorporate my journalism and theater degree though!

  20. Getting an MBA has been something that has been on my mind as well. There is a very large opportunity cost associated with an MBA. In addition, as a finance undergrad, I am not sure how much value I would gain from getting an MBA if it is not from a top school (taking the same courses/re-learning the same topics) – although I do understand the value of developing a network. Like you mentioned, going for the MBA means studying full/part time to receive a high GMAT score. It also means paying a significant sum in many cases. What would be the purpose of getting an MBA for you? Are you trying to get promoted or change professions?

    For the time being, I have opted to sit for the CFA exam as an alternative to getting an MBA. I don’t see the value of getting an MBA at the moment – but I’m only 22 now. Hopefully the CFA will help build my credentials and reduce the need for an expensive MBA in the future – although I still do want to do it.

    1. I currently work in public relations, so it would be a complete career switch.

      With your finance background, a CFA is a great option and I’ve thought about going through the CFP process myself. Ultimately, I see an MBA likely being a better fit for some of my future goals.

      At 22, I assume you’ve recently graduated. I applaud you for not just running to grad school as an easy out. Not everyone who matriculates to grad school is running away from the real world, but I know quite a few who took that as an easy out to delay dealing with getting a job and facing life after college.

  21. I got my MBA early on and have never looked back! It was a great decision and something I’m glad I did early on without hesitation. It has definitely helped my career (engineering), and it will be an asset I will always have for the rest of my life.

    1. I love hearing the success stories and the people who don’t regret getting their MBAs. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I would absolutely look into grad assistanships or working as a residential director. I worked as an RA for three years in college so I have experience with ResLife. Thanks for the tip!

  22. If you could get into a super top school that had high tuition, would you still go? I know my sister-in-law wants to go to Harvard and is studying like crazy but she would have tuition support through my brother.

    I like the NC idea personally, or even Atlanta. Atlanta is actually on my list of places to move to from NYC as my mom and sister and an aunt and cousin all live there (all transplants too). But like you said, you DEFINITELY need a car for either option.

    1. Atlanta is pretty top of my list for a post-NYC location.

      And yes, I would go top 10 if I got in. Harvard is actually on my short list (for a few reasons), but if I did get into a top MBA program I’d make it work.

  23. Hi, I just found your blog (via fusion) and I love it. I can relate to your debate, I was a music and spanish undergrad (lots of finance, obviously) working in radio afterwards. Personally, I do recommend top 30 programs like you’ve been considering, for the education, network, and recruitment. In my case, I recently ended up choosing a part-time program at one of those schools so I can continue to build my work resume by day and graduate with less debt (there are pros and cons to this). If you want to get the most out of it, be prepared to lose a fair amount of your non-school social life and non-essential freelance work during the GMAT process (also during school semesters if you go part-time). Don’t get suckered into thinking that a more expensive GMAT course is the best (I made that error and would have been just as good with a less expensive option). I would keep the blog if I were you, given the network and credibility you’re building.

    One benefit of the MBA application process is that it forces you to reflect on your future. If you enter with a known goal for the type of work you want to do after graduating, then it’ll be worth it and you can pick the classes that will help you succeed there. If you’re doing it just for the degree, then it’s probably less valuable at this time. Don’t let the math experience deter you, you’re obviously sharp and they’ll teach you. Good luck!

    1. Thanks for looking me up after watching Fusion!

      It’s really valuable to have such a thorough response from someone who has been through the process some what recently.

      The last part of your comment really resonates with me. I do have some serious reflecting to do and I have some goals in mind but would need to better articulate them for applications and interviews.

  24. Have you thought of pursuing an MHA (Master’s in Health Administration)? It is the MBA for healthcare. Well-paying jobs abound in healthcare administration. I completed my MHA last year and had a well-paying career prior to graduation. I would just ensure you complete your program at an AUPHA-accredited school. Another option is an MHSA.

    1. I have not considered an MHA because I have a very specific career track in mind which is why I’m considering the MBA. I do agree that an MHA is a great option for people open to that field.

  25. I can categorically say that an MBA is worth it in the long run. It is a renowned qualification and you can never have it removed from your resume once you’ve completed it. I was held a BA (hons) business degree in business and finance, so the transition to an MBA was relatively smooth as I had some previous knowledge of MBA modules, as for you, I suspect the transition from a journalism and theatre acumen would not be as straightforward. Nonetheless, an MBA is worth the capital outlay and will assist in career progression. Have you explored studying overseas at an English speaking country? Regards, Steve.

  26. In the event you could get into a super top school which experienced higher educational costs, does one even now head out? I am aware my sister-in-law wants to visit Harvard which is mastering consistently nevertheless she’d possess educational costs help via my buddy.

    I’m keen on the particular NORTH CAROLINA idea individually, or perhaps Atlanta. Atlanta is actually upon my listing of areas to maneuver in order to through NEW YORK CITY seeing that my mother and brother and the cousin and step-brother almost all live there (all transplants too). Although like you explained, you actually need a car intended for possibly alternative.

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