Author’s Notes

[Excerpted from Getting into Business School]


Ruminations of a veteran GMAT instructor and MBA admissions coach.

It is perhaps strange to address the questions “Should I pursue an MBA? … Is an MBA worth it?” at any place other than the beginning of the book. However, for those who insist on going to a top business school, these questions have already been answered or are a mere afterthought. Although the answer to this question is a personal one, I believe there are many “incomplete” ways to analyze the question, so much so, that I have chosen to write a short response to address it.

The most incomplete answer comes from analyzing the question only from a quantitative perspective. This involves evaluating the cost of a business program including tuition, books, housing, food, and other living and incidental expenses, and adding to this the opportunity cost of forgone wages (including two years’ salary and benefits), and comparing all of this to the increase in salary you expect to receive post-MBA. The flaw in this approach is that it is terribly difficult to project the expected revenue to be received in your future working years. For example, a single idea gained during your MBA program could be, for you, a million-dollar idea; another idea could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars when making an important future business or personal decision.

The biggest flaw, of course, is that such an approach ignores qualitative considerations. These considerations include an increased feeling of self-confidence, sense of accomplishment, and personal fulfillment gained from completing your graduate education. Other qualitative reasons include making new friends, gaining new contacts, pursuing an enriching academic experience, bolstering problem-solving skills, honing personal skills, and improving your ability to think and reason. As one MBA graduate remarked, “It’s two years of learning to think outside the box.”

A common deficiency in thinking about an MBA purely in quantitative terms is the inability to account for the “people factor.” When facing a business or personal problem or opportunity, there is a certain strength in knowing you can email, call, or simply remember the personas, characteristics, and idiosyncrasies of one or more business school classmates. What would they do in this situation? In the words of another business school graduate, “I never feel isolated because I have a reservoir to draw upon.”

There is some truth to the brash remark: “If you have to ask whether it is worth doing an MBA, you’re not the right person to do one.” However, one way to answer the questions “Should I pursue an MBA/Is an MBA worth it?” is to view the MBA in the broader light of all graduate degrees, in which the MBA is neither greater nor lesser than any other graduate degree. Here, the belief is, “A person should pursue an advanced education credential, be it business, law, medicine, engineering, international relations, or the sciences because obtaining an advanced education credential is a great way to finish one’s formal education.” Stated from an opposite angle, “Pursue an MBA unless you have a good reason not to.” Some good reasons for not doing so would include: (1) “I have a great job and to give it up to go to business school means risking not getting it back again,” (2) “I have my own growing business and to leave to go to business school would entail the risk of losing it, even if placed in the hands of a capable manager while I am at business school,” and (3) “I have a family and leaving to go to business school would cause too much disruption and strain.”

Perhaps the acid test for the questions “Should I do an MBA/Is an MBA worth it?” arises when asking business school graduates whether they would make the same decision again. Interestingly, a number of law school graduates answer no to the question of whether they would pursue a law degree (or a legal career) if they had to do things over. However, extremely rare is the MBA graduate who says, “Boy, that was a dumb decision, I wouldn’t do that again.” Along the way you may meet a few arguably cynical MBA students or graduates who will tell you that an MBA is just a two-year job search. But even these graduates — throwing all other possible positive qualitative and quantitative factors to the wind — will answer yes to the question at hand, if for no other reason than the “credential factor.”