To MBA or Not To MBA
I remember the moment I got my college diploma, I swore I’d never go to school again. At the end of the day, we forget the majority of things we learn and who wants to do homework anyway? All this changed when the Dotcom bubble exploded and I was left wondering whether I’d be the first person let go given I had recently joined my current job in 2001. Last in First Out, or LIFO as they say.
We had gone through 5 rounds of layoffs in 1.5 years, and I heard the 6th one was just right around the corner. As long as the firm would have me, I’d keep on working, but just in case, I needed a backup plan. I decided that surfing back home in Hawaii was not the proper backup plan so I came to a compromise and applied to the nearest part-time MBA program, which so happens to be ranked Top 10 in US News & World Report and the WSJ. The program promised the rigors of the full-time program, with the same professors and international opportunities all within 3 years. Upon looking further into my company’s policies, they offered to pay for my MBA so long as I was in good standings. The MBA program was a hedge, just in case I was one of the casualties, as one could potentially transfer to the full time program once accepted.
The 6th round came and went, and I was still left standing. Unfortunately, the company tuition reimbursement policy was canceled just two weeks before my acceptance. I decided to join anyway b/c at the end of the day, the economy was still shaky, and I didn’t want my application time spent go to waste. What the heck I thought. Be grateful for the opportunity.
COST ANALYSIS FOR AN MBA
1) Money. The MBA cost on average $28,000/yr for three years ($84,000!). It’s slightly cheaper to get an MBA online, however the quality is never guaranteed. I borrowed $18,500/yr via FAFSA loans at 2.5% and funded the difference. Painful? Absolutely, since I still owe money which is a subject I’ll talk about later. Worth it? Absolutely, even if the firm didn’t reinstate the tuition reimbursement policy in my second year, and ended up paying for 75% of the overall tuition. I readily admit that just like how you tend to tell your friends that $100 meal with your significant other was darn good (even if the $2 double cheeseburger at In N Out Burger was just as good), one has the proclivity of overstating their MBA experiences given the tremendous amount of time and tuition spent. However, getting the MBA was truly a priceless experience to me.
2) Insecurity. When I asked my fellow colleagues or friends to apply during the last downturn, the majority made the excuse that they were just too busy. 20+ hours extra a week, on top of a 50-65 hour work schedule is no easy task. But, what motivated me was FEAR OF FAILURE! I was petrified that I was going to get laid off before attending and during at least the first 2 years of school. I didn’t want to face my friends and family and tell them I was unemployed in case that day came. If I did get laid off, I’d just simply tell them I’d decided to go to business school on my own volition. This was my pride talking.
3) Rejection. The other main concern my friends had were the fear of rejection. What if we applied, and got our managers to write us glowing recommendations and the school rejected us? Would our managers then think we were second class citizens? This is a valid concern, which needs to be weighed carefully if you don’t have a great relationship with your manager. However, it takes a good relationship with your manager for her to write you a glowing recommendation anyway. And if she looks down upon you for trying and planning ahead, well…. I would say you’re manager may not be around much longer, and it’s best to get a recommendation from someone else senior. Keep your application process a secret until you get the notification.
4) Health. I went from roughly 160 pounds to 170 pounds during my three years. It was sad since one of my great passions is playing sports. Furthermore, I endured a lot of stress and moments with heaven where all I wanted to do was curse at the world. These curses were all confined to the 2nd half of the year, where the novelty of school wore off, and the arse kicking really began. Thankfully, the 2nd and 3rd years were only from 9am to 4pm, and consisted of self-chosen electives. It’s been four years since I graduated, and I’m back down to my pre-MBA weight thank goodness.
5) College Football and other fun things. Class was always on Saturday, so I could never watch any college football, not even my own Hokies. I couldn’t take my girl out for a morning walk in the park, nor did I have the energy to take her out for dinner at times. These are opportunity costs, but thankfully the campus had free wifi where I could occasionaly slack off and check the scores, watch some video, and IM friends!
BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF AN MBA
1) Confidence. You learn a wealth of information you otherwise may not have any clue regarding. I had no idea how to model financial statements, create business plans, or figure out effective marketing campaigns. Now I have some idea. The information you learn breeds confidence in your abilities to communicate and tackle tasks. Better confidence, leads to better production and perhaps a better position within the firm and pay. I was promoted to VP after my first year in business school at 27, but i’m not entirely sure whether me going to business school had much to do with it. Perhaps after finishing business school, the degree helped validate the firm’s decision to promote me, and to promote me again one year after business school.
2) Friendships. You meet a great many friends who you would otherwise have never known. Spending 6 hours every Saturday for 3 years is bound to let you meet some people. There’s no better way to become great friends through hardship. And, I must admit by the 2nd half of the first year, many of us were feeling the pains of juggling both work and school. We just had a 3 year reunion at a friends BBQ down in Palo Alto. It was so great to see them again, many with new born children. Congrats guys!
3) Experiences. Your experiences shape who you are, and generally, the more you experience, the more well rounded you become. Going to Brazil, a country I would never otherwise have visited, made me love Brazilian culture and people. I never would have known about the tech industry the way I do now, if it wasn’t for school either. Over 50% of my classmates work in tech in Silicon Valley.
4) Credibility. You may gain credibility and a little admiration from your manager and colleagues if you are able to maintain your work quality, while going to school. Never complain about your workload. Your manager realizes the sacrifices you are making, and may be more positively predisposed come raise or promotion time. The key thing is to never led your school responsibilities affect your work responsibilities.
5) Everything else will seem easy. After 3 years of work and school, every weekend seems like a real vacation! No last minute homework to do on a Friday night, and no need to wake up at 7:30am Saturday to make it to class by 9am anymore! Yihaw! Not only do you feel every weekend is like a vacation, you can tackle much more in your career! Ever notice baseball players swing two bats when they are on deck? Or what about when football players chain a tire around their torso, and drag that tire during sprints? They do it b/c when i comes time to bat or bust the gap, it becomes that much easier.
WAS GETTING AN MBA THE RIGHT THING TO DO?
Absolutely! I attended school for the pure sake of learning, and not just with the goal of getting “A’s” because I already had a job and needn’t impress anyone. The professors were wonderful, and actually served as real-time consultants for my job at hand. I was forced to manage my time properly, and gained the discipline of juggling both a career and 20+ hours of class and study time a week. The study abroad trip to Sao Paulo and Rio were priceless experiences as were the off-sites and the friendships I’ve made. Make no mistake, there were trying times where all I wanted to do was quit as the workload mounted, but I kept reminding myself that school was only 9 months a year on Saturdays from 9am-6pm, and summer or winter “vacation” was just around the corner!
I would continue to be positively predisposed if I had to pay the entire $84,000 in tuition. Amortizing $84,000 over a 10-30 year time frame doesn’t seem too much at all. One can also potentially write off the entire tuition amount if you are in financial field, another interesting topic.
If you were to ask me whether going full-time would be as worth it, I don’t know for sure because I don’t know where I’d have ended up. The pros of going full time over part-time I believe are: 1) a rest from work to recharge your batteries, 2) the ability to truly delve into other business fields and switch careers, and 3) build even tighter relationships with classmates. The cons are: 1) You lose two years of career advancement and salary 2) you’re two years older, but hopefully at an elevated title and salary, 3) you may not be able to get in the field of your choice b/c you still have to interview well and snag that job post graduation.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that education is one of the bigger keys to success. From a very basic level, if the American home-buying community was truly educated on the dangers of option ARMS, and knew the discipline necessary to utilize that cashflow difference wisely, maybe there wouldn’t be such a world of hurt in mortgages. Education is what sets us free to help make rationale financial decisions.
The MBA is only a life stamp credential that shows you either decided to bust your butt for 3 years of your life to go part-time, or take two years off from work to go a different direction. An MBA graduate shouldn’t feel entitled to think the world owes them something just because they sunk $200,000 in lost wages and tuition over two years. The MBA is simply a tool for people to use to perhaps get their foot in the door, and utilize certain skills to make them perform better at their jobs. If you’re joining an industry where nobody has an MBA, then you may have wasted your time. However, if there is an employer who has a majority of MBAs and CFA employees, well then, your degree is probably necessary.
Remember, we forget most of what we learn anyway. So don’t ever let someone with an MBA big-whig you into thinking they’re better than you. And if you want to get an MBA, make sure you are financially able to afford to do so, and realistically assess whether the school that has accepted you is ranked highly enough to get you into your industry or firm of choice. The world’s richest people don’t have MBAs (Gates & Buffet), so the degree is definitely not a precursor to success. However, if there’s a choice between having the degree, and not having the degree the employer may very well choose the candidate with the degree for the same compensation if all else is equal. Since the trend has been towards more MBAs in the work force, inevitably, more senior personnel will have their MBAs over time. You just have to ask yourself, whether it is worth it to you or not.
OTHER LEGIT REASONS TO GET YOUR MBA
* You got fired and can’t find reasonable work.
* You hate your job, and want to try your hand in a new industry.
* You plan to work for at least 10 years after you get your MBA & leverage it. Some get their MBA, get married, & don’t work afterwards.
* You really want to learn more about academic business and your employer requires it for you to get promoted.
Readers with full/part-time MBAs and those without, what are your thoughts about the pros and cons of the degree?
Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”
US NEWS & WORLD REPORT 2008 AVERAGE STARTING SALARY (Average age of graduate: 28.5)
1 Harvard $130,000
2 Stanford $130,000
3 U. of Pennsylvania (Wharton) $145,000
4 M.I.T. $113,500
5 Northwestern (Kellogg) $133,000
6 Chicago $136,000
7 Dartmouth (Tuck) $109,000
8 UC Berkeley (Haas) $118,000
9 Columbia $144,000
10 NYU (Stern) $128,000
11 Michigan (Ross) $104,000
12 Duke (Fuqua) $114,000
13 Virginia (Darden) $121,000
14 Cornell (Johnson) $117,000
15 Yale $115,000