Should I get an MBA?
Do I really need an MBA? These days, with the U.S. economy booming and more and more jobs (particularly in tech) seeming to value work experience over an advanced degree, people are starting to question whether business school is the best route to where they want to go professionally—whether it is truly worth the investment. We would argue that an MBA can definitely add a great deal to both your professional and personal growth. Here are some key reasons to consider pursuing the degree:
Top 9 Reasons to Get an MBA
Reason to get an MBA #1: Incomparable Instruction in “Hard” Business Skills
Although you can technically acquire basic business knowledge and skills (e.g., financial analysis, applying strategic frameworks, interpreting balance sheets) via online courses and books, the depth and intensity with which you learn in an immersive MBA program far surpasses what is possible through any other venue. For example, the first-year core curriculum at some top programs has even been referred to as “boot camp”—the course work is rigorous, extensive, fast paced, and, for some, truly grueling. In addition, some schools teach via the “case method,” in which students tackle real-world business problems by putting themselves in the shoes of the major decision makers (e.g., CEO, CFO, head of marketing) and providing analysis-based recommendations on how the firm involved should proceed. As students engage with and challenge one another on their assumptions and conclusions in the classroom, faculty members facilitate the discussions. Sometimes, the actual protagonist(s) of the case will even come to class to share what actually happened. No book or online course can offer that kind of experience. If you really want to understand business and “speak the language” of various functions within a company, the most powerful way to do so is via business school.
Reason to get an MBA #2: Valuable Training in “Soft” Business Skills
Business school graduates often say that some of the most important takeaways from their MBA program relate to “softer” skills, such as leadership, teamwork, and people management. As a fellow Michigan Ross MBA recently told me, “The soft skills I learned in ‘Leadership Development’ [class] have made earning the trust and support of my colleagues much easier each time I’ve transitioned to a new organization.” Such courses prepare you to address interpersonal questions and situations that can be critical to your success at work: How do you influence cross-functional team members over whom you have no authority? How do you negotiate for a favorable outcome, such as a higher salary? How do you collaborate effectively with individuals who have different backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas? In business school, you not only get instruction in ways to approach these kinds of issues, but you also have the opportunity to practice what you learn before you find yourself in a real workplace environment that could entail serious legal, financial, or professional repercussions.
Reason to get an MBA #3: Hands-On Learning Opportunities
Most, if not all, of the top business schools offer classes, programs, and projects in which small teams of students work directly with companies and nonprofits around the world to solve actual business problems the organizations are facing, in real time. As a result, they get firsthand insight into how these firms operate, while also making excellent insider connections. Sometimes, students then parlay their engagement with the sponsor company into a summer internship or even a full-time position after graduation. Some recent hands-on projects at one of the leading MBA programs include building practical go-to-market strategies for Microsoft to effectively engage with university students, recommending to Marriott International how to increase revenues from spa services in the Asia-Pacific region, and developing a business model for a therapeutic food product that treats severe malnutrition in Rwanda. In addition to providing valuable exposure to both business issues and people, these hands-on opportunities help participants learn to deal with something they are bound to face later in their careers: managing through ambiguity. Often, leaders must make decisions based on vague or incomplete information. By navigating the challenges of client engagements as an MBA student, you will develop the capabilities you will need to handle similar situations successfully in your own firm down the line.
Reason to get an MBA #4: Aid in Changing Careers
Although making a significant career change on your own is possible, it is unquestionably difficult. Doing so via business school is not just easier but common. As an admissions consultant, I have worked with a field engineer turned investment banker, a nonprofit director turned operations consultant, and an engineer turned product manager. And one of my own MBA classmates switched from NFL player to consumer product marketer. The core MBA curriculum (covering finance, economics, marketing, operations, strategy, etc.) helps students develop overall business acumen, which is particularly essential for those who enter business school from nontraditional backgrounds or who have experience in only one or two business areas. Elective courses then provide specialized knowledge across functions and industries. In addition, via professional clubs (e.g., Consulting Club, Investment Management Club, Marketing Club), aspirants to certain careers gain in-depth exposure to what potential jobs actually entail, connect with companies of interest through career treks and conferences, and learn how best to apply to and interview with industry-specific recruiters. These resources enable business school students to effectively bridge the gap between their past experience and their future goals.
Reason to get an MBA #5: Incomparable Job Search Resources
Whether MBA students are looking to change careers completely or just attain a better position in their current industry, their program’s career services office offers extensive resources, support, and firm access that will help them do so much more easily than they could on their own. These offices provide assistance with resume and cover letter preparation, advice about which jobs to consider, access to exclusive job postings, and the opportunity to do targeted mock interviews with highly trained representatives. In addition, the career services offices maintain relationships with recruiters from some of MBAs’ most sought-after firms, and these individuals come to campus to interview students for internships and full-time positions. These are definitive job search advantages you cannot get elsewhere.
Reason to get an MBA #6: Opportunities for International Exposure
These days, business is increasingly global, and its leaders must have strong cross-cultural understanding to succeed. The top business schools give students valuable opportunities to gain the exposure and tools they will need to be able to collaborate with colleagues around the world or conduct business abroad. These include semester-long exchange programs with programs outside the United States, courses that involve one to three weeks working on-site with international company partners, international job treks, and one- to two-week global study trips, through which students collaborate directly with a non-US firm to address a global business problem. These programs instill in students a global mind-set that is far more profound than what can be gained from a brief work trip or personal travel.
Reason to get an MBA #7: Entrepreneurial Support
If you dream of starting your own venture, business school will provide access to all the key elements you need for your best shot at success. In addition to the foundational business principles you gain from the program’s core curriculum, entrepreneurship-specific courses teach you what is involved in establishing an entirely new company. Among your classmates, you will find other aspiring entrepreneurs with whom you can network or possibly even join forces to start a venture together. In addition, many top MBA programs have on-site Entrepreneurs in Residence with whom you can meet to seek input and advice as needed. Most leading business schools also have annual entrepreneurship competitions that not only allow you to test the merits of your business idea and receive targeted feedback from experienced entrepreneurs but that also pay out thousands of dollars in prize money with which to fund your venture. And more and more programs are establishing business incubators to assist students with forming and launching their companies. Other opportunities include internships with early-stage companies, presentations and workshops by successful entrepreneurs, and chances to pitch your venture idea to school-affiliated venture boards for potential seed funding. In short, business school can greatly facilitate the process of turning your vision into a reality.
Reason to get an MBA #8: An Expansive Network
The old expression “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is especially applicable to the world of business and your potential success within it. Business books and online courses may teach key concepts, but they provide very few, if any, new contacts (who may not be any better connected than you are). As an MBA student, however, you gain literally hundreds of contacts the minute you step on campus in the form of your classmates, not to mention those students in the classes before and after yours. And the immersive nature of business school—late-night group study sessions, group projects, team case competitions, conferences, social events—helps to forge tight bonds among students. You are also automatically connected with the entire alumni network of not only your business school but also its parent institution, which can number into the hundreds of thousands and include individuals all around the globe. Later, you can connect regularly with fellow graduates in your area through your local alumni organization and can interact through online databases and school-specific Facebook and LinkedIn groups. These contacts come in especially handy when one is seeking professional opportunities: many people I know are in their current positions because former MBA classmates or alumni passed along their resumes or gave them the inside scoop on job openings.
Reason to get an MBA #9: Incredible Memories
MBA students inarguably work hard on their studies and job searches, but they “play” just as hard. Many business school alumni even refer to their MBA experience as a “two-year vacation.” All the top programs offer fun, unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you simply could not have elsewhere. Imagine traveling to the Galapagos Islands for a week with 50 classmates or taking over Aspen, Colorado, for a long skiing and partying weekend with 150 or more fellow students. How about participating in a fund-raiser in which the most successful student gets to throw a pie in the face of an esteemed member of the school’s administration? Or perhaps you would enjoy performing in a schoolwide comedy show that lampoons life at your business school (aka “Follies”). Wine clubs, hockey leagues, casino nights, tailgate parties, international food and culture festivals, treks abroad, bar crawls, intramural competitions, chili cookoffs—the list goes on and on, and these activities provide more than just a refreshing break from the routine and work of earning an MBA; they create extraordinary memories and tight friendships among students that will last a lifetime.
Clearly, pursuing an MBA can be a valuable—and enjoyable—next step on your professional path. But ultimately, only you can decide whether attending business school is the best way for you to reach your professional and personal goals. You must weigh what you could gain from the degree with the time and financial investment that earning one requires.
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After being accepted to four top MBA programs—including New York University’s Stern School of Business, the UCLA Anderson School of Management, and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University—Nisha Trivedi ultimately chose to earn her degree from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. There, she focused on brand management and was an active member of the Marketing Club, organizing mock internship interviews for her peers during her first year and serving as the club’s vice-president of communications during her second year. Her BA in communications from the University of Pennsylvania and deep interest in understanding the consumer inspired her to initially pursue a career in marketing research, which led her to positions at Time Inc., Rosetta, and KPMG LLP in New York City, but after business school, Nisha worked for several years in brand management in San Francisco at Big Heart Pet Brands (now part of The J.M. Smucker Company). She most enjoys creating brand positioning and crafting tailored messaging that speaks to consumers’ needs—a skill she applies in helping her clients “market” themselves to their dream MBA programs. In addition to assisting her clients in a one-on-one capacity, Nisha is active on the mbaMission message boards, responding to questions and profile evaluation requests, and has authored several articles on the MBA admissions process for Poets&Quants.
mbaMission is the leader in MBA admissions consulting with a full-time and comprehensively trained staff of consultants, all with profound communications and MBA experience. mbaMission has helped thousands of candidates fulfill their dream of attending prominent MBA programs around the world.