To MBA or not MBA; 5 points

Dec 19 2017, 7:37 am

Depending on who you ask, the MBA is either a mandatory career step or a waste of time. Even twenty years ago, this article probably wouldn’t have been necessary. However, today’s job landscape is more dynamic than ever and thanks to some amazing startups, like Coursera and Khan Academy, the equation has recently become a lot more complicated.

It’s not an easy answer, and there is no doubt that even at their significant price tags, transitional educations still have a lot to offer. It’s not an easy decision and below you’ll find five major criteria that need to be considered before committing to another letter on your business card.

1. Who are you creating value for?

Remember that the employee/employer relationships are a value exchange. Salaries and compensation are just a representation on your background and your deliverables. Typically, larger and traditional institutions will still emphasize an MBA. For them, HR is a numbers game and an MBA communicates ability. However, if you’re in smaller businesses and entrepreneurial roles, an MBA accounts for very little, especially at an early stage. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t get one, because the network you build from an MBA is one of the most valuable parts of the process, but it won’t mean anything if your business model isn’t sound or there are questions around your ability to deliver.

2. What are the external risks?

Unfortunately, this one will always be more of an art than a science and at best you can expect a hazy understanding. Do some digging into what you see your industry doing in the coming years? Unemployment and under-employment are already significant, tacking on an average 40 per cent boost to your salary is going to narrow your potential opportunities so make sure you’ve mapped out where you want your MBA to take you and what that scenario looks like.

3. What schools are you considering?

When you iron out the other details, this is where you need to focus. There are a tonne of great resources out there for measuring and comparing MBA programs; Forbes, Business Week, The Economist and Financial Times all have their own methodologies for rankings. They break down cost, hire rate, student satisfaction, happiness, GMAT’s scores, ROI and more. If you can, dig deeper and find out which businesses are paying for students and at what schools. Some EMBA programs have student bodies which have more than half the students funded partially or fully though corporations. This is a clear indicator that companies value the skills developed at these institutions.

4. Do you have the support of the bench?

A Masters degree is not just a significant commitment for you, it is for those around you. We are all getting pulled in a lot of directions and it is worth it to think about how you’re going to continue to balance those factors. Does your company support you? If so, will they do so financially? What about with time off? Do you want to return there when completed? What about loved ones? Most Masters programs are either one year condensed or two years of part time. Either way, your finances or time commitments are going to be impacted.

5. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Talk to past alumni and find out what they learned when they were attending. For example, if you’re building a unique skill set for a niche career and you’re already an expert in your field, an MBA may round you out or it may miss the mark. However, if you career is yet to be defined, take some time to review curriculum and project that into future job roles. If you need help with this, ask a friend or mentor for a five minute candid conversation on what your future expectations are and where you need to improve. It’s a challenging, somewhat awkward process but by framing it the right way, it can be a constructive tool.

I don’t think it can be denied than an MBA doesn’t mean what it used to. Global markets are changing, adaptation is the key and not all traditional institutions are recognized as preparing their students for that. Stack that up against similar education opportunities like Khan Academy and Coursera which empower students further and the 50-180 thousand dollars requirement of MBA’s grows all the more daunting. However, where all the online and new age alternatives can’t compete is the ability to network and problem solve with highly intelligent, motivated people. If you listen to Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast, it’s not hard to see how much many of their speakers gained from their ability to find like-minded passionate people in an exploratory environment.

There is no easy answer and as innovations continue to disrupt education, it is only going to get muddier. Alas, the age old questions remains; To MBA or not MBA.


Great infographic for Women Considering an MBA from Prodigy Finance Blog.


Written by Daniel Eberhard, a contributor at Vancity Buzz. If you have insights or resources that were missed, please feel free to connect with Daniel on Twitter at @danno_go or via his website Urban Sherpa.

Feature image: The Mindful Word