Why I chose NOT to get an MBA, and what I did instead

I’ve always been drawn to academics and education. That kid in the center of the class, first hand in the air…yea that was me. I’ve always loved learning, discussing topics in a classroom, answering questions and leading groups. For many years I have romanticized and coveted a doctorate level degree and the idea of being “Dr. Connie”.

After obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, majoring in Marketing, it seemed inevitable that my next academic step would be an MBA. I worked in my field for a few years, gaining valuable experience at several companies as life and the economy shaped my career. Then came decision time.

Which school?

I took a few online courses at an accredited school that didn’t require GMAT scores for entrance…I did well, I kept up with the material and got A’s all around. A local campus and actual human interaction in a classroom still appealed to me, so, I took the GMAT, sent off my applications and waited to learn my fate. My work and anticipation paid off. I was admitted to a reputable MBA program that is AACSB accredited, laying the foundation for PhD pursuits. This was it. I was in. I was set.

Or was I?

Something had me hesitating to get started. At first I couldn’t put a finger on why. This was the dream. I delayed for a year, somehow lacking my trademark enthusiasm and “let’s go” attitude. Then it dawned on me. I wasn’t excited about the courses I would be taking. Another accounting class, more finance and economics. Sure, the information goes deeper at the Master’s degree level, but I already learned the fundamentals of these topics in my Bachelor’s degree and with work experience. I’m certainly not interested in being an accountant (trust me, no one wants that). Finance has interesting points, but as a career? I could feel my creative side shiver in protest.

Where are the skills?

I started thinking about what I would end up with on the other side of this program. Those three letters of pride behind my name-M.B.A. to be part of that elite crowd of the educated. But what would I actually be able to DO that I couldn’t do now? How would that apply to my career? I’m a marketer. I’m fascinated by solving problems and learning and executing programs. I love results. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the MBA might not be what I was looking for. But how could that be? It’s THE business Master’s degree.

Always an independent thinker.

I couldn’t just ignore this gut feeling, but I knew I still wanted to get an advanced degree. So, I took a look around, researching other programs and what they provided in terms of content and skill set. I also looked at the requirements for entrance and the length of the program. I explored psychology, human resources, organizational management and even physical therapy as potential ways to advance my career (or make a left turn to something totally new and exciting). Then I found it- Competitive Intelligence Systems. “Ooooooohhhhhhh what’s THAT?” said the inquisitive voice in my head. It’s a technology based degree directly tied to business strategy and data management. Suddenly my enthusiasm was back. THIS is interesting. I was in.

Moving Forward.

I took to this curriculum with passion, but it definitely had ups and downs. I can remember one particularly humiliating moment of meltdown where I was sure I couldn’t learn all IT, coding, deep tech stuff. I’ve never been very good at sticking with things that don’t come to me naturally, and this was NOT coming easily. I owe a debt of gratitude to the professor that talked me off the ledge and encouraged me to keep going. The IT world was totally new territory for this girl, firmly rooted on the user side of software.

The challenges of the program were balanced well with topics that really resonated and complimented my existing skill set. Data warehousing, reporting, data driven decision making, and strategy is a world that I am comfortable in and gets those butterflies fluttering. Data mining taught me advanced techniques of correlation and other techniques that were both challenging and incredibly fascinating. Learning about the correlation of diaper and beer purchases in market basket analysis…that’s fascinating stuff. It’s both science and business, simultaneously tech AND creative.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-MBA, nor do I feel that this is a superiority contest. MBA programs and degree holders are most definitely valuable. It simply wasn’t the right program for me as an individual and a professional. What I’m advocating for is options and individual decisions based on solid goals and desired skills. Educated education.

I learned more in that program than I ever possibly could have in an MBA program. I gained strength by persevering where I thought I would fail (I ended up with an A in the meltdown class!). I learned that I do NOT want to be a coder or a computer networker. I learned that I can intelligently speak and work with those who possess the skills I have no desire to master, and that there is value in being the communicator between business and tech. I learned about data and the technology that can be used to help businesses be more successful. Analysis and strategy are my specialties, infusing creativity and finesse that preserves my craving to always be unique.

They may not be the letters I thought I would see, but the M.S. behind my name is something I take great pride in. I have a skill set that not many others can provide. I help clients to do business better. Learning about software development made me a better strategist, a better marketer. The technology base I gained helps me to easily adopt technology and be great at defining business needs and matching needs with tools that make a difference. It’s a new dream, and I’m living it with freshness.