Should I pursue an MBA to advance my business career?
After spending an extra semester getting my BA at Temple University’s School of Communication and Theater, I was ready to take on the world as a working professional. I spent the first half of 2010 working at Temple’s College of Education in a role that allowed me to utilize my newly acquired journalism degree but also allowed me to explore and satisfy my persistent interest in technology. As the college’s Electronic Communications assistant, I acted as the web editor for integral parts of their website, video editor and cameraman for all speaker series events - including some interesting Bill Cosby fireside chats (not endorsing Bill Cosby but he did incite some interesting discussions) - and created and edited the college’s monthly newsletter, Ed’s Up. Considering that many of my classmates were struggling to find jobs at newspapers and television stations or capitulating and giving into the post-grad retail job, I was pretty happy with where I was at after graduating.
Besides the fact that I was getting paid in peanuts, one big issue with my job at the College of Education was that it was keeping me in Philadelphia. I enjoyed my 4.5 years at Temple and consider Philly somewhat of a second home, but my goal was always to move back to NYC after college. With that in mind, I moved back to New York in the summer of 2010 with no job and no real direction in what I wanted to do next. I started a gig as the digital development intern at Sterling Publishing (which consequently helped me get my current job at Xaxis, story for another time) allowing me to continue honing my optimal skill/experience mix of content creation and technology. I maneuvered my short-term internship into a temp position allowing me to minimize the inevitable gap in my resume and started considering the dreaded path of “getting a graduate degree because I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my life.” My internship solidified my interest in building software and focusing my career on advanced technology, but it also helped me acknowledge my diminishing interest in writing full-time. It was at that point that I started to understand the notion of people going back to school as a shortcut for getting ahead in their careers.
Why did I go back?
Short answer to the question of why I went back for my MBA is that I simply didn’t know what else to do. Technology businesses don’t necessarily go out of their way to hire and hone the skills of journalism students and considering that I had spent the majority of the past 5 years writing I didn’t have the type of network that business and CS graduates had when applying for tech jobs in NYC. Feeling that I may have made a mistake with my undergraduate decisions, I saw business school as an easy way to propel my desired career in software product development. In hindsight, it would be very difficult for me to truly assess the impact that business school had on my career in comparison to if I hadn’t gone back to school at all. If I can do it over again I’m not sure I would choose the same route, but having finished my MBA and propelling my career to a formidable position in my field, I do want to give some advice to those thinking about pursuing the same path. Here are a few things to consider when and if you decide to go back for your MBA.
1. What are you looking to get out of it?
This question probably sounds cliche but it is by far the most important one you should consider when going back for your MBA. You have to be very honest with yourself about what you are expecting to get out of a MBA. Depending on whether you are looking for a higher salary, career advancement, industry change or just furthering your education, your MBA choices can and should change drastically. If you’re not sure what you want to get out of your MBA you should look into the alumni base of the MBA programs you are evaluating and look for some patterns. This can give you a sense for what the school may specialize in and how different alums are leveraging their network.
2. What is the payback period?
Even if your focus isn’t $ (c’mon you can’t go back for an MBA and not think about money) you should still consider a few key financial concepts when going back to school. Understanding the payback period is important whether you’re taking the time-value of money into account or not. Many MBA programs fall into the 100k range for 2 year programs and a 2011 article from Forbes proclaims that the payback period for a top 50 full-time MBA is about 3.5 years or less than 3.9 years. Whether you’re attending school full-time and forgoing your salary, or attending part-time and taking time away from other life activities it is important to know how quickly you will be getting a return on your investment into your MBA.
3. What is the cost vs. benefit of getting your MBA?
Similar to the payback period, the cost-benefit analysis is a tool that analyzes the costs of going back for your MBA (tuition, potentially loss of salary, loss of disposable income) vs. the perceived benefits. You’ll never really have these things exact as a lot could change from when you start your MBA to when you finish but continuously thinking about what you are losing by going back to school will help you carve out the true benefits of the MBA program you are choosing. Baruch is a great low-cost, ROI focused option for a MBA, but it didn’t have the placement and alumni benefits that other schools I got into had, such as NYU and Rutgers. Evaluating all options and having as much information as possible in the beginning should help you make the best MBA investment decision.
4. What is your alternative and why do you see it as a lower option?
This is what I consider saving the best for last. Going back for your MBA is all about projections. You are projecting your future salary, projecting your growth in knowledge of business and projecting an improved social status. One thing you should also project is what your career would look like without getting your MBA. Evaluate some of the business leaders you look up to. Do they all have MBAs? Most?
Admittedly, this was the step that I skipped during my MBA evaluation period. I am definitely happy with Baruch’s MBA program and 100% believe that the benefits highly outweigh the overall costs of the program. Having said that, many of the tech entrepreneurs I look up to do not have MBAs. In fact, a large number of them dropped out of college or their masters programs in order to pursue their entrepreneurial ventures. One of the biggest lessons that I learned during my time at Baruch is that there can be many different paths that can be taken to the same end point. Most people in life are searching for that one most direct path, but taking your own path is what makes the journey of life so exciting. Good luck!