How Much Is An MBA Worth?

Robert Frost, American poet

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Excerpt from The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Life is a series of choices and unless you are clairvoyant you ability to plan for the future is somewhat limited. The best you can do is gather information and conduct a quiet analysis in which you hope your hunches, experiences and that of those you trust come true.

But the thing is that there are twists and turns you cannot see nor anticipate. Sometimes those turn out to be pivotal moments that change your life and sometimes they are nothing more than a brief hiccup.

+++++

Next year marks the twentieth anniversary of my graduation…from college. It also marks the moment when I chose to find out what would happen by not going to law school or obtaining an MBA.

At that time the choice not to get an MBA was simple. I didn’t have interest in “business” and though I had some attraction to becoming an attorney it wasn’t enough to convince me to spend more time in a graduate school program.

I was done with tests and papers and interested in starting my life because I had lots of things to do.

+++++

Twenty years later I can look back with the benefit of age and experience and say I am not always certain that I made the right choice in not obtaining the “advanced degree.”

That is because I can look back now and see positions that I wasn’t able to obtain because I didn’t have a few more initials next to my name. Yet I can also argue that it might not have made a significant difference.

I can look at the financial cost and ask whether spending another $40,000 in school loans would have helped and wonder how long it might have taken to recoup my investment.

If you “Google” how much is an MBA worth you can find a variety of articles that promote both sides too. Some of them are tied into market conditions and suggest that timing is everything. If you went to school at the wrong time you would end up with a big bill and fewer opportunities to try to use to leverage your degree in which case your three letters might not be worth as much as you would like.

Of course timing in life is everything. Run a couple more “Google” searches and you can see how you could have made a small fortune from a modest investment in certain companies or how your great idea for a business might have worked better had you tried it in the year 9283.

+++++

Sometimes I think about going back to school for an MBA now. When I think about it I weigh the pros and cons.

I have an awful lot of real world experience now and have obtained skills that are worth quite a bit. I am confident that those skills and experience give me an edge over many others, including those who have obtained those three letters both recently and otherwise.

But I acknowledge that not everyone looks at a person like that. Some don’t spend time thinking about transferable skills. Some are more interested in what letters reside next to your name and some don’t see your application because the software programs they use don’t select those without those three letters.

So sometimes I find myself mulling over the idea of going back to school to gain a few more letters beside my name.  Sometimes I’ll sit under a moonlit sky and wonder if it is worth investing a little time to see if those letters open a few more doors.

+++++

And now thirty years after I first read Frost’s poem I understand and appreciate it so much better than I did the first time around.

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14 Comments

  1. Tim Bonner December 9, 2012 at 3:18 am

    Hey Josh

    I think in the current financial climate, particularly here in the UK (excluding Scotland where tuition fees are currently paid for Scottish and EU students), more people are moving away from doing any type of formal education after school.

    Vocational qualifications are being looked on much more favourably and the idea of having a vocation seems a more sustainable way of life; Plumbing, Electricians and so on.

    • Josh December 10, 2012 at 8:05 am

      Hi Tim,

      I have heard many discussions here about the advantages in taking on a trade because people always need plumbers and electricians where as they might not need another Joe/Jane with a degree in English.

      It is a worthwhile discussion.

  2. Brian D. Meeks ( December 7, 2012 at 6:28 am

    Eli Goldratt’s book “Critical Chain”, sort of looks at that subject. He points out that there is very little practical value in an MBA, other than the letters you get to put after your name. They don’t really teach one any skills that can be used, or at least that is his position. I tend to agree, but if it gets you that promotion, then I guess it has served its purpose.

    Me, I’d love to go back to school and get another degree of some sort. Not because I want to use it to further a career, but because I like learning. I might consider an MFA in Art History, or possibly getting into physics or astronomy, maybe even a masters in mathematics. Learning is fun and that is the only reason I’d consider going back.

  3. Pingback: Expose the Truth – Do we Need Degree

  4. Frank Strong December 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Often education is what one puts into it; we work hard at it, we’ll learn, if we don’t, then we are treading water. I’ve long felt that the pursuit of education ought to be self-driven; if you weren’t feeling it then, so what? You’re still here today. And you got something to write about that might help someone else weight the same decision.

    • Josh December 7, 2012 at 12:41 am

      Hi Frank,

      Your first line really resonates with me because there is so much truth to it. When we are willing to delve deeply and apply ourselves we gain far more than when we just sort of show up for class.

      I was never a bad student, but I would be much better today because of that drive you mention.

      There is no substitute for life experience. I see being an older student as an advantage in many ways. Your focus is a bit different in your forties than in your twenties, or so I think.

  5. SuziC December 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who ponders this.

  6. Sapna December 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Hi Joshua

    I can relate to this dilemma, after my Bachelors, I got the job offer and at the same time got selected in Advance degree, I opted for the later.

    I believe that organised, insightful knowledge can be through college only and also one of my favorite saying goes like this.

    “The self-taught man seldom knows anything ACCURATELY…”
    I don’t think that experience can easily teach you Balance Sheet, Profit and Loss accounts, Cashflow, Costing and ROI. It takes a hell of effort to even understand Credit and Debit. These are just FEW EXAMPLES from F&A. You also miss the network of say 50-100 people.
    I have seen people quoting Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ellison etc. These are exceptions.
    I ask them, tell me How many people cannot make to Senior positions because of absence of these 3 alphabets after their names.

    So all in all I am hugely in favor of Advance degree.

    Thanks
    Sapna

    • Josh December 7, 2012 at 12:38 am

      Hi Sapna,

      I see benefits in the advanced degree and in being part of a structured lesson but I don’t think it is impossible to gain that information outside of the classroom either.

      Sometimes the best way to learn is by doing and that can’t always be taught by a professor. Some of the best business lessons I have learned came from that aforementioned real world experience.

      When I was single and childless it was much different,so that affects my perspective here. In a perfect world I see plenty of merit in going back to obtain those letters, but in the current situation, well it is a bigger debate.

    • Brian D. Meeks ( December 7, 2012 at 6:35 am

      Sapana,

      In one word you made the case for NOT getting an MBA. “Costing”, as in cost accounting, is a completely discredited method of analysis. The problem is that it leads people to make decisions that are detrimental to the health and well being of the business.

      If you had a choice, as a manager, to make parts x23 for your widget, and one analysis said it could be done for $1.37 cents, and another showed how one could save on set-ups, and increase the batch size, thus getting the cost down to $1.05 cents per part, which one would you choose?

      If you said $1.05, you would be wrong. This is what people with MBAs tend to answer and why their degrees have led them astray.

      For an understanding of why the answer is wrong, Eli Goldratt’s “The Goal”, “It’s Not Luck”, and “Critical Chain”, lay it out perfectly.

  7. Hajra December 6, 2012 at 11:06 am

    We have a similar story that way – when I finished my Bachelors I was selected for an MBA program at a pretty nice university. I filled out the form because everyone else seemed to be doing it. And I decided I shouldn’t. I felt being a shrink was what I really wanted to be doing.

    Sometimes it is just what you feel nice about! 🙂

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