Should my friend get an MBA?
March 30, 2010 11:22 PM   Subscribe

Should I get an MBA? (Posting for a friend)

Very similar situation to this one:

Works at a startup, has decent job skills, wants to get into international business/finance, but does not want to become a pretentious ass (or hang out with them).

The major difference between that poster and my friend is that my friend already has a prestigious degree (think Harvard, Yale, etc.) from university -- thus he doesn't need the name value of a top MBA. He has gotten admission to a couple of top business schools (the Harvards of the world, again), but isn't sure if it's worth the money for someone who already has the fancy name once over and already has the business skills (or thinks he does).

However, most of the jobs he wants require an MBA of some sort. Is there any other way to get the certification, given that the "name" isn't that important and he already has strong business skills?
posted by metametababe to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My MBA-having SO sez:

If you can find a job that'll pay for the MBA, do it.
posted by k8t at 11:37 PM on March 30, 2010

No degree, no matter how prestigious, is worth taking on debt for these days. IMO companies are a lot more interested in actual experience above all else. The Ivy Pedigree carries weight but it's not like it used to be.
posted by bardic at 11:43 PM on March 30, 2010

Your friend is over-thinking pretentious-ass concerns. Pretentious asses are generally pretentious asses, MBA or no MBA.

MBA's, especially full-time programs, are far more valuable when coming from a top-tier school.

Companies might be willing to hire a non-MBA, but then your work history must be stellar, and someone at the company must be willing to fight through the HR red tape to get them hired. The MBA is a signal on a number of levels.

Paying for the degree is a challenge, yes. But if you can figure out how to pay for it, go. Just make sure to ask for the pretentious-ass cootie shot during orientation.
posted by swngnmonk at 11:45 PM on March 30, 2010

If your friend has about five or so years work experience, or is willing to wait until he does, he can get an executive MBA. They are more expensive on a per-year basis, but faster.

Basically, your friend's business skills are irrelevant. As swngnmonk said, the MBA is a signal. In part, its purpose is to tell prospective employers that your friend shares their values (or will fake it) and is willing to slog through a couple of years of business school to prove it. For certain roles and certain industries, the MBA is the price of admission. There is no other certification that sends the same message.

More generally --- for the past five or 10 years, MBAs have been gradually, slowly, diminishing in value. But I would put that in the "price of admission" bucket -- where having an MBA used to distinguish the holder as unusually well trained in certain areas, more recently business schools have been churning out increasing numbers of them -- including the newer variants like executive MBAs, which often have slacker requirements. All that has tended to water the wine. I wouldn't be surprised to see their value diminish further in coming years, in part because Obama is tilting attitudes towards public service, and in part because of the financial meltdown.

Your friend's comment about pretentious asses is interesting -- kind of angry and strong. That suggests he's conflicted at a pretty deep level, and might want to do some thinking about his motivations, values, etc. Most business schools will let you attend a trial class to see what the fit feels like: maybe he should consider that.
posted by Susan PG at 1:21 AM on March 31, 2010

This is the poster of the thread you're referring to.

Yes, it was completely worth it - although I only "wasted" one year. I went from a blah US job to doing some awesome things in international business, and having friends all over the world that are an invaluable business and personal network. But it was still costly in many unexpected ways. MeFi mail me.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 3:36 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

If most of the jobs he wants require and MBA, he should get an MBA. If those jobs mean higher pay, he'd benefit financially, not waste money, especially if it's from a top-rated school.
posted by tenaciousd at 4:52 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you can find a job that'll pay for the MBA, do it.

Keep in mind that employer tuition benefits above $5K or so (can't remember the number anymore; it's been two years) are taxed as income in the USA. And, yes, you ultimately deduct the taxable reimbursement, but still. The benefit might also tether you to the employer for a time after graduation. If you leave the job before the time's up, you'll probably pay.
posted by jgirl at 5:03 AM on March 31, 2010

Counter argument- now is a great time to take on debt as an investment in the future, precisely because other people can't or won't do the same.
posted by gjc at 5:28 AM on March 31, 2010

If he's looking to change careers the prestigious undergrad degree isn't terribly helpful. If he got into a top 5 school and has a clear sense of what he wants to go into (and most of those people have MBA's) then he should go to school. The return on investment of a top 5 MBA program for a career changer is very high. The diminishing returns as you go further down the prestige scale are tremendous though. And yeah there are tons of annoying people at those schools and some really normal interesting folks. He'll find his niche. He's got kind of a flaw in his logic if he thinks he wants to do career X and needs an MBA to do it, but isn't sure if he wants to get an MBA because of all he douchiness.

There is a huge difference in value between a top five full time program and an executive program. Especially if you are looking to change careers

Also I am the only person in my firm w/o a top five MBA - and all of them will tell you there isn't much you actually learn at the H/S/W of the world. Its about the credential not learning. What he knows about business actually doesn't matter that much.

I went through this whole process myself - admitted to a few top 5 programs decided not to go because I realized I wasn't interested in a career change - but I even went so far as to put a deposit down at one of the schools before I realized it didnt really make much sense for me to go. I too went to a fancy undergrad, had a bunch of industry specific credentials and was generally thought of as very good at my job - and none of that mattered in the calculus of deciding whether to go back to school.
posted by JPD at 5:31 AM on March 31, 2010

If he can get someone to pay for it, then absolutely yes, especially if he can get into Wharton, Kellogg, Harvard, etc. That said, as above, most of this is purely a door opener. My understanding is that a tier-2 MBA or below really isn't worth it.

The other path to the boardroom involves tackling larger challenges and placing those on your resume, not an MBA.

You will learn just as much from library books and real-world experience as you will in Harvard. They aren't dispelling secret knowledge, just secret handshakes. Just don't underestimate the power of secret handshakes.
posted by jasondigitized at 9:19 AM on March 31, 2010

I got a MBA after 20+ years in the business world, including 15+ years of management experience. I didn't take time off from work and my company paid for it, but it still was a grueling 2 years of my life. The reason I did it is that I found that as I changed jobs & companies, I repeatedly had to let people know that I did know how to develop a business strategy, I did know about organizational development, I did know... etc...

Those three little letters let people know that you have access to a body of knowledge about business. Yes, you can learn all of it from books or from individual classes. (That's where I acquired the knowledge I had going into the program).

I ended up learning a few new things, doing a lot of work, and became an Excel expert. Plus, I now have those three letters on my resume :).

The other benefit you get from a MBA is the network you build with your class mates who have seen you operate in a business context -- while I haven't tapped that network a lot, it is good to have it there.
posted by elmay at 1:32 PM on March 31, 2010

From my experience (I am currently in a top 10 MBA program in the US), your friend should go for it if he gets into a top program and wants to make a career switch. He may not learn a lot from the degree, but it is a valuable credential. From what I have seen, an MBA at a top school can open a lot of doors for career switches, and you meet a lot of interesting people in the process.
posted by bignerds at 8:15 PM on March 31, 2010

I am contributing from direct personal experience (possessing a top-5 MBA):

- the people are actually pretty great. My school had a large international student population, so it was far different from undergrad in terms of the people you meet - it's a more world opening experience than undergrad at any of the same schools if you actually bother to meet people who are not from the US. Unfortunately, a lot of boring guys from NYC only hung out with other boring guys from NYC, so I would suggest not doing that.

- the ROI is actually shocking. I was not making a lot of $$ previously, but even so, I have vastly exceeded my expectations, and have paid for the degree in random side jobs alone (which do require the degree). I was extremely concerned about the debt because of being in a fairly low paying job before, but I'm really glad I listened to the people who said it was honestly not a big deal.

- The MBA is not a replacement for any other qualities you need: hard work, ability to think clearly, strong communication skills. There are idiots everywhere, and a top 5 MBA is no exception. My favorite quote during school was from a friend trying to get recruited to one of the top consulting firms: "I thought it would be easy once I got into a great MBA program, but it just gets more competitive!" People who know what they want and don't fall into the cookie cutter mentality do just fine.

- I think an MBA is even more beneficial several years down the road (I am not really there yet, still pretty middle management) when companies are looking for tiny differences between really strong people. I mainly decided to do it because it allows you a bit more flexibility - people assume you have certain skills that are useful for many different companies, and that can be good if you want to move around. Every time I have a career freakout I try to remember that I have a really useful degree that impresses many - and my colleagues do not. It's comforting in a way.

- As your friend already has a brand name degree he's already familiar with this phenomenon, which at HBS they call the H-bomb. Someone will ask where you got your MBA, you say the name of the school and they make a shocked and amazed face and say: "Wow, that's a really good school" (it's freaky)
posted by rainydayfilms at 9:56 PM on August 18, 2010

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