Should I pursue an MBA?
January 31, 2013 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Please help me evaluate whether or not I should aim to go to business school (many personal details inside).

I'm going to try to lay out the facts and keep the editorializing to a minimum. Anonymous due to the detailed information provided below. I am 23.

~1.5 years into my first job out of college at a 'second-tier' management and technology consulting firm (heavy on the technology, light on the management).
Currently gross ~75k annually. Promotion expected in about half a year (not a huge raise). The work is okay, but I'm looking for something more... challenging/analytical/problem-solving oriented. I think I can spin my experiences fairly well in an interview situation, but don't really feel that I've learned much from this job.

3.34 GPA from a top 3 undergrad school.
Major was in engineering.
SAT (if it helps - haven't taken GMAT yet) was M800/V800/W720

~70k in liquid savings, currently retirement funds. My current work/living arrangement allows me to save a large percentage of my income (>50% of my gross). This amount could change in the future but let's assume it won't.

Potential for career acceleration and a salary jump (If I'm going to be a corporate drone, I want to be a well-compensated one). I'm not really passionate about work, and I think I could derive some satisfaction from any 'strategic' or analytical corporate role. I would probably not be averse to going back into consulting, as long as it was more strategy-focused or analytical/data-driven than what I'm doing now.
There's no pretty way to say this, but I'm also motivated by prestige. Most of the time it isn't very important to me, but the thought of a path to being one of the 'best and brightest' type of thing tends to appeal to my ego when I'm feeling unaccomplished in my current situation.

Business school is expensive and the ROI is debatable. I have concerns about being able to handle the academics and the networking - most people like me and I'm friendly with my coworkers, but I'm definitely not outgoing or extroverted.
I also don't specifically know what I want to do with my career, and I keep reading that an MBA is not something you should pursue without a well-defined plan.
I'm also not sure that I'd be able to step up to the challenge academically. I'm ~95% sure that I should have been in therapy or on medication for anxiety during college, and I'm afraid those issues will come back once I return to a stressful environment. My academic record was spotty in college (as evidenced by my GPA) due to severe procrastination regarding deadlines and TONS of anxiety-ridden days/weeks/months. I've excelled at work (I think in large part due to the structured responsibilities of a job), but I still tend to procrastinate heavily on administrative tasks that don't directly impact my job performance.

If I don't apply to business school, I'll probably start applying for appealing jobs at smaller companies (I'm also interested in data analyst positions don't really have the quantitative/coding background - I like programming, Excel wizardry, data visualization, etc. but I don't have an advanced statistics background or a strong programming foundation).

The compromise is to prep for the GMAT now, take the GMAT, apply for new jobs, then apply to an MBA program later on or if it doesn't work out. I'm leaning towards doing this anyway, but I want to hear what the levelheaded denizens of AskMe think about business school in this situation. Also relevant - do I even have a shot at a top program? I know my GPA and academic record could be a problem. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to consider going to business school in addition to working (i.e., concurrently, so you have the pedigree and know the lingo but still stay on your career track, if nothing more than just to have a backup plan). You learn so much practical knowledge working in a job and it's possibly detrimental to your career to learn that knowledge later than other people. As for debatable ROI, there was a Yahoo! News item on that today. An MBA degree might open new doors to you, but it very much depends on what field you want to go into. what university you get the MBA from, and what the economy is like at the time you graduate. Thus the value of staying in your job so you have something to fall back on.
posted by Dansaman at 12:08 PM on January 31, 2013

I don't think you should do it right now. But maybe, in addition to applying for appealing jobs at smaller companies, you could be applying for jobs at companies that would pay for all or part of an MBA for you? Most of the people I know with MBAs got them at least partially on their employer's dime. (Oh, and they mostly got them while working full-time.)
posted by mskyle at 12:08 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you cannot find someone to pay you to go to business school and provide you with a job afterwards, don't go. There's no guarantee that the degree will enable you to earn any more money than you're already making, but you'll either have spent or borrowed a ton of money in the meantime.
posted by valkyryn at 12:17 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Everything about your post said to me "Don't do this!"

You are finished school, living well within your means, and gainfully employed with savings and the potential for even more savings! I don't really see the benefit of an MBA program for you. It's my impression from reading such questions on the green that there is no advantage unless you're at a very top tier school and somebody else is footing the bill.

The work is okay, but I'm looking for something more... challenging/analytical/problem-solving oriented.

You're 23 and a year and a half out of school. I don't want to sound harsh, but that sounds like the kind of work you get to do once you have paid your dues. And besides, how do you know the job you get from your MBA will hit these marks? You describe being a "corporate drone" and being "motivated by prestige", which leads me to believe that you don't really know much at all about the kind of jobs you think you would like to have as a long-term career. If I were you, I would stay in the workforce and keep gaining valuable experience. The grass is always greener and all that. You sound really smart. You will do just fine without an MBA.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:31 PM on January 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

I've known at least one tech management type who was able to get a very good MBA program paid for by his employer by waiting long enough to get to the point where he got a few steps further up the chain.

Everybody's first job isn't as advanced as they want it to be. Stick with it a bit longer, get to know it better, make connections, and so on--an MBA is a lot more valuable to a person with real work experience who knows people in other companies/industries, which you will in a few years as your peers start filtering out to other companies. And you'll have a better idea of your interests. And you'll have a better chance of finding a company that's happy to lay out the equivalent of your current year's salary or more to pay for it.

The first five years is a bad time to go back to school unless you're just convinced you absolutely hate what you decided to do originally.
posted by Ex-Wastrel at 12:40 PM on January 31, 2013

I wondered myself whether or not to pursue an MBA, and wrote up about it here. While I'm more of a sales and marketing person rather than a business analytics one, there are many ways to work up the food chain with or without that credential, as well as getting an employer to pay for it rather than racking up a ton of debt.

Not sure if you saw this recent WSJ piece, 'For Newly Minted M.B.A.s, a Smaller Paycheck Awaits' - due to a supply and demand imbalance, an MBA isn't worth what it once was. Harvard Business Review picked up on it and had some commentary here. Remember that MBAs for business schools are prime income-producing operations for them, and beware of their own marketing of an expensive product.

Use your current position to learn and grow in the areas you've already identified - strategy and analytics - by both asking for special projects and spending your free time working on gaining additional skills. Personal MBA is definitely worth checking out for a great reading list of books.

I can relate to that desire for prestige - heck you have a stellar background - and there are other ways to earn it with achievements and a ranking position in an organization, rather than an academic credential. Best of luck!
posted by scooterdog at 1:05 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you would do well making a lateral move to a more strategic-focused consulting firm first and then figure out your next step from there.

If you could get admitted to a top-10 MBA program, it would probably be worth your while if you wanted to migrate your quantitative skills into a more finance- or venture-capital oriented career. However, if you want to do something more strategy-consulting-based, you probably don't yet need an MBA to do that.
posted by deanc at 1:38 PM on January 31, 2013

I'm a recent MBA grad. I chose to go to a local school and keep working (while my employer paid) and then switched to full-time when I received a TA position (free tuition plus stipend).

I didn't really have a great reason to go -- did excellent there, made good connections, learned a lot.

But . . . then I ended up moving across the country, and my connections didn't help me.

I was unemployed for about 7 months (but some of that I wasn't actively looking), and recently took a job doing the same thing I was doing when I started my MBA that I wanted to move out of. I'm also making slightly less money (but have more opportunity to move up within the org.)

So with that said my advice is this:

1. Really think about what you want to do about your career, and see whether or not an MBA will help you get there.

2. Study for the GMAT. For me, studying for the GMAT really helped me see whether or not I was ready to go back to school. I loved studying, but I got really stressed out, and it impacted my personal life (my husband would agree that when I started studying shortly after our wedding it was the beginning of the 2 year black hole my MBA put my marriage in that we haven't entirely dug out of).

3. Take the GMAT -- if you get over 750, and you've determined from Step 1 that an MBA is essential to what you want to do, you have amassed at least 3 years work experience (without which an MBA really isn't meaningful and you won't have much to offer your classmates), apply to top tier school.

4. Do NOT go into debt for B-school unless you are determined that what you want to do will make you a lot of money and an MBA is necessary.

5. If that is not the case, but you still think it would help -- go part time at night -- many organizations will pay up to $5000 a year for tuition reimbursement. If they don't offer it, ask -- it is tax deductible. Take your time and go -- apply what you learn at school to work, and vice versa. This is the best option, IMHO.

Good luck.
posted by hrj at 2:34 PM on January 31, 2013

Sounds like you are doing great. A couple thoughts:
* You are young to do an MBA, probably the smartest thing to do is to wait a couple years, save a bit more, see where growing organically in your career takes you
* I suspect you are bored, and hence are thinking of what you could do make life more interesting, full your ambitions - look to grow skills in your company/tuition assistance for most prestigious local school and network like crazy. See how many great job offers you can find and one appeals, go for it
* Apply for the Kauffman foundation internship - its would be a massive kickstarter outside the MBA world (and you get paid the whole way)
* If you do go for an MBA - try to do a 1 year course (limits opportunity cost and tuition and gets you back working as fast as possible)
* MBAs are like real estate - go for the most prestigous you can get into/afford: US - Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, U Chicago; International: Insead, IMD, LSE etc.; the less prestigous have lower resell value
posted by zia at 3:01 PM on January 31, 2013

First of all, good for you for being proactive about your career! I think 2 years is a great time to look at a change.

That being said, I agree that you should pursue other jobs first. You'll be in a much stronger position with a promotion/advancement and stellar GMATS in two years. Also, this is anecdotal, but even among top-notch programs, job switchers haven't been as successful as you would think. The market is still tough.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:10 PM on January 31, 2013

I considered getting an MBA a few years ago, so I studied for & took the GMAT. Doing so revealed my quantitative skills were weak, and it made me realize I wasn't ready for an MBA. I was able to take some post-baccalaureate classes through my job, which I loved and which I know will look great on my resume should I decide to get the MBA someday.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:40 PM on January 31, 2013

I speak from experience as an MBA from a top program, and now I interview MBA applicants in my area. First, open up as many options for yourself as possible!

1)Yes, pursue business school, crush the GMAT, and begin developing your application. But at the same time, in parallel:

2)See how well you can possibly do in your job. "Bloom where you are planted." In the long run, if you are outstanding, this could be the best long-run opportunity. You need to look so great in your job, that it's undeniable that you would get the most glowing recommendation. But it also just makes sense from a career perspective. Think of "extra" projects, on your own time, to improve the organization and get visibility from the leaders in your firm. Find out who are the best and brightest in your organization and take them out to lunch. Be a friendly, indestructible badass and maybe you'll be able to lateral to the strategy side without having to go back to school.

3)Figure out other "outside-the-box" opportunities. Maybe start a small business on the side. I like Zia's idea about the Kauffman foundation. Be engaged in your local start-up community. A really compelling startup idea that you're working on would look amazing on an application, but it could be the thing that launches a great career.

The idea here is that you have to have a really fruitful life and career to have a compelling business school rationale in the first place. If you're pursuing these things wholeheartedly, you might not even need to pay for an MBA. Ideally, you'd only get one if these other things don't work out.

Think about this from the admissions officer's perspective: Do we want the guy who does tech consulting so that he can get an offer at McKinsey? Or do we want the creative young tech guy who is kicking ass at his job, started a small tech company on the side, and is on the cusp of his own independent success? Let's give him a full scholarship!

OK- I realize that you're only 23 and you're working full time. But don't sell yourself short! You're creative! Develop lots of good options for yourself and you'll be sure to find one that is really satisfying.
posted by 0110 at 5:20 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also don't specifically know what I want to do with my career, and I keep reading that an MBA is not something you should pursue without a well-defined plan.

For this reason and that you described your post MBA job as one being a "corporate drone" and you are not excited about work in general... you should wait another year. No one gets more excited about work through doing an MBA. If you're not happy in consulting going to school won't help you figure out where you'll be happier.

Get a new job you might be excited about and go into an MBA program with enthusiasm when you're actually ready.
posted by rainydayfilms at 7:00 AM on February 1, 2013

My advice on MBA is to take out debt only for a top school - top ten if you can get admitted. If someone else is paying, then be more flexible about rank.

Top programs are going to want more experience than you have. Applying now or in the next year is going to pretty much exclude you from the top tier.

Put some additional work experience on your resume, then apply if you think it'll help you.
posted by 26.2 at 10:23 AM on February 4, 2013

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