I need MBA advice to make sure I don't waste two years and $100k
May 17, 2007 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Is an MBA worth it for me, or am I just trying to keep up with friends who all seem to have letters after their names now that we're hitting our late 20s?

My dream job is international marketing, particularly working for companies or brands that are expanding between Asia and the English-speaking world. It would involve a good bit of travel and be based in a major city.

My current job is nominally marketing manager, but it's a small company and I do a good deal of operations, web and graphics work, client service, you name it. I'm 27 and female, if it matters, and my degree was in Economics with a barely 3.0 GPA from a decent state school. My grades were a lot better in my last two years (dean's list) and I'm certain I can ace the GMAT with some more studying. I do very well on standardized tests and had a near-perfect SAT... somewhat of an idiot savant that way.

I've been researching schools for months but I still don't have a good idea of how I stack up vs other applicants, and whether I have a shot at a good school. I would want to go full-time and really take advantage of the resources and networking the school offers. But my goal is not astronomical salary or prestige, just an interesting job that allows me to travel to cool places, pays enough for the ensuing school loans on top of a decent lifestyle, and doesn't make me wear a suit every day. I think eventually I'd like to start my own (or with a partner) company.

Sorry this is so long-winded. My real questions are:
- Do I have a shot of getting into a top school (US or abroad) and how to increase my chances.

- Is it worth going even if I do get into a good school, or is the opportunity cost too high? Could I get where I want to be without an MBA? (Most of the jobs ads that look interesting to me do require one.)

- Should I be conversant in an Asian language if I want to specialize in Asia? My college Japanese is almost gone and to pick it up again it I'd need a few months of serious, and probably full-time study.

- Are MBA programs full of pretentious asses who are much more interested in money than knowledge or doing cool things, and will make me feel out of place and homicidal within months? How do I find one with genuinely smart and interested students?

Thank you in advance!
posted by Mr Bunnsy to Work & Money (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I personally don't understand why anyone would take themself out of the work force to get a degree when they could be working toward their dream job. We've had some people come through our company recently that have MBAs... and they were just nothing- nothing about their work that made them special or even worth keeping around, and it seemed like they had wasted their money. If you're going to make an investment, invest your energy and your time to be the best employee at the best job you can find, and you'll move your way up the ranks in no time (at which point, maybe your company will pay for your education and Chinese lessons!)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:48 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yes, you can get into a top school with bad grades and good standardized test scores. Especially with work experience and a really convincing in person interview with the dean of admissions or his proxy. I had a 2.47 and got into Newsweek's (at the time) top school. The key was the test scores so the admissions could justify your ability and the interview to explain the reasons why you had a low score and the upward slope to the grades as well as the really great things you want to do with your MBA. Sounds like you have thought it out. If you can go at night, you can keep the best of both worlds (work and education).

No, not everyone at business school was a money hungry pretentious ass. Many were. Many others were more than willing to help, to be friends and to work collaboratively. I also found some lifelong drinking buddies.

Although I have no idea if it translates into marketing, the investment bankers I know who speak the language of the country in which they work are higher paid and enjoy living abroad much more. YMMV.

If you are going simply based on the return on investment from a financial standpoint, it is probably not a good investment. If you are going because it will help you get into a field of work you would really enjoy, but otherwise could not get into without an MBA, then go for it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:57 PM on May 17, 2007

i have a good friend getting an mba. i suppose it might pay for itself, but i have my doubts (granted, this is coming from someone with the most useless graduate degree EVER, so believe me, i'm not passing judgment, just making the observation).

also, from meeting her schoolmates and from the mba students at my own school (two different ivies) i have to say that you must be prepared to re-enter a social scene that is a hundred times more toxic than high school, in terms of social competitiveness and self-involvement. of course not all b-school students are like this, but man, i would not spend two years with these people even if i could increase my annual salary by a factor of ten.

i don't know exactly what you will learn at school that you won't learn on the job--what you are really paying for at high-powered schools is the networking. only you can judge if it's necessary. if you want the knowledge, do an executive mba on weekends through a local college and spare yourself the social and financial pain. but you might do better just to take specific classes, if you are lacking a particular skill.

mba programs make their money because people are insecure about their own potential and think they need the letters after their name to give themselves a boost. that's their marketing plan. if you are getting a lot of good experience where you are, just network like crazy.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:01 PM on May 17, 2007

Interesting you should mention this topic. I have been considering going back to get my MPA (Masters in Public Administration). I'm a tad bit older than you- just turned 50. I just enjoy learning. I have a great job in a very large non-profit as a techno-crat. This was a career change for me several years ago. I already made the money, bought the cars, the houses, etc etc- so money and ego are not the motivation. That said... in my organization, and others like it I'm sure, there is a little bit of a glass ceiling that you you can hit without some acronym behind your name. Just like the BA or BS gives you (as my econ prof used to say) a "license to compete" for certain positions, those added initials give you a license with an endorsement. If you are interested in the public/non-profit side of things- you might check on some of the executive or managerial MPA or MBA's- you can still have a career while working on your degree. My two cents worth- YMMV.
posted by bytemover at 8:06 PM on May 17, 2007

If you get into a top ten or near top ten school, then yes it is worth it. You will make back your tuition etc. in enhanced earings many times over. Podunk business school? Well, if you have no business sense, then that is worth it for the learning, otherwise maybe not. B school is very much about burnishing the resume, and podunk u ain't gonna do it. So, you haven't even applied yet. See where you get in and then re-evaluate. Add to this, a local B school which is not a national power but which has local connections can help you greatly in a local market.
posted by caddis at 8:25 PM on May 17, 2007

Keep in mind that MBA programs differ drastically, even among name brand schools, and probably from class-to-class. West Coast schools are generally more laid back than their East Coast counterparts, as is to be expected. You're just going to have to visit campuses and get a good feel for the student body populations.

A good GMAT will be key, and it depends on what the schools are looking for. Take the GMAT and start poking around. It should be pretty clear which schools fit you and which don't.

I took a few MBA classes while I was an undergrad to fill odd requirements. It worked out great, I paid undergrad prices for grad level classes. Some people were incredibly pretentious asses, some people were genuinely very cool. You can spot the Patrick Bateman-types a mile away. They're the ones in the Hugo Boss pant suits with their Sony Vaio laptops and Starbucks coffee ready when class starts.

You did say you got your degree in Economics (it is okay I still like you), which probably wasn't as business school oriented as other business classes. Anything non-technical in business school will be group assignments. Again, I was in the popular, cool kids group and we went to the bar with wifi and did our assignments there. I learned a lot of really, really interesting things. Great experience in meeting people and working through a project. The time I was assigned with the squares, it was drastically less so. Imagine binders, oh god almighty the binders, and people coming with Excel time sheets with everyones duties sub-divided.

I've heard good things about: Stanford (everyone I know in marketing went there, they loved and they were nice, normal people), Northwestern, London SOB and Columbia. I have not heard good things about Harvard, Wharton and MIT.

By "not good things" I mean probably dealing with people you don't want to be dealing with. For people like that, they love it. Again, this probably changes on a class-by-class basis. E-mail me if you have other questions, I'm going through a similar process.
posted by geoff. at 8:36 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's been said that the value of an MBA is not the education itself, per se, but the contacts and connections you make there, and the recruiting that is done by companies at graduation.

At Harvard, Stanford, etc, this is enormously valuable.

But an MBA from University of Random State U with Decent Football Team? Yeah, not so much. Don't waste your time.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:40 PM on May 17, 2007

Consider a more specialized degree since you know what you want. There is a Masters in International Business at the school I attend (where I am getting my Masters of Science in Finance). We of the specialized degrees (Masters in: Int'l Business, Real Estate, Entrepreneurship, Finance, etc.) regularly take classes with the MBAs and you can't tell what degree program any particular motivated and interested student is taking.
Its the large portion of folks who are getting MBAs because they have nothing better to do that dilute the degree and leave it as much of a networking tool and social enclave as an academic learning experience. And with all these specialized programs growing in popularity, its fast becoming the undecideds who are populating the MBA.

As far as getting accepted goes I got into my program with a self-designed undergrad degree in philosophy, psychology and theology, a few years in retail management and bookkeeping, and a couple of accounting classes from the local university in the evenings. I interviewed my way in because I had a clear vision of what I wanted out of the program.

(My email is in my profile if I can help in more detail)
posted by iurodivii at 8:48 PM on May 17, 2007

I like bytemover's concept of a "license to compete"... Sure, you could learn all the stuff from an MBA in the workplace, but the easiest way for somebody to ensure you have the knowledge is to have those three letters after your name... I used to say that people shortlist based on items like qualificiation and I'm sure you'd prefer to be in the "has a masters" pile on the top of the desk rather than the "doesn't have a masters" pile under the desk!

Having said that, have you considered a more specialised Masters degree? As you can see from some of the comments, the MBA is becoming a little-bit of a "fashion" degree, so maybe you'd be better off with a Masters of Marketing or somesuch?

Full Disclaimer: These comments are coming from an Academic with many letters after his name and a passion for people to get more education (hence the job I guess), so please apply your own filter based on your educational experience
posted by ranglin at 8:57 PM on May 17, 2007

I have an MBA and I teach GMAT prep sometimes. Although I scored in the 99th percentile on the verbal and had fairly high undergrad grades, I chose to do a weekend-based executive MBA program here in Vancouver. I didn't want to take two full years out of my career.

If I had gone to Harvard, I would have spent USD 150k, perhaps a little more. However, instead, I spent the equivalent of USD 37k while continuing in my career and earning an income. I was also able to buy into the real estate market. If I'd had USD 150k in loans, I wouldn't have been able to do that. I also might have had to defer the decision to have a child when I did, because I would have needed money to pay back loans.

You hear all this stuff about needing the contacts at a prestigious university. Well, I went to a Canadian EMBA program. Many classmates have gone on to VP positions and my teammate, a woman, is now the CEO of an engineering firm with hundreds of employees. I've got a really good network, although mostly for positions here in Canada. But I don't want to leave.

I'm currently self-employed and not looking to work in an office job, but I get calls from recruiters about positions here in *Vancouver* that pay six-figure salaries. I have no doubt that I could make even more in the US or elsewhere in the world.

I didn't go to Podunk U, but I also didn't go to an Ivy League school for my MBA. I'd heard from people who did shell out $150k that they felt obligated to work at high-paying positions so that they could recoup their tuition, even though they were interested in other jobs. And the loan costs caused them to delay other pursuits in life, like children and homes. Some of them feel they can't come back to a smaller city, like Vancouver, because they will only make $120k a year, not $150k. And so on.

When I teach GMAT classes, some people can't believe I didn't go to a famous school. But I think I made the right decision for me and that's what counts.
posted by acoutu at 9:04 PM on May 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thank you for all the answers so far! This is really helping me weigh the issues. Geoff., I may be blind but I don't see an email in your profile... do you actually know anyone who went to London SOB? That happens to be the school that most interests me, in large part because of location. iurodivii's suggestions is great too... I've actually considered a joint master's/MBA, as well.

To clear things up I am interested in a full-time program not for the prestige but because my job leaves me very little energy and brainpower to spare. I tried taking language classes after work and nothing stuck, so I can't imagine business classes going any better. I already own a home with my partner and am not planning on having kids, so the biggest financial concern would be replaying the loans afterwards.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 9:22 PM on May 17, 2007

Hey, YOU'RE ME!! Well, me a few years ago.

I also wanted to go into international marketing, but was unsure about the investing the time/effort/money in such an unknown as an MBA. So I went and did a post-graduate certificate in International Marketing. And lo and behold, I just spent the last two years working as a marketing consultant in africa. (My equivalent of your Asia dream.) Now I'm back in Canada (the international experience was great, and I'd love to keep doing it, but homelife is just more appealing at the moment) and I have a good marketing job. I'm one of two people without an MBA on my team. So, as someone mba-less, I'm doing pretty well. But, lo and behold, the mba-holders all earn more money than me, and will continue to earn even more money as time goes on. And will have much easier times getting new jobs, as we attain more seniority.

If you want to add "high income" and "easier to find international jobs" to your list, then get an MBA. But by all means you don't need one. You just sacrifice some future income and mobility. (Which may not be that important to you.)
posted by Kololo at 9:36 PM on May 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

I don't agree with those who say that only an MBA from a prestigious school will matter. Yes it helps, but the degree itself will open doors for you no matter where it's from. There is NO way I would have been even considered for my current job without that degree.

What does matter is the specialty you choose and how you differentiate yourself. I agree that going for a specialty program is highly recommended - I did a three year Chinese program and I got a lot more out of it than my friends with "normal" MBAs did. Also, the network I developed in that specialized program was far superior because it was so focused.

As far as getting in, it really depends on the program itself, I think. A well-written and passionate "business plan" for yourself - tying in your past experience with what you hope to gain in the program - can help you pull through even with not-so-great undergrad GPA.
posted by gemmy at 10:14 PM on May 17, 2007

do you actually know anyone who went to London SOB? That happens to be the school that most interests me, in large part because of location

I can put you in touch with someone who went London SOB. My email is in my profile.
posted by toxic at 1:14 AM on May 18, 2007

Oops, looks like I unchecked the box accidentally. E-mail is in my profile.
posted by geoff. at 4:08 PM on May 18, 2007

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