The Wall Street Journal printed an essay, A Smart Investor Would Skip the MBA, by Dale Stephens last March. The takeaway? Money spent on an MBA would be better invested directly in yourself and your career ambition. Among other statistics cited in the article, Mr. Stephens pointed out that some reputable business schools claimed a 23 percent unemployment rate among 2012 graduates, so it’s an important point to consider: Is an MBA program worth the investment, or could that money (up to $200,000 for some programs) be better spent?
Jadey Ryndak, regional manager at Paladin Recruiting and Staffing, a staffing agency that specializes in the marketing, creative and communications industries in Chicago, cautions that getting an MBA is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. “At the entry- and mid-level careers, experience trumps all,” she says. “Getting an MBA is not a price of entry to start in the job market.”
Ms. Ryndak recommends that recent graduates or those just starting out in a career should hold off on seeking the MBA. “By spending some time working in between college and business school, you’re going to gain so much real-world experience,” she says. “It will make the MBA that much more meaningful if you decide to pursue it down the line.”
This sentiment is echoed by Liz Livingston Howard, director of nonprofit executive education and clinical associate professor of management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “There’s an advantage to gaining some experience before you get an MBA because the conversation in the classroom is going to be much richer and more valuable if you have a context to put the learning into,” she explains. “Having some experience professionally before you come to business school is vital.” She points out that many business schools now require between two and five years of work experience to apply to their MBA programs.
Ms. Howard says an MBA is still a valuable degree for the right candidate. “Many people use the MBA as a springboard to a career transition,” she says. “When you talk about one of the values of an MBA, it can help position people to transition from one field to another, or from one function within their field to another.” Ms. Ryndak agrees: “Where the MBA becomes more important is a situation where people are trying to advance to higher management roles. In that situation, not having an MBA can curtail those opportunities.”
Ms. Howard also advises that anyone considering an MBA should take into account the long-term benefits. “I got my MBA in 1989,” she says. “And over the life of my career there’s been a significant benefit, both in how I approach my job and in how much money I earn.”
Mia Hillsman, a product manager with AbbVie (formerly Abbott Laboratories Pharmaceuticals) and a 2009 graduate of the MBA program at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, saw her career opportunities expand after getting her MBA. She decided to take two years off from a career in sales and used the time to start a family and get an MBA at the same time. Because of the MBA program, she was able to transition out of sales and into consumer product goods marketing. “I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I didn’t have an MBA,” she points out. “And I pretty much doubled my salary.”
Her advice to women considering business school is practical: Do your research. In fact, all three women stress the importance of finding a program that specializes in your area of interest to attract recruiters from the industries in which you want to work. They also emphasize the unparalleled opportunities for networking with your peers that an MBA program offers. “Networking is key,” says Ms. Ryndak. “A good portion of why a master’s degree is so valuable is your cohort, your network.”
Ultimately, the decision whether or not to get an MBA is a personal one and depends on a variety of factors, including your current situation, career goals and lifestyle. Ms. Hillsman sums it up this way: “Going to business school is a huge investment – of time and of money. You want to make sure you have a clear understanding of the implications. If you’re not able to land that dream job as soon as you finish your MBA, would that change your decision?”n