Why an MBA?

Like how I was before, most of you reading this article are wondering whether pursuing an M.B.A. program is the right decision to make for you right now. Is an M.B.A. really worth it at this day and age? This is the million dollar question for many career-driven folks(well, around half a million literally for those gunning for top MBA programs), and this will be one of the most important questions you need to address in your essays.

Short answer? It depends (on you). Yes, that is the most answer consultants would default to, and one that took me a while to think. But really, after going through a top US M.B.A. program and knowing the motives of fellow classmates, there seems to be no straight answer to this question, and a lot of introspection is required to find the right answer for you.

Is it an increase of salary? An MBA can certainly increase your worth to your employer, but that also depend on which industry or career track you are in right now. The right question to ask here is if you can advance to a higher level of salary without an MBA. On the other hand, You need to think about your cashflow (discounted it if you can). A top MBA program will cost USD $150K+ for two years (without rent and other school related expenses), and as a full-time student, you will forgo one to two years of salary. Plus the expensive activities that the students at these MBA program often participate in, you are looking at close to half a million dollar investment. Yes – an MBA from these programs will put you on a higher earning trajectory, and you need to figure out if you can get on that trajectory without an MBA. For example, If you are currently in tech consulting and you want to advance in this field – yes, an MBA will help increase your salary, but it may not be worth it. Look on Glassdoor for the salaries of your managing directors and partners to see if the cashflow makes sense, and then look at their LinkedIn profiles – how many of them has an MBA?

Is it a career advancement in the same industry and role? Similar to the above, chances are, you don’t really need an M.B.A. to do it. Often times people think that an M.B.A. is the only way help us get promoted to upper management, but from what we have seen in our professional lives, a smart person can do just fine without it. In reality, once you are already in an industry that you want to settle in, what you need is to demonstrate performance on the job – it will speak much louder on your resume than an M.B.A. title.

In terms of career advancement, one thing that an M.B.A. program can help is in building your network. The potential network you gain in a top program will go far – and it will be even more helpful 10 or 20 years down the road.

You want to work in another geographic area? I actually hear this one quite often. Among the many possible scenarios, I think the one where this makes sense is if you are already working in a competitive industry (investment banking, consulting, PE etc), sometimes you do need to go into a business program that is located in your target geographic area (chances are they are in North America or Europe). Without recruiters in these markets actively looking at your resumes (and they do due to the fact that you are studying at a target school), it is often hard to get your foot in the door.

Or is it a career track switch?

This. This is the biggest reason why folks want to get into a business school from what I have seen. Whether you want to go from investment banking to PE, or tech into VC, or marketing into consulting…etc, the combination is endless, a business school program is that stepping stone where you can make that shift. Out of the 700 something folks in my class at CBS, a good majority of them were there to look for new opportunities in a different capacity. In addition to the recruiters flocking to your campus, doing an MBA program really just add extra sense to your story. “I was a software developer that wants to be part of the investing side of the start-up community, hence I am doing an MBA at…” Boom! Here is your pitch to the recruiter. And most adcom likes people from diverse backgrounds – making a career switch story much more fitting for them to select.

What do you actually learn in a top M.B.A. program?

Sometime people believe that an M.B.A. can teach you invaluable skill sets or knowledge that sets you apart from other people. More often, people think b-school is just a two year party where you and dance drink like there’s no tomorrow. Both can be true, but that will be largely depended on you – what you want to get out of your experience.

It almost sounds like I am saying that an MBA is not worth it. Often times, most of the knowledge in a business school can be learned through various other medium and self-learning. Yet, the two years I spent at Morningside Height has completely transformed me as a person. The best thing that a top business school can offer, in additional to that prestigious title on your resume and the lifelong network, is the lessons on failure and success, and how you should embrace them.

Your classmates will be the brightest, highly competitive, and relentless people you will ever spend a considerable amount of time with, and you will get a first-hand experience at understanding how they think, what they value, and how they strategize their careers. In these two years, through countless hours grueling for job offers and unexpected surprises (it’s not all smooth sailing after getting that acceptance letter), you will learn more about yourself than you ever will, define and achieve your own success, not just in your career but also your life. And this experience will be the one that transform and guide you for the rest of your life.