Graduate School: Still an Option, But is it Worth It?

I’m not an academic. Since I was young, I couldn’t focus in class, I rarely completed my homework, and while I supposedly had a lot of potential and was at once point dubbed “gifted” by the public school system, academia was never my forte.

So why, now that I’ve earned a college degree and made a career for myself, still long to return to the Ivy Tower? And what would I return for?

I’m still torn between options, including whether to apply at all. On a pure rational front, I’d be best off getting an MBA if I could manage to score high on the GMATs. At this point I think my experience has a shot at canceling out my less-than-exceptional undergraduate transcripts, but the GMAT would be a toughie.

But does an MBA even make sense for me? I’ve worked with many people who have MBAs, and many who don’t. I’ve been managed by MBAs and I’ve been managed by engineers-turned-marketers and artists-turned-non-profit-owners-turned-business-women. I’ve been managed by people who get it and people who don’t, people who succeed by pure luck and others by pure talent, and others who fail for all the wrong reasons. So why get an MBA?

Partially, I want to do it for myself to prove I can. It would look great on my resume (if I go to a top 10 school which, again, is not exactly an easy feat given my overall credentials.) I’d spend two years focused on learning about business — and maybe I’d even learn something practical to apply in the real world. Mostly, I’d feel more confident in my experience as a marketer with an MBA under my belt. I don’t need one, but to really move up the ladder I either need to start my own company or get an advanced degree. Or have friends in high places.

The other option, still, is to go to graduate school for interaction design. I’d enjoy this more, but I worry it’s too focused in an area that has limited value if you don’t know how to program well. I could learn a bit of programming on my own or in school, but I’ll never be the programmer who moved into design. I’ll also never be the programmer who moved into business management. It seems I’m already in trouble, not being a programmer and all.

I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I need to make a decision on this. I’m 26 now, and I’m not getting any younger. I’ve had a solid 5 years of work experience in non-profit, start-up, and large international corporate environments. I’m still not sure where I fit into the work world. I feel awkward in marketing, as I’m not super creative, nor am I brilliant with numbers, and I’m also shy in a field run by the outgoing. Most of all, I dislike “marketing” as a field where you must produce lies to sell a product that isn’t as good as it could be, if the business was managed better and the consumers were actually listened to. Which leads me to thinking I really ought to run my own company. And I don’t really need an MBA for that. I need an MBA if I want to be middle management. And I don’t see myself as middle management. I know middle managers. They are great people, but a different breed of people. They are willing to do whatever it takes to reach their business targets. That’s what capitalism is all about. A little lie, here and there. Make everyone want what you’re selling, no matter how much it’s “worth.”

Is that where an MBA would lead me? I don’t know if I have the stamina to lead, though I know in the long run I’ll never have the heart to follow.

What do you think I should do?

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5 comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I would agree it takes credentials (or knowing somebody which again is MUCH more important than credentials) if you want to start at a higher position in a certain company. However, if you are entrepreneurially minded, it is largely a waste of time. Obtaining an MBA is a huge opportunity cost that true innovators will never take the time to pursue. I personally know many business men (and one woman) who have absolutely no formal training in finance/business, yet they are incredibly successful. They started their own businesses and have made themselves millions of dollars many times over. Why is it that I know dozens of successful business people who have gone out and "just done it" and not failed. It isn't hard to teach yourself business; you don't have to sit in a classroom to learn this stuff. I would posit that those who have failed haven't made the effort to teach themselves. If you are truly interested in succeeding, you will learn the things you need to know on your own; there's no secret knowledge b-school provides. I also completely disagree with your notion that you would have to hire an MBA to fulfill certain roles in your company. Again, of the people I describe above (as well as myself), few of us employ MBAs (some PhDs in higher level math but not MBAs). If you can read a book, you don't need one… again, there's no secret knowledge in business school. Heck, when I talk to some of my friends about their b-school experience, they tell me it was one big party… they say they learned what they really needed to know once they started working in the real world (and this is from people at HBS and Wharton).

  2. Howard says:

    Sorry, in this world, it takes credentials for most things to get ahead. Can you do that without the credentials and college, of course, we all know that. However, you are reducing your chances at success.Once again, your "correct view" of business school be nothing more than a couple years of socializing and creating fake business plans is misguided. Your view that MBAs are a dime a dozen is also the misguided ramblings of someone who doesn't have one and doesn't understand the value. It is easy to make such claims when you haven't done it yourself – isn't it?Your suggestion to just go out and do it is most likely why most new businesses fail in the first few years, because people do as you say and have no clue what they are doing. Maybe if they had a good business understanding which they'd get through an MBA program, they'd have better understood what they should/shouldn't do?Congrats on your own multinational company. I find that people online are quick to claim anonymity when it's convenient for them and bolster their background to provide their "expert" knowledge or experience on topics which they really know little about. For all we know, your multinational company could be signing up as an Amway distributor. I suppose you could say the same for me – but, I do have the MBA (why would I defend it otherwise – right?), and have my own corporation as well, which has been operating for the past 16 years. Having the MBA allowed me to personally take on roles which would have REQUIRED hiring others to perform if I did not have it. Maybe you did go and hire many people to perform those necessary roles, or you have a multinational company which requires nobody but yourself, but I think the statistics and reasons for most business failures is an indication that "Just Do It" is not always the best course of action, and having an MBA would increase the chances for success.Maybe it's a matter of having received my MBA 20 years ago and an MBA was something of value and though I didn't go to a top 3-5 school, it was a quality program? Hey, maybe you are just one of those naturally curious/brilliant/self-motivated person – and that's great for you. However, for most others, if they want to increase their chances at success, the knowledge/training they'd get from an MBA would be valuable – whether it ultimately leads to a middle level management position or not. Yes, there are those who can succeed without it, however, the odds of success are less.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous again… Howard misses the point. People have been conducting business for hundreds of years without the "benefit" of an MBA. I do NOT have an MBA but have done just fine starting my own multinational company. I had no trouble learning everything I needed to know about a balance sheet, analyzing an opportunity, etc. from constantly reading. And yes, self-motivated, naturally curious/brilliant people should skip college… it is not complete nonsense; it is a huge opportunity cost as realized by many of today's most successful business people (Bill Gates, Andy Beal, several of my personal friends, etc.) who dropped out.I suppose the "correct view" is in the eye of the beholder. If you want to spend a couple of years socializing, creating fake business plans, etc. you can go to b-school. This is probably the route best take by those who need a lot of hand holding; you'll probably end up in middle management some where (and that's if your lucky as MBAs are a dime a dozen nowadays). I consider this route a mis-allocation of time unless you are making connections with the future business leaders of the world (who will almost exclusively be found at the top schools as noted above). On the contrary, if you want to pursue real business just go do it. Find the relevant texts (read, read, read!), perhaps find a mentor or two who share similar interests, and go for it… don't waste your time with b-school. This is the path taken by true entrepreneurs. I've come across both types in my extensive dealings, and it is later that is uniformly more impressive and accomplished.

  4. Howard says:

    Well, I think both you, and Anonymous above don't understand the value of an MBA. Suspect of people who pursue MBAs at lesser schools? Why is that? Because you personally don't understand the value? The top 3-5 school is teaching something different? Why go to any school for any higher education if it isn't top 3-5?The above comment about not having to pay a school to get knowledge you can learn on your own is also complete nonsense – because you could say that for any discipline/degree. What is there that you couldn't learn by googling it today? The only statement above which is correct is the last sentence. However, you could say that for anyone, in any area of study/expertise, whether they went to college, dropped out, or didn't even go. Does that mean we should all just skip college?You don't need to get into a top 3-5 school to get a valuable MBA experience. I personally think that the MBA is probably a better choice for most people after a couple years working than graduate school for advanced study in their current field. As with any schooling/degree, the degree itself is not going to get you a job, higher salary, or help you excel, it's what YOU do with it.Just because Anonymous didn't have a good MBA experience (if he even has one), doesn't mean it's the correct view.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The only thing an MBA is good for is making connections. So if you don't get into a top 3-5 school, I'd say forget it. You don't need to pay a school to get knowledge that you can learn on your own. I'm instantly suspicious of people who pursue MBAs at lesser schools… it is almost as if they trying to hide a deficiency. The best business people will make success for themselves

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