Over the last 2.5 years, I pursued an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
While the experience is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share some thoughts with the wider world – in no particular order.
If an MBA is the last thing on your mind, I hope that this helps you understand MBA programs better. And if you are a potential MBA candidate, I hope that this helps you with the “Should I get an MBA?” question.
1. The MBA Investment and Payoff
If you think that an MBA is strictly about investment and payoff, or in finance terms, about the “NPV”, then going to a school that is well known in a certain field or area and doesn’t cost a lot – regardless of exactly where the school is ranked by The Economist, US News and World Report, BusinessWeek, Financial Times et al – is probably what you should do.
But I don’t know of many people that chose Program A instead of Program B because of the NPV decision though…and I wouldn’t recommend using cost alone to make your decisions.
2. Brand and The Alumni Network
In addition to what you learn in the program, MBAs generally give you two things that are valuable: Brand and the (Alumni) Network.
The benefits from both of those are unfortunately not quantifiable, at least in the short-term…even in the long-run, quantifying these is difficult, at best. What they both do is open doors that are otherwise difficult to pry open easily. Having said that, it is 100% incumbent on you, your skills and your abilities to get to the next stage once the door is open…and brand doesn’t help from that point forward. Same thing with the Alumni network.
Therefore, get the best brand you can.
3. Full-Time or Part-Time MBA?
The MBA “experience” includes or should include highly interesting and intellectually stimulating lectures and speaker sessions, the ability to participate in case competitions, workshops, exchange programs and the camaraderie that comes from living on-campus with hundreds of others and being immersed in the MBA.
These, in my opinion, are some of the reasons why the full-time MBA is better than the part-time MBA. But if family and work commitments mean that a part-time MBA is the only option, that is still a very good decision (speaking from experience, and for myself).
Note though that at some schools, such as Kellogg, almost all full-time MBA activities are open to the part-time students. So those that live in Chicago or close to Evanston can attend or take part in these activities as much as their schedules permit. Obviously, for out-of-towners, it is difficult to do so.
4. Academic Rigor and The MBA “Experience”
Academic rigor (the quality of the professors, the teaching style, your fellow students and their backgrounds and abilities, how challenged you feel and how much you potentially learn) and the MBA “experience” are two other things you experience, to varying degrees, based on where you go.
Again, their value is not easily quantifiable – but they are highly valued by some. For others, it is 100% about the brand and these two aspects of an MBA are farthest from their minds.
Hopefully you know yourself well enough that you are clear on what you value most. Make your decision based on that. If this is not clear, I strongly urge you to gain this clarity before you proceed further.
5. What Is Your MBA School Signaling About You?
One thing that the Top 5, 10, 15 or 20 programs do – is select candidates for drive, as much as they do, for ability. So while the GMAT score is important, the essays and the interview are very important and give the admissions staff (somewhat subjective) insights into how well you will do both during the program and after the program.
As someone (on Wall Street?) that hired Harvard MBAs once said about Harvard, they stand in awe of the admissions officers for their ability to select people with the drive (and ability) to succeed post-MBA.
In other words, Brand.
For many, a huge intangible payoff from a good MBA program comes in the form of confidence at the end of the MBA program – which in turn stems from a combination of academic rigor, the professors, classroom discussions, peers and the brand.
That confidence, depending on where you go, has the potential to greatly influence and shape one’s career, for decades to come. MBA applicants considering schools would do well to think about what they are willing to pay for that.
7. Succeeding With and Without An MBA
Having said all of that, remember that there are countless examples of people without MBAs or with MBAs from non Top 5/10/20 schools that have succeeded and continue to succeed everywhere in the world, in amazing ways.
So having an MBA (regardless of the school that you go to) doesn’t mean that you will be a knockout success. And not having an MBA doesn’t mean you won’t. Like with anything in life, it may be good to keep things in perspective.
And…that’s a wrap.
Agree? Disagree? Be sure to use the comments section below to let me know.