A reader, Brandon, asked for my opinion on the utility of an MBA that’s not from a top school. And by top school, I’m assuming he’s talking about Ivy League sorts. Here’s my straight up opinion, untainted by the fact that my day job actually involves, among other things, enrolling students in an MBA program.
I think can be valuable. My opinion is slightly skewed because I didn’t get my MBA right out of college. I spent a bunch of years working, both domestically and abroad, before going back to school. For me, the decision to get an MBA was more about learning how to break through my own perceived "career ceiling" than it was about getting the sheepskin. I knew that I wanted to advance my career and I knew that I needed new skills to do it. If I had been disciplined enough to just read a bunch of books on my own, I likely could’ve achieved the same results.
On the other hand, some career paths require an advanced degree. That’s not to say you couldn’t do the job without the degree, but it’d definitely involve more luck and probably more time proving your abilities at a lower level before being given the opportunity. There are always plenty of examples to the contrary, though.
Two more thoughts that might be useful. Thought one, the process of getting an MBA is a natural network building exercise. You go through your program with a bunch of other smart and motivated people and when you graduate you all go your separate ways. But you’re still available to help each other out, if needed. That’s a nice thing to have. Thought two, a good MBA program lets you try out various disciplines that you might otherwise have a tough time getting into. For instance, I was working in Organization Development when I went through my program. I got lots of good hands-on time doing finance stuff, marketing stuff and entrepreneurial exercises that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to stuff into such a short time frame.
For me, a huge part of the value of doing my MBA was the prior work experience I brought with me, and my clear sense of wanting to expand my skill sets. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that, for me at least, doing my MBA straight out of college would’ve been a waste of money and time. I wouldn’t have had the experience or context into which I could immediately apply all this new knowledge. Plus, I was an idiot right out of college–I mainly just wanted to go surfing and not work. Okay, that’s still true.
So, bottom line is that I think an MBA is useful for future success, but I don’t think it’s a requirement. I guess you’d have to look at your own use-case and figure out where you want to go with your career and whether the time and money spent would add value to that process. It definitely has for me, but I also know folks who are very successful in their fields who, though they’d no doubt benefit from an MBA, just wouldn’t get full value from an MBA program. That’s because they’re pretty far along in their careers and the time spent away from their business is more destructive to their trajectory than the time spent building knowledge and skills in the classroom. That said, though, there are plenty of good executive MBA programs around that address exactly this issue and do a good job of allowing folks to continue to focus on career and work, while simultaneously building new skills.