Should You Get an MBA?

I’m technically a “Chief Marketing Officer” at the largest intensive code school in the country, but I don’t have an MBA. Opinions abound about the value of MBAs. Personally, I’ve found that context varies widely for those with degrees and feedback is often highly subjective.

I would guess that at some point, someone reading this post will be seeking an answer to the question of whether they should pursue an MBA (or similar degree). Here are my thoughts:

MBAs equip you with valuable information and skills

There’s no question: if you make the most of the experience, an MBA (from a quality school) can equip you with incredibly valuable skills and knowledge.

MBAs still carry weight in an enterprise/corporate environment

I get frustrated when people say “MBAs don’t matter any more.” The reality is that they matter in some contexts and not in others. From my experience, MBAs are most helpful when you want to progress in responsibility at a large organization. Specifications set by big HR departments often require you have an MBA to even be considered for certain roles. The same is true if you work in academia.

Times are changing

Cultural and marketplace context are incredibly important. As I said above, MBAs are still valuable in certain contexts. As I’ve applied for jobs, looked at job openings and hired people into jobs over the last several years, though, I’ve realized that an MBA isn’t as significant a differentiator as it once was—even when I compare the current marketplace to demands during my time at college in the mid-late 2000s.

This is, of course anecdotal evidence, but personal stories I’ve encountered confirm the hypothesis almost 100% of the time. The most common by-product of an MBA endeavor among my peers is debt.

You don’t need an MBA to be successful

I’m not an isolated example. My business partner, our CEO, has been a successful entrepreneur multiple times over and he didn’t finish college. That’s not an uncommon story among many success stories today. A mentor I had early in my career (who taught me most everything I know) was determined to be the first executive at a large corporation who didn’t have an MBA. She succeeded.

Lack of an MBA can create deficiencies in certain situations

I’ll write more about this in the future, but I’m in the process of growing a mid-sized company in to a very big company. I think that I’m doing a pretty good job of leading well and executing on smart strategies, but there are a few situations in which my lack of deep training on certain subjects becomes apparent.

The ultimate question is about return on investment

I’m extremely frugal and debt-averse, so my view on spending any amount of money will focus almost entirely on what I’m going to get in return for the money I put into something. I strongly considered getting a business degree after my undergraduate studies (and was encouraged to do so by many people). I talked to numerous professionals across a wide variety of fields and concluded that if I wasn’t going to work in an enterprise company or higher education, that over time those with MBAs seemed to end up with about the same outcomes as those without. Again, this is anecdotal evidence, but it was strong enough to sway me away from a great opportunity get a masters.

So, should you get an MBA? 

I realize that I’m still young and have a lot to learn about both life and business. That being said, if someone asked me directly whether they should get an MBA, I would say that unless you want to work at a large enterprise company, in academia, or you simply want to go because you want to learn the material, then pass on another degree for the time being.

There’s absolutely no substitute for a ravenously curious mind and dogged work ethic.

I’ll close with a quote from Calvin Coolidge that explains my sentiments perfectly:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will; not unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Educations will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

—Calvin Coolidge