Is Business School Really Worth It?
The most common question I get from friends about my decision to get an MBA is a deceptively simple one: Was it worth it?
The answer, of course, is much more complicated. Yes, business school has been an amazing opportunity to learn a ton, focus on professional development, meet great people, and potentially switch into a new career path. To come here, however, I did quit a job that I loved and put myself into tens of thousands of dollars of debt.
I definitely have an opinion about whether my decision was the right one (spoiler alert: I think it was), but I also polled some of my classmates to get their answers. Here are the three camps people tend to fall in—and some things worth thinking about if you’re considering going down the b-school path.
Yes, It’s Definitely Been Worth It!
A lot of people have no hesitation when they respond that coming to b-school was a great decision that they would never reconsider. For many students, it’s pretty much the only way to continue advancing their careers beyond a certain title—this is certainly true in the consulting sector and also largely true for finance—so they have very little opportunity cost because they wouldn’t get promoted without an MBA. The decision feels like even more of a no-brainer for students who are sponsored by a particular company, meaning that their tuition (and, typically, living expenses) is paid for.
There are also definitely students who weren’t in consulting or finance who also responded extremely positively. They seemed to be folks who had a reasonably good sense of what they wanted to do before coming to b-school, had done their research, and had learned that the people they looked up to or wanted to be like all had their MBAs. This is especially true of people who want to switch careers and move into an MBA-heavy field. For example, a friend of mine has a goal of being on a strategy team at a large luxury goods company, and everyone she conducted informational interviews with had been to business school. For her, the decision felt like the logical next step in her career development.
It’s Been a Good Experience—and I’m Sure It’ll Pay Off in the Next Decade or So
There is also a large camp of students I talked with who have been generally happy with their experience and feel like they’ll reap the benefits of an MBA in the long term, but don’t know exactly how it will help them in the next couple years. This is a more typical response from people who were happy in their current role or industry and didn’t necessarily need an MBA to advance, but decided to try it out so they could open more doors in the future. A lot of career switchers fall into this category, as well as people who are still trying to figure out exactly what they “want to be when they grow up.”
I would count myself in this camp. I have really enjoyed my business school program, I know that I’ve learned a lot, and I have had the opportunity to push myself personally and professionally in a way that I wouldn’t have had access to without going back to school. I have also met amazing people and made some lifelong friends. Because I’m looking to try out new sectors, however, the career moves I will make for my summer internship and (likely) first job out of school will be fairly lateral because I don’t have as much relevant experience as I did in my old role. That means that I’m thinking about this experience as more of a long-term strategy that I know will help me out tremendously as I continue to shape my career path down the road, but likely won’t result in a steep trajectory right out of the gate.
I'm Not So Sure
There are definitely things about b-school that aren’t for everyone. Some of them have to do with the specifics of the degree and which fields an MBA is useful for. An alum I talked to who is a product manager at a tech company, for example, said that he enjoyed the experience but didn’t feel like b-school was necessary for him to advance in his career. This theme becomes even more pronounced for people who go into lower-paying jobs than the typical MBA student and who are concerned about paying back their loans. For them, the investment of business school isn’t the sure bet that it is for other professionals.
Going to b-school full-time can also create logistical problems for students—leaving your job, moving to a new city, and taking out and living on loans. Most commonly, a lot of students I know are in long-distance relationships that can be strained by the process.
Still—while the program can definitely be a long, expensive, and trying road—most people I talked to had in mind at least one way an MBA will help them to be successful in the long term. Of course, I’m a first-year student, so the jury is still out. I’ll make sure to update you on this question as I try out my new skills during my internship this summer!
Leslie Moser attends Harvard Business School where she is pursuing her MBA. Before going back to school she worked at Teach For America where she tried to tackle educational inequity one email at a time. Leslie loves to travel, eat Thai food, and watch reruns of The West Wing.More from this Author