To MBA Or Not To MBA

That is the (quite expensive) question.

"Should I get an MBA?" I can't count how many times I have been asked this question. Much to the chagrin of the curious, my answer has always been a resounding, "Well, it depends." Whether an MBA - or any degree for that matter - is the right choice for you, is determined by many factors. If you're someone wrangling with this, I've laid out the top considerations to help you think through this. I should note that these factors are most relevant to those intending to pursue traditional MBAs. Seekers of part-time or online MBAs may have different factors to consider.

An MBA can be a good choice if you want to


When I think about the knowledge I gained from my MBA, I categorize them into bookwise and streetwise education. Bookwise education refers to what I learned from the course material, and streetwise education encompasses the growth I experienced outside of the direct bookish learning.

Let's talk about bookwise education first. An MBA is a great way to learn about many industries, as well as how the different functions in a company operate within their respective silos but also cross-functionally. You will learn how to read a balance sheet, how to optimize operations, how to create push and pull marketing, and many other mechanical facets of running a business. Some classes will create space for you to learn and reflect about leadership, often the intangible secret sauce that binds the mechanical aspects together. When I entered business school, I had limited exposure to most of the above, so the bookwise learning alone was incredibly rewarding for me.

By the end of my MBA, however, I realized that besides subject matter knowledge, I had grown in many other aspects - what I refer to as streetwise education. First of all, an unavoidable consequence to a holistic education is the gaining of perspective. Understanding the ins and outs of different industries, studying the history of global business, and comparing economic models adopted by different countries leaves one thoroughly appreciative of the complexities of globalized economies. I also learned to question everything while being able to empathize with different world views.

One of the most valuable things I learned from an MBA at Harvard Business School was actually the ability to speak effectively. (Don't hold me to this in a general setting!) This might be more particular to HBS, but a huge part of the MBA learning comes from in-class discussions, so much so, that for every single class, a scribe sits and types out exactly what everyone is saying, who the professor is calling on to speak, how long they are speaking for, etc. Each student is graded on the quality and quantity of their comments - every single comment. My journey with this whole system is the subject for another post, but suffices to say for now that I learned how to confidently raise my hand and communicate a complex, not-yet-fully-formed thought to a class full of smart people in approximately 20-40 seconds. So far, this has served me very well in life.


If you're looking to pivot from your current role or industry - or as in my case, change both role and industry - you can obtain a degree to specialize in the field of your choice, or you can get an MBA if your interests are in shifting to a more general management position. Of course you can pivot without an MBA or an advanced degree, but having these typically makes for an easier launching pad. Choosing to earn an MBA, which is more generalized, over a more specialized degree, also allows you the freedom to commit to an industry or role after your degree.

Extend your network

Attending business school is an excellent way to meet people from various backgrounds. As industries and countries rapidly evolve in today's world, it is extremely beneficial to be able to pick up the phone send a quick email to a classmate who can connect you with the right opportunity.

One of my personal highlights from my MBA was being able to build relationships with professors at the forefront of their fields. On multiple occasions during and after my MBA, I have met with professors to pick their brains, to ask for advice, and to idly philosophize. Some of these conversations have drastically influenced my thinking, some guided my personal and professional growth. The bottom line is, therefore, don't forget to extend your network outside of your peer group!

Gain a marker of credibility

An MBA (or other advanced degree) from a top-tier institution can often boost your credibility. Those who are early in their careers or from lesser known (or international) institutions will feel the greatest difference from this new addition to their LinkedIn profiles. Of course this should not be the primary motivation for seeking an MBA but is a worthwhile advantage to consider when thinking through the pros and cons.

An MBA may not be the next best step if you want to

Found a startup

I've met aspiring entrepreneurs who feel the need to get an MBA before they start their own venture. An MBA certainly won't hurt you if you want to found a startup, and has the potential to help a great deal (see all the points above). However, it is not an essential stepping stone for you to start a company. Most entrepreneurs I've met tell me the best way to become an entrepreneur is simply by becoming one, learning from your inevitable mistakes, and keeping at it.

Stay in your current, well-defined career trajectory

In other words, don't fix what's not broken. If you've landed a. role that you love at a company where you want to stay in the long-term, consider whether you need a traditional MBA. Staying at your job and developing domain knowledge may be a more effective path forward. In fact, a part-time or online MBA may be a better choice for you and allow you to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Avoid the opportunity cost of leaving industry

The point made above can be generalized to an opportunity cost tradeoff. If you want to stay in your current function and company, the opportunity cost of leaving the job to get an MBA only to return to a similar job may not be worth it. Similarly, if you are already very successful in an industry or country that is rapidly evolving, the opportunity cost of removing yourself from that position for two whole years could be a high price to pay. Again, a part-time or online MBA could be a better alternative to a traditional MBA in these situations.

Other considerations

A few other considerations as you weigh the option of pursuing an MBA:

  • Expense - An MBA (and many other degrees) can be an expensive financial undertaking for many. Have an honest look at your finances and do the hard math - does the ROI make sense? Many schools have data available on the average salaries of graduating students. Use this information to realistically evaluate your post-graduation prospects. Finally, speaking with someone who has been in your shoes can be helpful. Ask the school if they can connect you to students or admins who can help you walk through your options.

  • Program - No two MBAs are the same. Which program you choose can have an impact on what you learn, which jobs you get, and even your outlook on life. Chicago Booth is famous for its stronghold in finance while MIT Sloan is a magnet for those wishing to further their careers in tech-heavy fields. Which program speaks to you? Does a dual degree set you up for a better future? Who will your classmates and professors be at these schools?

  • Owning the journey - Finally, an MBA is what you make of it. There will of course be some mandatory classes and scheduling, but you will also have the freedom to pursue what matters to you. Do you want to use the two years to test out the idea for a new venture? Do you want to research and write white papers/cases with professors? (This is what I did #nerdpride.) Do you want to use the two years to slow down a little from your very demanding career? It's up to you. Figure out what you want out of your MBA experience and choose a program/school that helps you meet those goals.

I hope this helps you think through whether an MBA is the right choice for you. Conversely, if you have further generalizable consideration to help others think through this decision, feel free to drop me a note.