Q. I’m 25 and in product management. I enjoy my career but everyone around me says I should go to business school. I’m leaning towards no since it’s so expensive and would take 2 years out of my life.
If you went to business school, was it worth it? If you didn’t, do you regret it?
A. There is a lot of debate on the value of graduate school but your question is specific to a career you are already pursuing and enjoying so it is a little different. The cost is a big issue and something to be weighed carefully. Money plays more into the decision today than it did 20 years ago.
“A typical Wharton MBA in this class will graduate with average debt of nearly $124,000. A graduate would need an annual gross salary of $176,560 to comfortably pay down the loan, according to financial advisors. The median starting pay of a Wharton grad last year was only $110,000. (You can crunch your own numbers on an online loan calculator to estimate the impact of your own debt.) – BNET
You can compare these numbers vs. what you are already making and explore your company’s compensation pattern for MBA holders to help you figure out if it is worth it. Also, does your company have a program to help pay for a degree or can you spearhead one?
Many of the 40-something women I speak to say the connections and critical thinking grad school gave them helped them in many ways beyond the career they were pursuing at the time, but they caveat that the financial situation is different today and it is not necessary for everyone. We also have the perspective of a women who almost went and decided not to. Here is their 40:20 hindsight.
This woman is a VP of Business Development at a non-profit and spent 20 years working at a global packaged goods company. She did get her MBA and does not regret it but believes it is possible to advance in your career without it.
“Business school teaches you new skills, gives you new networks of peers and professors, and access to companies that you might not otherwise be able to reach. It’s especially helpful for those without an undergrad degree in business – but frankly can be a growth experience for anyone. And it can be very beneficial for those looking to make a career change.
However it is certainly possible to progress in your career without business school. It all comes down to (1) what skills do you need for the next role you are seeking and (2) how can you cultivate the contacts to be considered for a new role.”
Whitney Wilkerson had a successful rise as a marketing specialist in both fashion and publishing before starting her own company, NEXT for Women, a community helping professional women grow their career. She considered getting her MBA and in the end, does not regret moving ahead without it in order to get ahead with starting her own business.
“I applied for, and was accepted, to two of the most prestigious MBA programs in the country. I was excited, flattered, and also confused. I was drawn to return to school to fill out my skill set and develop a greater understanding of skill sets that did not come easily to me such as finance. I also looked forward to expanding my network with driven and focused peers.
Ultimately I decided to decline both acceptances and to pursue building my business. Not only did the business need my entire focus, but I ultimately realized that I was willing to not ‘know it all’ and instead continue to enhance what I was naturally good at, grow and learn as new challenges came down the pike, and hire the best team possible with the skills I did not have and allow them the room to do their best work. As for the network, it continues to grow everyday and I have found other ways to engage with the people I may have met in school – minus the hefty price tag that a MBA program carries.” – Whitney Wilkerson, CEO, Founder, NEXT for Women
To round out the perspective I went to Honestly Now, a fave advice partner and resource for making personal decisions. Tereza Nemessanyi, the CEO and co-founder of Honestly Now sandwiched business school in between an early startup stint, a strong consulting career and now her own startup. She has some great perspective on when it’s worth it vs. not:
“I went to business school in what was a very different environment — it was pre-Web 1.0 — practically the Paleolithic Era! That said, a leading reason I went still may hold today, which is that it’s a pivot point to either change careers or broaden and elevate your business view. And reposition yourself to the outside.
If you’re a product manager, love product management and want to keep doing it, I don’t think an MBA is worth the investment. Because you’ll know more about the latest in Product Management than your professors. If you want to be a CEO someday, and think learning finance, accounting, how to write a business plan will help you and also grow your business network, it could be worth it.
Now none of what I’m saying addresses the elephant in the room, which is money, and who’s paying. I paid for my MBA and it was brutally expensive and really had to go into Consulting to pay it off. So if your financial position doesn’t allow you to then pursue your dream afterwards, then it didn’t get you what you needed and you should consider faster and cheaper ways. If, on the other hand, your parents or some other cash source will cover it, then why not?”
Now for the Honestly Now community. I asked, “For women who went to grad school…does anyone regret it?” The results:
84%: No. It moved me ahead in my career and was worth it?
16%: Yes. It didn’t advance my career as much as it advanced my debt
Good luck with your decision. I think the best thing is that you are asking the right questions rather than just doing it because everyone else is doing it or because you don’t know what you want to do. Thank you to all the women who answered!