Reflections of a Disillusioned Harvard MBA

I met my three close friends from business school, in town for our tenth reunion, for lunch.  We met at a restaurant in Cambridge rather than join the thronging crowds beneath the tents on campus.  After raucous catching up, all of it about our families (and none of it about work), we drove to campus.  I had that strange sense I’ve had many times before when near or on the Harvard Business School campus, that feeling of complete disconnectedness.  It’s hard for me to believe I ever went to school there.  I felt like an imposter on campus, like the badge with my name, whose color identified me as a 10th year reunion attendee, was a fake.  My difficulty remembering how to navigate the buildings spoke to my lack of ease on the campus.  Now, as then, I averted my eyes in many cases when I saw classmates, feeling uncomfortable, awkward, like I simply didn’t belong.

This feeling of other-ness dogged me at the Friday night section dinner as well.  It was the only formal reunion event I chose to attend, and even this I did grudgingly.  I grasped for names, did a lot of smiling, listening, and nodding, and repeated the same story about “what I’m up to” over and over again.  Someone made a joke about how we should be wearing nametags so that the spouses knew who everyone was, and I thought to myself, “I could use that too!”

All night, my husband and I drifted through the crowds of people, talking about the same stuff on repeat: our children, my new job, the fact that we still live in Cambridge.  Everyone I talked to had changed jobs at least once, and a great majority seemed to have 3 or 4 children.  There was lots of whipping out of iPhones to compare photographs.  Randy’s daughter is a redhead, and I am jealous!  Dan’s kids have gotten so big!  Wow Jeremy’s four kids all look so much like him!  There was a slideshow of pictures running on repeat on someone’s laptop.  The photographs of now all featured families, children smiling on ski slopes and beaches.  The photographs of then all seemed grainy, old-fashioned.  I was struck by how ten years can seem like the blink of an eye but is actually a really long time.   Those photos also proved that everybody’s repeated proclamations that “you look just the same!” were not in fact true.

After a couple of hours Matt and I snuck out, as is my habit, leaving without saying goodbye.  I’ve always hated drawing attention to myself in that way, and have erred many times on the side of being rude to avoid doing so.  I was quiet on the drive home, pensive.  My regret about having gone to business school, normally just a layer of silt, dormant over me, was stirred up into dusty clouds that made it hard to see, that made me choke.   I was reminded in a visceral way of an uncomfortable truth that’s mostly just a quiet part of my personal narrative.  Reminded of all that I lack from my time at HBS: memories, close friendships, concrete skills, lessons learned.

Why do I regret going to business school?  There are two layers to my disenchantment with the MBA as a degree and as a concept.  One is simpler to explain.  I never identified with my classmates or with the idea of an MBA.  I was young when I started at HBS, and very aware of what felt like a distinct lack of relevant experience (I went in the days when they were explicitly trying to increase the age of entry).  For personal reasons I did not engage socially the way I might have (because my fiancée was in New York, I was gone most weekends).  These more logistical explanations are convenient masks for the more awkward truth that I never felt I had much in common with my classmates.   I felt I was speaking a different language then, and I still do now.  My interest in the “softer” side of business – leadership, morality, teamwork, motivation – got lip service on campus but never seemed as important as the more quantitative subjects (the naming of Nitin Nohria as HBS’s newest dean is an explicit elevation of a student of these “softer” sciences, and I look forward to seeing how he changes things).  I frankly have not used the (few) things I learned in the classroom since graduating, either.  This disappoints me and is surely as much my fault as HBS’s.  But this reality turns into disenchantment in a hurry.

The other reason I feel disillusioned about my time at HBS is both more personal and more universal.  I took a different kind of route after school, opting to re-join the strategy consulting firm I’d worked at before school but in a recruiting role rather than on the partner track.  I did this for personal reasons: I wanted to have flexibility for my nascent dual-career marriage and for the children I hoped we would have.  I achieved this in spades: I’ve had the good fortune to work in flexible, part-time arrangements for years.

The flip side, though, is that I never fully committed to a career in business.  This is my doing, for sure, but I can’t help feeling that the MBA establishment, of which I think HBS is the leader, should find ways to help all of its graduates, even those going in unconventional directions.  I imagine there are ways to equip people going into a broader array of fields with skills and references.  Making the degree applicable and useful beyond just the highest echelons of the business and corporate worlds, would have the added benefits of addressing the MBA’s currently tarnished brand and increasing applications (and perhaps diversifying them).

So why did I go?  I ask myself this all the time, and often I berate myself for making a “mistake.”  I went, simply, because everyone around me did (though the rest of my class all went to Stanford, notably) and because everybody told me I should.  I am trying to have more compassion for the 23 year old I was then, more than a little lost and overly receptive to external input.  And ultimately, regardless of how I feel about my MBA, the inalienable fact remains that those two years contributed to the contours my life has now.  I have many thoughts on how the MBA experience might be broadened and improved, but I try not to dwell on the flip side of those ideas, my sense of the shortcomings and missing pieces in my own HBS education.  Instead I remind myself that that education is a part – ineffable as it may seem sometimes – of my own unique perspective, and for that I am grateful.

Lindsey Mead Russell graduated from Harvard Business School in the year 2000 and is currently an executive search consultant for the private equity and hedge fund industries. She blogs at A Design So Vast.

  • KK

    My argument might come off as a bit extreme at first but if we think about even the most basic interdependency map for a second, top b-schools like Harvard Business School quite literally have no other choice but to uphold one of the oldest and arguably most dysfunctional institutions in the world – the concept of elitism and the old boys’ club. The school is, very simply, dependent on these boys (and quite literally they are) for ongoing patronage (Applying and enrolling) and for future donations to be able to afford the grandness of the whole harvard system. As a result they have to try to make the boys happy by giving them what their ill-developed and fragile little boy egos want – to feel special by getting in somewhere hard to get in, to be surrounded by other little boys who are equally superficial, status obsessed, and deeply insecure (so they can continue to protect their comfortably narrow world view), and to have the ability to keep fooling themselves into thinking they truly are embracing diversity and a progressive business world order (just look at all the “non-traditionals” in my section). I’m sorry but the “ads”about Harvard Business School producing leaders that are changing the world is probably one of the most hilariously delusional examples of “false advertising” and an absolute joke. What they are really producing are leaders who – as this contributer insightfully put it- are causing global economic recessions that are not just destroying economies but causing devastation for millions of low-to middle income hard working people around the world. Oh but of course the little boys can’t be held responsible for any of this because after all they are just little boys who need to play with their toys (hmhm derivatives and other way cool megatron-esque financial instruments) and should they run into trouble daddy (hmhm Federal Reserve) will be right there to save them..

  • Mr. E

    I can identify with a lot of this. So much of my MBA program, I was wanting to fit in but felt like I had nothing in common with the other students. It’s not that they were bad people, they just didn’t seem to be passionate about things that mattered. I was disappointed at how little the program taught me about dealing with people, and how much of it was irrelevant theories. It’s not that I can’t be blamed for approaching it with the wrong motivations – it’s that the universities don’t do a good job of pre-admissions counseling because it conflicts with their profit motives (yea, that’s the MBA cynic in me coming out).

  • Rob

    While the HBS MBA is applicable to the highest echelons of the corporate world due to prestige and the fact that getting in is the acid test, MBA programs outside of the top 20 or 30 are basically worthless, their value is a function of individual real-world experience. I won’t reveal where I got my MBA, but suffice it to say that the coursework was largely dependent on students’ jobs outside the classroom. I imagine this to be a policy decision – keep local businesses in the loop and build relationships and networks that ultimately benefit the reputation of the school. End of the day, the MBA did not help me get a job at all, nor did it grant me skills of any kind outside of a more refined understanding of MS Excel.

  • b school applicant

    I feel these opinions are so personal. Yes while entrepreneurs(especially the silicon valley based tech entrepreneurs) unanimously agree that an MBA is a 2 year vaction (eric baker, hamid kordestani etc etc) what people dont realise is that not everyone is an entrepreneur or has access to being one.
    Now I have completed my undergrad and grad school in 2 top 5 engineering programs in the United States as an international student. The useless broken immigration system doesnt even offer me so much so as a path to permanent residence . hell I would love to work in a start up company or start one my self. But I cant. An mba from a top 10 b shcool will give me a visa to go somewhere and start a business. People in Chile or singapore or new zealand or hong kong will recognize it.They will give me a chance to present my ideas because I have an MBA stamped from so and so university because that is the way the world works. I am a human being. If im not commiting a crime and I have a job I should be allowed to work anywhere I want. Who gives other human beings the right to draw boundaries and establish retarded immigration policies. 

    I dont understand why all these silicon valley entreprenuers (the successful ones atleast) take out their personal frustrations on b schools. B schools are not meant to train entrepreneurs. You cant brainwash someone into being a risk taker and investing millions into what at the time can sound like a stupid idea.(on top of having invested 250k on a premier program…as if that’s not enough risk).

    And for the love of God silicon valley needs to take a cold hard look at itself in recent years. They have no less of a bubble over there. I mean endless rounds of funding for silly websites like instagram , twitter tumblr zazzle and all that rubbish …… while there are millions and millions of kids begging for  a text book to educate themselves.I dont any creativity and innovatiness in beating this dead horse called social media. atleast b schools attempt to bring people together and to foster interpersonal human touch and skills and not make them useless freak sitting on facebook all day.

    Now Lindsey did not enjoy her experience at B school then thats part of her life and her journey and evolution. That does not mean that B schools inherently are doing wrong things. Even HBS graduated super bankers making over 4-5 million dollars a year are often depressed . Happiness is a state of mind not of being and the sooner one accepts it the better.

    By and large the point is bubbles are not good. we can make and break our own destinies but we have to work for it. Just like starting another social media website does not make you an innovative entreprenuer neither does walking into a premier mba program. 
    Strategize, analysis what you want essentially and work backwards from there and on the way accept any diversions if at all.

  • anon

    I am a second year student at a top business school at the moment.  I can completely relate to what Lindsey says here.  I do think that business schools are not a great place for introverts.  I consider myself an introvert (because I am only chatty in groups that I know well or comfortable in).  I have to say that I love the study of business, am learning a lot of new concepts (have to wait and see if I will get a chance to use them).  On the same note, I also feel left out, lonely, stressed, overshadowed by the few that have either connections, money or nobel laureate level quant skills.
    It is great this topic has spawned off a good discussion.  But some reactions make me wonder, especially about those who are offended or mildly irritated.  Why is it not ok to say what is on your mind? Lindsey simply chose to state what she went through.  Sure, you do have a point about preparing enough and researching enough before you go off to bschool.  But that does not mean – one does not share their perspective.  This open attitude towards to colleagues who disagree is what ‘s needed to solve issues plaguing wall street and main street today!  

    Dissension is good especially when it is against prevailing consensus. By listening to someone like Lindsey, bschools and student community at large can only benefit by improving this experience for future students.  We do not lose anything by airing our thoughts out – we only gain, I would like to submit.  

  • Abhitechie

    The issue is world of business is far more unstructured and vague than the semester/grade based system of universities. The onus is on oneself to find a job that is a perfect fit for aptitudes and interest.
    In short, one has to be a shuffler and a good one at that, to really excel in business. Another point to be noted is business globally have not found a way to integrate family and business obligations of women,

  • Guan

    A.M., your point and the author’s experience highlights a concern i have about HBS program. has anyone noticed how young their students are?

    don’t get me wrong, they are very bright and some have done some amazing things prior, but i wonder even with the MBA, how much impact/value can they bring to an organization? i could be very wrong so i’ll leave it as that.

  • A.M

    The author is now an executive search consultant…I’d like to know whether the HBS degree or network was used at all for her career movement?
    Also, the fact that she started at 23 (probably right after undergrad) might have more to do with her disillusionment than the education she received.

  • anon

    this article is more than a bit confusing. The Harvard MBA is an option she bought and one she chose not to exercise – does she now have buyer’s remorse? would her life have been much better without it? What was the opportunity cost of the MBA? Did she lose out on other things because of the time/money wasted? I am not entirely sure what she is trying to say or what to take away from the experience…

  • As a entrepreneur, I was amazed at how pursuing my MBA dulled my creative urges. I tried networking with my classmates about creating a business opportunity at the beginning of our program to launch either during or after completion, but was always turned down. When we spoke about our career goals, I heard countless time, “I want to be a CEO or CFO.” I always laughed and told everyone that I had been a CEO 4 times already for my own various business entities. B-School just produces more cogs for the American Economic System or Workers (highly paid, but still subservient to the company and a less intelligent manager). On the other hand, Creators, like myself and other entrepreneurs, are left wondering why we accumulated more debt when we could have just focused more on networking and fundraising. There are FREE resources available on how to start and efficiently run businesses. I figured that B-School would provide me with more in-depth tools, but instead, just prepared everyone to work for other people. I was in my mid-20’s when I started my program , finishing in 2010. Here’s a funny true story, in 2008 during one of my first classes, I asked my professor for a few minutes before his lecture to present an idea I wanted to pitch to my class. The idea was for a new social network, focused primarily in video (this was before video chat on cell phones and during the rise of Skype). I saw where technology was headed and felt that video messaging was going to take off, sooner than later. My classmates laughed, and my professor said that it probably wouldn’t work. Well earlier this year, Skype and Facebook announced a partnership, which would introduce more video capabilities to Facebook in the near future. One of my classmates emailed me, acknowledging that I correctly predicted this 3 years ago and apologized for not coming on board to at least trade ideas. No vision, but B-School doesn’t encourage vision, only how to market yourself for employment, not how to develop transformational business ideas…

  • Greg

    Dear Alice, please wake up, this aint wonderland. What did you think was going to happen after graduation, accension into heaven? Life is what you make out of it and most especially, this is America, you could’ve done anything you wanted with that degree. Underneath, it seems that though you probably arent satisfied with marriage or your job. Pretty sad.


  • James

    If going to Harvard can be considered a waste of time and money, what more lower ranked programs that charge as much. Going to a top-10 school does not guarantee success, but it sure increases the odds. The same probably can’t be said of graduates of lesser schools.
    For graduates of top-10 schools who are still unsure of whether they did the right thing, just remember that you can never see the counterfactual. The reality is that many had unrealistic, grandiose dreams about what an MBA from a top school will bring. Nothing is guaranteed in life, it’s about playing the odds and going to a great school is as good an improver of odds as anything else you can do.

  • Bob

    If Harvard has arguably the best MBA program in the world and certainly in the U.S., how come so many of its graduates messed up Wall Street and Main Street to bring about current Great Recession? Just wondering…

  • There will always be those that later second-guess the decision in every class. I would wager most weren’t concrete about what they intended to use the degree for going into their program, and never set a true course for themselves where the degree was integral. The MBA is a broad degree, and the best advice I got when considering going back as a non-trad was to make sure I knew why I wanted one and how it fit into my plan/goals.

  • JAS

    I think this is somewhat of a natural reaction for many of us post-MBA. Few of us are lucky enough to achieve such high levels of professional and financial success that our achievements are unquestionable, at least so relatively early in our careers. The main problem with an MBA is that it’s not required officially for any jobs, so it doesn’t have the intrinsic value of other degrees similar in cost and time commitment. And you’re not going to save a life or defend justice with your fabulous PowerPoint, so it’s not for most people who want to save the world. I have regretted my MBA many times and celebrated it just as many. What part of life is not like that? While I had a great experience socially, feeling connected with the school or your classmates is really not the point. You go to business school to get a job, and your satisfaction with the outcome is most likely the biggest determinant of your satisfaction with the process. In this case, it’s not the journey, it is the destination that matters.

  • Dr Kamal Narain

    Three cheers for Linda
    I have actually followed what she has observed. Like Bill Gates I left Business School after three months and feel grateful to God. I now practice medicine and feel satisfied.

  • Anirudh

    Its a very honest article from Lindsey and I commend her for her being so frank and unapologetic about the different route post-MBA from HBS!

    After reading a few comments, it reinforces all the more the importance of self-introspection before starting out your MBA journey! Just because everyone is doing it, just because it may pay well, just because the economy is good or bad is not the only reason to make such an important decision. And I don’t mean just in the context of MBA but for that matter anything in life!

    For example, you do want to do MBA…but not sure whether you want to go into Sales or Investment Banking(IB). IB pays more and so you choose that. You even get a big bucks job…your dream job…first 2-3 months you are on cloud nine, career cant start any better! But…after the initial charm of big bucks, image of working in so and so company as a iBanker…what next! Then it will only sustain if you had it within you and not because you choose that because of money and external factors!

    People may push your car in the beginning to let it start…but in the end its the car(engine, fuel, etc) which will keep it going!

    I can relate a lot to the above but in the totally opposite context. I always wanted to go into Business…but I went and did something totally different and now I am “refreshing” my life, starting again…aspiring for a MBA!

    Its never too late for anything in life, its your life, you decide its meaning…no one else!

    Thanks for the article!

  • Well I don’t think anyone should disparage Ms. Russell for her candid feelings regarding her HBS experience and for choosing to share them publically. After all, it was her time and money, and she has that right (IMHO)!

    The MBA degree has a serious image problem; mainly because of how it is marketed by the hundreds (thousands?) of colleges that offer them. If you do not know on your own why you want/need an MBA, there is some program (or someone) out there that will make up a reason for you! So you really need to have a plan or goal; if not, others will not hesitate to make suggestions to you. This may seem flattering, but many times, you are the only one who knows what is really and truly important to you in the long term. But what B-School openly says that (especially in this day & age of “branding”)?

    Age is nothing but a number, and experience can be overrated. How many “years of experience” did Mark Zuckerberg have before starting his ‘little venture’? No, there is no formula to building the perfect MBA candidate (and eventual degree holder). The ongoing struggle is trying to reconcile what the MBA “dream job” is with what MBA degree holders actually want to do and are good at. Perhaps Ms. Russell wouldn’t feel such a letdown if there wasn’t such a rigid view of what the degree is supposed to accomplish in the first place!

  • TC

    Insightful reflection Lindsey! I share similar experience as you although for mine, it was slightly different : It was only a diploma, 3 years long but cost considerably less and I was 9000 miles away in Singapore! In the early 2000, it was very popular to go through an expedited process in order to get into the workforce earlier than what most recognized undergrad degree will take – 4 years. So I followed. Then the next challenge was, what to major in. IT was extremely popular following the dotcom boom. Again, I followed. Essentially like a sardine.
    Halfway into it, I realized IT was not my field so much so that I hated it. But I managed to complete the course. After graduating, I (along with many classmates) were confronted with the fact that diploma was not enough to compete in the market. Double whammie for me. Then I broke off on my own and found what I would enjoy and be passionate about. I did my research extensively, convinced my parents to support me one more time. I succeeded.
    So don’t go follow what everbody seems to be doing. Have your own goal and conviction. Most importantly, do your research.

  • andrew

    I was accepted to U chicago at the ripe age of 23 myself. I had little work experience and often felt left out as well. But I think this article speaks more to the writer’s judgment of others at b-school and her own insecurities than to the school. If you want thoughtful deep thinkers, you may find a few at bschools, but you’remore likely to find people who are interested in making money above all else. Poets go to Vassar. I tell this to my bschool peers and they all become indignant, yet more than 90% of them make enormous amounts of money and do little with it other than buy cars, homes and private schools. (dear reader, please don’t tell me how you are different.. If you are, you are in the minority). As for the writer of the article, I realize her inner narrative may be different from what the outer narrative is of her classmates, but in the end, she was a consultant, she went back to consulting, “all her friends went to stanford’ she still thinkg HBS is the best, … etc etc etc. Is she so different? Sorry, no.

  • killben

    Having attended one of the top business schools in India, I would agree with Dan and Lindsey on the inference that b-schools are difficult for introverts — I am inherently introverted. I think being an extrovert should be given high marks when you select a person to a b-school – corollary is high negative for introverts. This would ensure that introverts do not get in easily. Makes life easier for b-school and the introvert concerned. Given that it is all about networking and team work an introvert has lost the race before it starts!!

  • Spencer Maxwell

    An outlier for sure.

  • Thanks Dan for what is another brave and thoughtful post.

  • Dan


    I must say that this is a brave post. I am very much like you, except that I attended Columbia Business School in the age of facebook. Try that on for size 🙂 I am inherently introverted and dodge goodbyes regularly (I totally loved this admission!) I dread facebook posts where my classmates were tagged at events I was not invited to or posted comments on walls inviting them to parties. Thanks facebook!

    I quickly learned at CBS that if “witty banter” is foreign to you, you’re sailing on a raft while others are partying on the carnival cruise line. I knew after week 1’s team-building orientation exercises that I was alone as I started looking for others who were timid or who’s diversity or lack of prior managerial experience made them less like the carnival cruiseliners. We built our own mini-clique and enjoyed the rest of our time there. We still get together for our D2E gatherings with MBAs who are down to earth. I agree with the poster above – Business school is for Carnival Cruisers not Huck Finn, whether it’s Harvard or Tuck, etc.

    When folks ask me should I go to b-school, I always start by asking “Why do you want to go to business school?” If their answer is not one of the following, don’t do it:

    – Networking (and you should be a social butterfly)
    – Promotion at work (some companies require an MBA for certain roles)
    – Company’s paying for it (no brainer – truly a 2 year vacation with a small commitment to company afterwards)
    – Immediate credibility and eye-raising when you mention it at events
    – Note: If they say academics – qualify it: if they say to improve my accounting/finance – thumbs up; any other topics or soft skills – thumbs down.

    Net-net Lindsey, I am totally like you but had an alright experience. I’m an eternal optimist and created my own experience as I continue to do so post b-school. One last note, I reviewed my textbooks/notes from my time at Columbia last week, after only 2 years, and felt like I was reading hieroglyphics. What the heck is Black-Scholes and why is Herbie the bottleneck anyway? I have no idea but when I walk in an interview and say I studied at Columbia, eyes light up and I’m 10x smarter than the person across the table, simply because they believe the MBA makes you better. The regular world is so confused 🙂

  • Dave

    “I took a different kind of route after school, opting to re-join the strategy consulting firm I’d worked at before school but in a recruiting role rather than on the partner track. I did this for personal reasons: I wanted to have flexibility for my nascent dual-career marriage and for the children I hoped we would have.”

    Of course she regrets going to Business School! She never really wanted to be successful in business so much as she wanted to be a wife and mother. The simple fact is that she chose marriage and children over professional focus. She could have taken the partner track, if she so chose, and would probably have been very successful. However, she chose not to do this, and so now feels that her Harvard MBA was wasted. Well the sad fact is that it was.

    As far as “feeling that the MBA establishment, of which [she] think[s] HBS is the leader, should find ways to help all of its graduates, even those going in unconventional directions”, I respond with a question. In what way is it the responsibility of any school, Harvard or not, when a student chooses not to focus on the career for which his or her degree was designed, but instead elects to focus on being flexible for a spouse and on raising children? That’s not something any school has control over. The fact is that we make choices in our lives. We choose to be career oriented, or family oriented. If you choose to be family oriented, your MBA won’t do you as much good as it would a career oriented person.

    We are our choices.

  • Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before.
    ~Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

  • Saber Tooth Tiger Mike

    Garrett Goff,
    Don’t get an MBA. MBAs are for upper class working professionals who are looking to distinguish themselves with a credential because they want to move into management. Despite the elite nature of MBAs, America is becoming a nation of managers, but good leadership is STILL IN SHORT SUPPLY.

    What are you going to manage anyway? Management for the last thirty years has dismantled most of America’s industry so you’re going to most likely end up managing some healthcare-related organization, retail, or a fast food restaurant. I would suggest taking a second degree in something more in-demand and/or emigrating to a developing country if you can get a job there,

  • Professor Steve Start

    Finally, we have an honest assessment of the MBA. I have a Wharton MBA which is surely at least as prestigious as a Harvard or Stanford MBA. Here’s what I found: MBA’s are nothing more than prostitutes to corporate America. This is a pretty sick career, don’t you think? To be a corporate whore?
    I am amazed at how the corporate media sucks up the MBA hype from Harvard/Wharton/Stanford. This is pathetic.
    To one and all I say this: Do you want to be a whore to corporate America? If not, get a nursing degree, a medical degree, an engineering degree, a culinary arts degree, any practical degree (but not a J.D.). Try to make a contribution to the economy, rather than joing the rat race of New York investment bankers who are ruining this country…

  • method

    She goes to HBS without any idea what she wants in life because “everyone else is doing it.” Sounds like a lemming, not a leader — is it any wonder she’s disillusioned? She followed people without stopping to think for herself.

    I’m glad so many programs are asking for a clear, focused, post-MBA outlook as part of their admissions processes.

  • Garrett Goff

    I’m a current Teach for America corps member working in my second (and likely last) year in a low-income school district. I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to apply to MBA programs such as, and including, the one at HBS. My primary goal was to start in an investment banking analyst role at a bulge-bracket bank, but it appears that my time with TFA has caused recruiters/bankers to view my technical skills as weaker than the competition, which has kept me from getting into one of these positions.

    This leads me to believe that I could try to get into an MBA program for a couple of years and exit into a “real” career after that. The issue here is that I certainly realize that a great deal of the MBA experience is had outside the classroom, and will require money. I never had a real undergrad experience (at a top-15 school with a strong undergrad b-school) because of an extremely low-income background which required me to work throughout college to provide for my parents despite a full scholarship. Because I have taken this teacher path, I am still not able to build up any savings due to the low pay, and I believe it would be impossible for me to attend an MBA program without working one or two jobs, and even with that, I’ve never been out of the country nor have I vacationed in the past 14 years, which is something I will still be unable to do. Would this be too limiting, and would this prevent me from having a truly good MBA experience? If so, what would you do?

    I’d appreciate any advice from all you post-MBA success stories. Did any of you have an experience like this?

  • Bob, NYC, NY

    I am a HBS grad a bit older than Lindsey. I do not regret attending HBS as I enjoyed the pressure-cooker atmosphere. What I failed to get out of HBS was any type of connection with any of my other classmates. Part of it was my failing, but a major part was the huge cliquishness (Bostoners, Harvard undergrads, etc.) that made my HBS experience more like repeating high school (where I dropped out – take that, MBA consultants) than developing life-long contacts. While my classmates include the top business elite, I have crafted my career on the roads less traveled. I am now a undergraduate business school dean building a new program that emphasizes the ‘fit” side of future careers in social and for-profit organizations.

  • albert le

    Example that most people use MBA school as an extension of college and babysitting. very few actually utilize this degree.

    I’ve deduced that unless your employer requests you extend your education, or a financial firm requires this degree, an MBA is a nice accessory, but a somewhat useless substitute for real world progress and career building.

    So far, i have noticed that those that have an MBA at my firm have a lower success rate than undergrads who came to the firm directly out of college. I could be wrong, just my experience.

  • Peter Githinji

    Actually I’m aspiring to do an MBA program. Coming from Kenya, I’ve been told that since I meet minimum requirements my resume would not be attractive. I am 27 so I guess compared to the rest I’m pretty young.
    But does this matter?

  • Thanks Mandy for a very thoughtful response.

  • Mandy Moore

    I did an MBA at LBS in 2004. I always felt sorry for the people whose family commitments kept them from the social activities and travel that were such a key part of my experience. This was of course especially true in London, where the opportunities for inexpensive travel all over Europe (and beyond) were extensive, and where you could find a classmate to be your local guide to any city in the world.

    I’ve backed off a bit from my hard core business career to accommodate the needs of my daughter and my husband’s management consulting job, but it doesn’t make me regret time time or the money I spent on my LBS MBA. In fact, given the way it transformed the way I see business and life, I think of it as a bargain.

    I can see how the author’s personal choices make her regret her MBA, but to me the message is that if you aren’t going to embrace the social and networking side and you don’t want a career in business, it’s not the right fit for you. It’s not the MBA, it’s the person. And like most things we do because “everyone is doing it,” the outcome is likely to be sub-optimal.

    I also suspecty there’s a bit of the aura of the Harvard MBA not living up to the massive cultural baggage around the name. It’s not a magical, mystical place that transforms you by association, regardless of what you do while you’re there. It is, more and more these days, just like a lot of other business schools, scrambling to hang on to a top 10 ranking.

  • Carly

    There is nothing worse than to have expectations that weren’t met from an institution that one paid tuition fees for higher education. I am also hard pressed to believe that no one from the School advised Lindsey during admissions and then early in the program on the choices that she was making. Lindsey of course carries responsibility for not having identified her needs and desires and doing her due diligence prior to enrolling. An MBA is a Masters of Business Administration and is for those seeking to compete in the successful management of a business, yet she didn’t seem to be aware of this early in the admissions process. Also important is that Schools need students to fill their class rooms, and some students like the idea to have MBA next to their name, but having graduated with an MBA, I have seen that some students should not be getting an MBA, but rather a Masters on something else. Some of these MBA students graduate but are not really competent in business management, nor are interested in business management. Hopefully today prospective students are able to do better research online and be better prepared to be good MBA students, and good future managers and leaders.

  • Alex

    Here is my 2 cents: First I thought about doing an MBA when I was 27. However, my school (top five outside USA) rightfully rejected my Executive MBA application on the grounds that I was too young. I came back four years later and although I was still one of the youngest students in EMBA class I succeeded. Straight out of the school, I managed to change paths (engineering to finance), position (manager to associate director), and countries while my compensation went up three-fold. I also have made friends (most of them are older than me) around the world. In my opinion, an MBA school is not a “nursery” and it is not for kids (what value could one add at the age of 23-25? what kind of real life experience one would have?) and not for those who think the “brand will deliver.” I knew what I wanted and my school exceeded my expectations. I wish I could live this experience again. Hope this post has not offended anyone.

    P.S.This year we have reunion and I already have booked my tickets.

  • Thanks Lindsey for this article. I’m currently in my 20s (though older than 23) and trying to figure out if an MBA is the right academic path for me, or if I’d be better of in a more specialized masters program in the softer side of business (design, psychology, etc.) What spoke to me most about this article was the fact that Lindsey seemed to miss out a lot on what business school has to offer due to her introverted nature. I, too, am an introvert, and am concerned that the greatest benefit of going to business school — networking — will be greatly minimized due to my lack of ability to be good friends with “the cool kids.” Additionally, I can only imagine that the limited number of women in business school makes this kind of camaraderie harder within two fast, very busy years. This article sways me away from the MBA track (granted, my academic background would keep Harvard and its equals out of my options regardless) and again looking more into a product development degree with a strong business focus.

    Great post — I look forward to catching up on your other blog entries!

  • I am a classmate of Lindsey’s from HBS, and while I didn’t know Lindsey that well in school, I was lucky enough to have discovered her blog and I’ve become an avid and regular reader.

    The key to understanding the HBS experience is that it is like a pressure cooker–everything is amped up to 11, including your professional ambitions and your social life.

    What it does not do is help you figure out what to do with your life. How can it? You can’t learn deep truths about yourself from career assessment tests, nor can you determine the ideal career from attending a series of 1-hour talks by recruiters. To understand who you are and what you’re meant to do, you need to get out there and try various things.

    In that sense, I think Lindsey’s comments are telling and instructive–her biggest regret is not that she went to HBS per se, it’s that she went to HBS and failed to learn more about herself. The same holds true for returning to her pre-MBA firm–if you go to HBS because you’re not certain about your path, returning to the same firm is the worst thing you can do.

    The funny thing is, Lindsey is now doing exactly what she needed to do back then. She is trying new things, she is allowing herself to experience them deeply, and she is reflecting on those experiences and allowing them to teach her about herself.

    It’s never too late for any of us to do that, regardless of whether or not we went to business school.

    P.S. For more of my perspectives specifically on HBS, I often blog about such topics at:

  • Thanks Linda for a very thoughtful comment.

  • I earned my MBA from UCLA in 1979. For many years — those when I was working part-time, raising my family, and pursuing a distinctly non-traditional MBA path — I felt that my investment in my MBA had not paid off. However, when I started my business,, and was devoting more and more of my time to the business as my children needed less and less of my time, I changed my mind.

    I feel that my MBA has allowed me to start and run my small business with more skill than had I just learned form books, taken a few classes, or stumbled my way through. I recommend it highly to people willing to take an unconventional path, especially to young women who want to be able to raise a family.

    I can’t speak to the sense of alienation that Lindsey refers to. I enjoyed my two years at UCLA even though I lost touch with most of my classmates fairly rapidly. I remember those two years fondly and with the passage of time have learned to really appreciate the education and credential — even though I don’t remember 90% of the formulas and technical information conveyed at the time.

    Linda Abraham

  • ReachingHigher

    I actually agree and disagree with this story. On one hand, I commiserate with the confusion of finding that right career. However, business is one of those very fluid beings. It can take all forms, shapes, and names. I think something that was not communicated to her was that business is more than just finance or straight accounting. You can be everything from an invenstment banker to a publishing agent. It is relative.

    One of the most useful things an admissions rep told me from a school in Spain: “We look for students who have flexibility in their goals. Opportunities change, markets change, and people change. A student has to be willing to change”. Business school is all about learning and experiencing different sides of business.

    I agree with a previous post. Twenty-three is TOO YOUNG to attend a business school. What can one possibly contribute to a classroom at 23? I had only been out of college myself for one year. When I think back to the differences of the person I once was…it is baffling. Now, I believe I could relate to so many and with so much. I have worked in three separate industries. I have many stories to tell!

  • JR

    As a Harvard MBA, I can say that the degree was worth every penny. I was unemployed last year during the worst recession (April-June 2009). However, it only took me a few months of intense networking to get five good offers. It was all attributable to having the HBS name on my resume that opened the access to anyone I approached.

    HBS did not teach me everything, but did open the world to me and gave me the tools to think strategically and granted me the confidence to speak intelligently (and shut up when I do not know the answer) in front of anyone regardless of their position, background or intentions. I was successful already and I am confident that I would have been successful regardless of the degree. While I left confident, I also left humbled as I realized that there are a lot of smarter people than me. I also learned that there are also dumber people with access to these types of degrees (and elite circles), so I did not fully drink the Koolaid. I agree HBS is not for everyone, but it sure is a great way to catapult your career and in the process lived some of the best years of my life with incredibly smart people. I think there is value in other programs with excellent faculty (i.e. Chicago) and very smart students, it all depends what you want to get out of the program you are looking for. There are other lesser rank schools, especially the regional ones, that may grant access to networks only available in the region the program takes place. HBS may not be the best fit for what you are looking for. It was the best fit for me and I am grateful I had the opportunity to have attended and am committed to giving back to world to make it a better place with the tools I gained at HBS, especially the awareness to know that life is a continuous circle of learning.

  • I want to speak in response to Lindsey’s Reflection’s on her journey at HBS. I want to commend her for at least being honest about how she felt. Now, whether that honesty should have been displayed publicly is a question more of tact. As a prospective HBS MBA ’13 Student, I am somewhat offended by tone of dissension being displayed toward the instituition. It is disheartening. HBS’s goal is to “Educate Leader’s Who Make a Difference in The World”. HBS’ did not say that there goal was to “Find People who aren’t sure if they’re a Leader & Train Them Into Leaders, then once they’ve figured out who they are….can make a difference in the world.” That is not the mission. So, I feel strongly that Lindsey should not blame HBS for her disconnectedness to the school. If she was given the opportunity, that millions of people in this world wish they’s her responsiblity for not taking advantage of it. If HBS did not give her what she needed, then it was her job to create a path that worked for her to nourish the desires she had. She is repsonsible for her lack of vision & direction for her career. Honestly, this is what leaders do. Leaders take responsibility for the outcomes no matter what happens, both good & bad. I have just come across an HBS Alum who is more than out of the ordinary and she has been a shining example of what can happen when one does not take the traditional path of an HBS Graduate. Her name is Kaniesha Grayson: Her story speaks Volumes of the benefits and the diversity of HBS. And, she commends HBS for giving her the opportunity to maximize her Dreams.

  • PKini

    I appreciate Lindsay for letting others such as myself, an applicant this year, know the other perspective of an MBA grad on their experiences. There are a lot of people who have really enjoyed their experiences doing their MBA and I’m sure, as is in every field, there are a reasonable number who think otherwise. I certainly didn’t make the best use of my engg. study in college, but I did well in my career in it nevertheless.

    Thanks for the article since I can use this to gauge my reasons for applying for an MBA, a school to fit into and attitude/state of mind to take in to my 2 years there.

  • John

    Well, she’s asking business school to teach her everything.

  • MBA Recruiter

    For those mentioning that the author went to b-school too quickly, it’s interesting then that HBS is pushing a 2+2 option, granting admission out of undergrad and requiring 2 years of work experience before enrollment. The thought process is that the younger one is when completing the MBA, the more one credits the institution rather than one’s own skills. The danger is that one isn’t really drawn to business, especially the kinds of doors that an HBS-like education opens, or that one isn’t ultimately skilled in the ways that a top shelf degree holder is expected to be in these kinds of careers.

    Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

    Jennifer’s story is interesting, but I would love to read about the occasional person who gets left on the sideline — who doesn’t catch the golden ring (or even the brass one) out of business school and who muddles along in a non-MBA career path. This would be the kind of person who avoids the HBS reunions all together, even when he still lives in Cambridge. Of course, the article would be anonymous…

  • Leela

    I imagine if I’d gone to business school at the age of 23, I might have felt the same as this writer. Frankly, I’ve never understood the rush. I may have enrolled a little later than I intended (30) but I don’t regret waiting – I feel like i was able to contribute and extract so much more as a result.

    While an MBA isn’t right for everyone, I hope prospective MBAs aren’t put off by reading this piece. You just need to find the school that’s a good fit for you (for me, that was absolutely Tuck) and give it your all (which again, this writer didn’t). If you do, it’ll be the best and most rewarding two years of your life.

  • jennifer

    I was in Lindsey’s class at HBS. I am also mildly irritated by her essay, although it is introspective. I think one should ask herself whether she is truly interested in a profession, being focused on family is ok, then it would not justify the opportunity cost of going to HBS. I work in Venture Capital today in Asia, and I truly valued the network and experience at HBS. I actually did not go to Reunion, for the same reason as Lindsey, I am not particularly interested in “repeating the story” or “socializing for socializing”. But there are many life time friends I made and I still stay in touch with and visit all over the world. HBS, like many other things in life, you can benefit in multiple ways, and it all depends what the goal and purpose, and you yourself make assessment on the pros and cons and take personal responsibility for it

  • MadMax

    A candid article with an insightful perspective. Per a few comments, some folks are not too happy with the points communicated in the article. But let’s face it, a lot of folks get an MBA because all their peers are doing it, and possibly as an insurance policy for a solid middle/upper middle income way of life.

    So the woman is working in field where an MBA is not required and her RIO might just be negative, no biggie. She does have a nice shiny insurance policy though:Nothing like Harvard MBA branding to get one’s foot in the door.

  • Disillusioned

    If anything, the MBA seems marketed overly broadly. Finance and consulting fields seem to offer the degree a lot of respect, and use it as a differentiator in promotions and work assignments. I used mine to transition from a technical (software) career in to general management, and have been frustrated by the low regard given the degree.

    The technical skills I gained have been little appreciated by executives, who tend to regard any analytical work as a sign someone must just be “good with numbers”, which I’m not especially, and soft skills are only appreciated in context of who you know and how many years experience you can point to. I’ve had former classmates who made the same career choices as me outright told “you do good work, you just need a few more gray hairs.” More generally the euphemism is “needs more seasoning”.

    I could have gained facial lines, belt sizes and a bald spot without investing in the education, and I’m not sure the degree has helped shorten at all the time it takes to be taken seriously.

  • Consultant quant

    I went to b-school for the same reason the author did–because I was at a strategy consulting firm where everyone told me to. And they put their money where their mouth was and paid for my 2-year vacation. So I went.

    I do feel bad for Lindsay because she missed the strongest reasons to go to b-school. It’s not to learn business per se, because you can’t teach business judgment (though you can teach jargon and spreadsheets that are occasionally good substitutes.) I dare say I learned more about wine than business. Go to b-school to take a few years to be social, to do things you can’t do while working 24/7 for clients, learn widely, explore new paths, finish growing up, travel a bunch, etc. There’s a direct correlation between satisfaction with business school and the degree to which one commits to it socially and beyond the classroom generally.

    I join the other commenters in objecting to her rationalizing her decision by blaming the degree. She stepped off the partner path immediately after HBS and went into a position where an MBA is neither terribly useful nor necessary. It was her choice not to use the degree. When the MBA ceases to be useful in helping one climb to the top of the corporate world, that’s when it might need changing.

  • Dave

    I find the notion of wanting to make the degree “useful beyond just the highest echelons of the business and corporate worlds” puzzling. That’s like saying the MD degree should be made more useful for people beyond those who want to become doctors, or the JD degree for lawyers, or engineering degrees for engineers. The MBA is a professional degree, and it should draw applicants who wish to become professional managers. I don’t think anyone should be surprised by this. That’s certainly why I chose to earn it, and that was my expectation for my fellow students. I would not have applied to any school that lost focus of this core mission.

  • Suzy

    The author’s post is an example of why MBA programs have expanded their course offerings, making leadership and organizational behavior courses more relevant.

    Adding, subtracting and market-making just isn’t enough in today’s business landscape. Future executives need to know more about people, their behaviors and how it affects an organizations bottom line.

    Business schools now realize that soft skill building is not restricted to people in Human Resources functions.

  • TJM

    It’s a great headline to draw in a reader, but I’m mildly irritated by Lindsey’s story.

    HBS was only two years out of her life. If there was something else she feels she should have done with that time, then go ahead and do it now. By my math Lindsey can only be 35 — she has time to try out at least two more completely different careers and lives.

    As to the softer side, or being a poet in a quant world, I think you can use that to your advantage. In classrooms (and subsequently business meeting rooms) full of quants, it is a differentiator to be able to offer up the “softer” side of business. I think this is truer now than ever before. We need artists, philosophers, poets, priests and musicians in corporations, especially ones who are also conversant in quant-speak.

    As for not using the things one learned in b-school, I can’t think of ANY two year period in my life where I have not taken something learned during that time and applied it to my work and life, let alone the two years in business school. Learning is an attitude; an openness to new ideas and experiences. If you embrace it, studying for two years at any great academic institution will be a great asset.

  • AOS

    The article reminds me of the importance of choosing the right school. My experience is B-school was great because in just about every negative instance the writer had, mine were positive.

    I went to a school where everybody knew my name, at my fifth reunion I felt like I was back home from a long trip, and conversations just continued where we all left off. I can and have reach out to alums form many classes and I always feel like I am talking to an old friend.

    My b-school experience was one of the best two years of my life, I wish I could do it again.

  • Leo Osako

    Another relevant topic from this story is having the adequate amount of business experience prior to starting your MBA program. I’d personally think 3 years real-world experience (at a minimum) should be the prerequisite for acceptance into a program for several reasons. First, you want to make sure that the individual can relate to the classroom/team discussions based on real-world experiences. Second, it’s important that the individual can also contribute to the classroom discussions beyond business-theories (meaning they need a proper balance of theory & practice). Lastly, the individual would have a clearer vision of what they want to learn in business school than a newly-grad. I believe these reasons did have a significant impact on what she took away from the 2 years program.

  • Adam, thanks much for your very thoughtful reply.

  • Adam

    I can understand the regret about going to b-school.

    To me, this is as much a story about an introvert in a extroverted world as anything else. During my two years in b-school, I also did not connect socially, developed few if any long-lasting relationships, and still wonder if I’ll ever use anything I learned in the classroom, except maybe the powerpoint skills.

    However, I would hate to say that b-schools should cater to those going into non-business career trajectories. It’s BUSINESS school. Sorry if you made the wrong choice of graduate program, but surely HBS taught you about business. That said, I think many schools are doing just what you suggest, diversifying to be applicable to people in many areas, and I think to their peril in many cases.

    The other concern I had with your article is that you fail to credit HBS with enabling the lifestyle you hold so dearly – the flexibility to earn a good salary, work part-time, go on the vacations depicted in the slide shows. Surely it wasn’t simply your decisions that enabled all of this, right? HBS surely contributed something to putting you down this path of freedom and flexibility. If you don’t think so, ask the line worker who can only take a bathroom break when the foreman allows it.

    This article really shows the need for the applicant to do their research and campus visits before deciding on doing an MBA, and where. Be sure you fit in, and be sure you want the life you’re signing up for.

  • bp

    Thanks for featuring this! Although her case is very specific, it gives insight to people looking to pursue non-traditional fields after b-school.