Post-MBA: A Job or Another Degree?

by Karl Muth on

Many see the MBA as a bridge to a promotion, the start of a career in investment banking, or the skillset needed to start a business. It can be one or all of these things. During my two years earning the MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with a concentration in economics, I thought I’d follow a path similar to others in my cohort. I’d earned a law degree, co-founded an innovative startup, and was ready to try something different – I just wasn’t sure what.

I received offers from banks and consulting firms, but I also received an offer to study abroad for a term at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I jumped at the chance, and took a course with Professor Robert Wade, formerly of the World Bank. I quickly fell in love with the LSE and, for the first time, considered earning a Ph.D. – I wasn’t sure exactly in what, but something related to economics and/or applied finance. In part to test whether I was really interested enough in the intersection of applied microeconomics, finance, and policy, I took a course with Professors Gary S. Becker, Kevin M. Murphy, and Edward A. Snyder (then Dean of the Booth School of Business, now soon-to-be Dean of the Yale School of Management) discussing exactly the types of complex issues I hoped to study in the Ph.D. It, combined with Dr. Wade’s course at the LSE, convinced me that this area of study was where I would commit thousands of hours in the coming years.

I applied, and was accepted, to the Ph.D. program at the London School of Economics. I began the Ph.D. immediately after the MBA and Professor Wade became my doctoral supervisor. The working title for my dissertation is The Measurement and Mitigation of Risk in Emerging Markets. I’m also involved in exciting consulting projects for two banks and one non-financial-sector client and, though London based, end up traveling internationally more than half the year.

So, should you consider getting another degree after (or in addition to) the MBA?

1) The MBA is a professional degree designed to train managers. It is not a research degree. If you want to do Ph.D.-level work in a discipline, consider using your MBA electives elsewhere in the university – MBA-level courses in economics and econometrics will generally not provide the strong applied economics and statistics background needed for a Ph.D.-level program. At Chicago, it is generally not difficult for MBA students to take masters-level courses in the Economics Department (from what I understand, this is true of most schools). While only a few American MBA programs reside in schools with top economics departments, it does not take Nobel Laureates to vastly improve the average MBA student’s understanding of economics and econometrics – take these courses if they are available to you, whether or not they have business school course numbers. They will help you in understanding problems in business and in life, even if you do not continue your studies.

2) The Ph.D. is not the only option. Many earn other masters-level or professional degrees in tandem with (or sequentially with) the MBA. Common choices are the JD/MBA and MBA/MPP combinations, but MBA/LLM and MBA/MD combinations are not unheard-of. The key factors to consider here are: financial commitment, time commitment, and interdisciplinary strength of the university in question. If you are at Harvard, there is clearly departmental support for adding a law or policy degree to your studies that matches (many would say surpasses, in the case of HLS) the quality of the HBS MBA. If you are at a program with a top-30 business program but law program that scarcely grazes the top 100 in any law school rankings, that JD/MBA might be a more questionable investment.

3) The cost structure of the Ph.D., from the student’s perspective, is wildly different from that of the MBA. While nearly all MBA students pay at least some tuition, most Ph.D. students in top programs are generally associated with research fellowships and paid to do research. At minimum, students at top Ph.D. programs usually pay no tuition, and they generally make enough money teaching and doing research to cover their living and travel expenses. In other words, while many students take on more debt to earn a top MBA, there is generally an inverse correlation between the quality of a Ph.D. and the amount of debt incurred.

4) An MBA is arguably the most versatile graduate degree, which is both a strength and a weakness in this context. Most MBA programs are meant to produce general competence, while most Ph.D. programs force the student to develop narrow expertise. The student who excels in one environment may not do well in the other. Degrees that require good writing and communication skills (such as the LL.B. or American J.D.) tend to produce people more able to write a compelling research proposal or dissertation than degrees like the M.B.A. – if you don’t enjoy writing and research (not merely one or the other), a Ph.D. probably is not right for you.

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  • Bruce Vann

    That’s a lot of degrees.

  • Julianne

    I have actually contemplated going the Ph.D route. My undergrad university billed itself as “the university for the real world” and I had many professors that had spent a fair amount of time in the real world before returning to academia. I was very impressed with that, because a lot of their knowledge was pulled from experience and not books. As this author says, an MBA is a professional degree (heck, even a undergrad business degree), so having teachers who only know of business activities through cases or occasional consulting work didn’t seem entirely relevant.

    I’m in the MBA class of 2013. A Ph.D is still on the horizon as a goal – but I want to get my real world experience in first.

  • http://www.soundclick.com/yadgyu Yadgyu

    Waste of time. You’ll be 40 years old with no work experience going with serial degree route. Just get a degree and get to work. Education is not a job. I swear that some people are just not made to cut it in the real world. If you cannot make a decision on a career and start working by age 30, you are a loser and a failure.

  • vasiliki

    Hey, I am contemplating a PhD after having completed an MSc in development economics at SOAS. Robert Wade has been a great inspiration for me and my advisor can get me in contact with him to discuss the possibility of supervision. I would like to ask you some questions though about how he is as a supervisor or if you think he would be interested in my topic (I would just like to be more sure in advance before contacting him). If you wouldn’t mind, drop me a line! I would be forever grateful.

  • Ayush Talwar

    Yadgyu…..your statement is completely stereotypical and absolutely moronic…..just random linkedin searches of people working at a certain company and from a certain university show how many students have multiple degrees……even a firm like BCG which is looking to double its consultants over the next 5 years is spreading its recruiting between MBA’s and PhDs to get a good balance. That apart 100′s of leaders in the corporate world hold multiple degrees(The CEO of Citibank and ZS associates for starts) This is especially true of the immigrants to the UK and the US, most of whom are highly entrepreneurial, talented and possess excellent leadership skills.
    That apart take a look at the class profiles of the people studying financial engineering in the top 5-6 universities (carnegie mellon, columbia, berkley, stanford etc). Over 65% of them possess atleast one prior graduate degree( including 30-35% PhD degree holders) They seem to do just fine.
    Silicon Valley and Wall street are full of multiple degree holders…..Even excellent venture capital companies ( such as live oak ventures in austin) have ceo’s that have atleast 2 graduate degrees…
    remember this Yadgyu….the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cant learn…they will be those who have learnt but cant unlearn and relearn again….
    anyway…frustrated chumps like you are losers and failures and will never cut it in life…..

  • Nella

    And look now at the state of wall street. I have 13 yesrs of working expirience, struggled with time to do my msc, but i did it, now completong my mba whilst in full time employment as lead at a large energy trader. Lifehas proved to me that the combination of the two is key.btw. I also wat a phd and have looked for a reputable programe taking pt researchers..as think will be indeed important to my career

  • OwninFoolsandFinishinSchool

    I agree…. then when you are in need of a heart surgeon, you will be disappointed that there are none around because of your intelligent age cutoff for furthering education. Smart choice.

  • Aks

    I have done M.B.A in marketing from India & currently working with
    MNC. However depth of education in Indian MBA is not that great. I am
    always interested in Economics. Is there any chance of any good
    university in USA accepting me for pH.D course in economics given by
    Marketing background? I also hold Masters in Science.

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