….And Why I’m Not Going to Get My MBA Afterall

So… I decided not to attend business school this fall. At various times during the application process, it seemed more likely than not that I would enroll. However, in recent weeks, I came to the conclusion that the better choice for me was to not go. As I move forward with the next step of my career, the only thing that is certain is that I won’t be doing so with the benefit of an MBA. Still, I’m not emerging from this process totally empty-handed.

It would have been nice to have known what I know now, before applying, but the important thing is that I reached what feels like the right decision for me, before committing two years of my life and assuming six figures of debt. Only time can tell whether I made the right decision, but all I can do is make the best decision I can, given my current circumstances and available information, and then hope and plan for the best.

To assist my decision-making process, I turned to a number of resources, including current and prospective MBA students, MBA graduates, people who never attended business school, books, magazines, blogs, online forums, YouTube and sometimes staring at the ceiling. Writing this blog and going through the business school application process itself also helped to clarify my thoughts. After a while, meaningful themes and patterns emerged, and I felt that I had enough information to frame my decision and make an informed choice.

Framing my decision
Ultimately, my decision hinged on my priorities and what my ideal life and career would look like. Without going into too much detail, I concluded that I would be most fulfilled by joining or starting a small company. So, my decision to go to school or not became: Is going to business school the best thing that I can do right now to move me closer to my goals?

Making a decision
In some ways, the answer is yes. But, in other ways, business school represents a potential limitation on my capacity to create the sort of life and career that I envision for myself, and would require real sacrifices and foregone opportunities. As I evaluated different criteria, discussed below, it became clearer to me that many of business schools’ top selling points didn’t match my own priorities.

One of the biggest reasons people go to business school is for career advancement, including a potentially bigger paycheck. More money doesn’t matter as much to me though, because I don’t actually need that much money on a day-to-day basis. Sure, the flexibility that six or more figures of income provides is nice, but I can get by on much less. If money was my goal, I would just stay in my current industry, without going back to school and incurring the opportunity cost of not working.

But, I am changing careers, because the more important thing to me is what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. If I am doing something that challenges and fulfills me, and that I am engaged in, any income beyond what I need to satisfy my basic needs doesn’t matter to me as much. So, the question is, whether going to business school will lead to the sort of opportunities that fit that criteria.

*People and Access*
Another big reason that people go to business school is for access: Access to recruiters, job and internship opportunities, alumni networks, other business leaders, and, of course, smart and accomplished classmates and professors, who will constitute a significant part of an MBA graduate’s lifelong professional and social network. For me, business school would also represent a clearer path for changing careers.

But, I don’t think that it justifies the required time, energy and money commitment for me. If I can find the kind of opportunities I’m looking for through my current network (which remains to be seen), then that offsets one of the most relevant aspects of business school for me. Also, since I’m looking for what is considered a non-traditional opportunity, I would have to do a lot of legwork myself anyway, whether or not I go to school.

The prestige and social proof of an MBA itself opens doors, but that’s another area that I can compensate for, having already received a comparable graduate degree (e.g., another masters or a J.D., M.D. or Ph.D.). If I can get my foot into the door through my current situation, then pedigree (hopefully) matters less than ability, experience and demonstrated achievement, which I might not get in school anyway. Also, one of the biggest determining factors for a post-MBA job is one’s pre-MBA job, so I might be able to leverage my existing experience to create my own opportunities.

Moreover, well over half of the reported employment placements at top schools involve a position in financial services or consulting, or at a large Fortune 500 company, which is not where I want to focus my search for opportunities. So, while business school does open doors, I don’t want to walk through many of those doors. I want to climb off the corporate ladder, not get back on it.

  • FlyingDutch

    Thanks for the article. I think I’m in the same boat. I got into a great school off the waitlist after accepting a new six-figure job in my chosen industry. I paid the deposit as I felt handcuffed — how do you turn down a top school? — but now am thinking I have more to gain by not going. I hope I’m making the right decision, but only time will tell. 

  • MBA5

    I have a HUGE favor to ask. I’m working on a class for business/law and I would love you to fill out a quick 3-question survey. Should only take 2 minutes! I’m trying to get as many people as possible. Thanks so much!!!


  • Iggi

    Man, congratulations on your wise choice! I am almost there as well, thinking that MBA is overpriced both money and image-wise.

    P.S. I also earned a 700+ gmat and also spent a year preparing my applications

  • Hi Bob, I think my decision would have been the same. Basically, I’m trying to get to where I want without investing two years and six-figures in debt. If I don’t make enough progress in this next year or so, I can always re-apply to b-school, but it would be harder to do what I’m doing now if I had debt to consider.

  • Bob Plotkin

    would you have gone if you had gotten into Stanford, Wharton or Kellogg?

  • Mishap

    On the cost calculation you mentioned 20k/yr for the student loan payments but you have to remember that’s after tax money (unless you plan on making under ~60k/120k and even then only the 1st 2.5k of interest is deductible). You’re looking at closer to almost 30k off the top of your salary if not a bit more servicing debt for the next decade. It seems odd to me that more people don’t consider this unless companies are all dropping the 100k for the bill.

    I agree if you’re looking at a startup NYU FT doesn’t make a great payback argument given the debt load. Personally, I’d still consider PT programs that are potentially cheaper and also possibly tax deductible via un-reimbursed business expenses. I was all about FT programs prior the GMAT. After I got into the mid 700’s, I started tallying the costs and it suddenly seemed to be a risky move. I looked at the loss of 2 yrs of my low six figure income(in low cost Atlanta) on top of a mortgage worth of debt moving back to the Northeast and decided to suck it up and skip some of the pedigree and go local. I still wound up getting an offer to go into consulting w/ one of the big firms so I look at the 50k-100k I saved as being a nice head start over my peers that I interviewed with that spent 2-3X as much going to top 20 programs all fueled w/ student loans.

  • Hi Elizabeth, it would be interesting to see how our chosen paths work out. In my case, I don’t think there was a “wrong” choice, just “good” and “better.” Choosing one over the other doesn’t change the need for me to seek out and make the most of the opportunities that are relevant to my goals. Good luck, and please feel free to email me directly: justship1 [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • I’m excited to see where the next year takes you. I related to a lot of what you wrote in this post, especially about looking to get off the corporate ladder. I was opposed to b-school for a long time for that very reason. Odd that I’ve somehow convinced myself that getting an MBA will be my ticket out of the corporate world. It would be great to talk in two years to see how our chosen paths to freedom worked out.

  • Woman