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.