Just about all the applicants to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and other top business schools in the world believe that’s the case. Otherwise, they wouldn’t quit their jobs and attend a prestigious school in a two-year MBA program that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the research largely conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council shows that the vast majority of MBAs have no regrets. GMAC’s 2012 survey showed that 95% of MBAs and business school alumni rated the value of their degree as outstanding, excellent, or good. Nine out of 10 alumni say their graduate management education prepared them for their chosen careers.
Aside from such vague macro data, however, there’s generally little information that reveals what really happens to those who earn an MBA from a top school years after they’ve entered the workforce—until now. Poets&Quants obtained the results of a survey of Harvard Business School’s Class of 1986 that was done for its 25th reunion last year.
Members of the class were asked 85 questions that yielded revealing answers about their professional and personal lives at mid-life. Alums were asked if their lives have been easier or harder than expected, whether they believe America is a better place to live and work now, and if they ever had to hire a defense attorney. They were asked how they met their life’s partners, whether they divorced or stayed married, how much money they make, and what their personal net worth is.
A CLASS PROFILE THAT IS RICH IN DETAIL AND EXTRAORDINARY FOR ITS CANDOR
Because the answers were only intended for the class and not the public, the results are extraordinarily candid and frank. Some 271 members of the class responded to the survey, representing 35% of the total class and 42% of the alums for which Harvard had current street or e-mail addresses.
This is a class that has endured three recessions, including the recent economic collapse that has been the most severe downturn since the Great Depression. It is also a class that has seen vast changes in the world of work, from the sizable impact of international competition to the growing use of technology in every aspect of life. The class has seen dramatic upheavals in societal and cultural norms, from marriage and divorce to the decline of Corporate Elite and the rise of the entrepreneur.
In the year the class graduated, Ronald Reagan was President and Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history. A gallon of gas cost 89 cents and the average income in the U.S. was $22,400. A Tandy 600 portable computer cost $1,594 (Apple had only introduced the first Macintosh computer a year earlier). Computers “were so heavy we all needed help getting them into our dorm rooms and since we were the first class in the history of HBS to have computers, the spreadsheets were incredibly buggy,” recalls Pamela Meyer, one of the ’86 women who made up 24% of the class.
SOME 47% OF THE CLASS HAS BEEN FIRED FROM A JOB, 14% HAVE BEEN DIVORCED
The result of the reunion survey is a fascinating profile of a class, a rich mosaic with both substantive and frivolous facts. Some of the more telling tidbits:
- Even Harvard alums are not immune from downsizings and firings. Some 47% of the class said they had been involuntarily dismissed from a job, while 13% said they have been fired twice and 4% reported having lost a job three times in their 25 years since graduation.
- Sex isn’t a very high priority for the Class of 1986–at least not that they are 53 to 55 years of age. Just 3% of the alums say they want more sex. The highest priorities? Time (31%), health (18%), and peace of mind (13%).
- More members of the class have hired personal trainers (43%) than therapists (41%) or cosmetic surgeons (7%).
- Slightly more than one in four alums have gained 11 to 20 pounds since they wore their cap and gown. Some 15% put on 21 to 30 pounds, while 5% tip the scales with weight gains of 31 to 50 pounds.
- A third of the class (33%) admitted to having slept with someone whose last name they didn’t know (37% for men, 17% for women).
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