It’s been awhile since anyone has asked me why I have decided to get an MBA. It got to the point that I forgot it is a bit unusual. However, a friend recently asked a pointed question: “Why an MBA and not an MPA from Wagner in non-profit management?”
I can imagine people who stumble onto my blog wonder the same thing. Those in the non-profit field may have different reasons, but I thought it might be helpful and interesting to share my own.
Here was my trajectory:
I used to believe a master’s degree was a waste of time. Anything you would learn in an expensive master’s program could be learned on the job. What’s the point?
A year and a half ago, I started to feel like I could do more. Education is a frustrating field with hugely entrenched issues and frighteningly ineffective structures. Perhaps a break away, I mused, would provide a useful opportunity to reflect on what I have accomplished and where the field is and should be heading. Or more aptly, how my role in the field and my ability to create change, could be expanded and refined.
I originally considered getting a Master’s in Education. It’s the straight-forward approach. Obvious, right? Not really: this idea was thrown out the window practically overnight. Sadly, the programs are notoriously bad. They are packed with theory that is outdated and ineffective. Even worse, the programs don’t value work experience as highly as they do potential and brains. While smart people are an amazing asset in a classroom, without experience in the field, they lack the perspective to cull effective practices from (useless?) theory.
Next I thought about policy school. This idea was just as ephemeral. I am not interested in working for government or think-tanks. I like being closer to the ground and having a direct impact on youth and families.
Because I wasn’t desperate to get a master’s, I stopped looking for my break away for a while. Staying in my position wasn’t holding me back, so there was no rush. It was actually my boyfriend who suggested it to me. I used to come home from work excitedly rambling on about things like strategic planning, staff development, and partnership negotiations. He told me on more than one occasion that an MBA was the right degree for me. I was skeptical, and it probably took him mentioning it about a dozen times before I started looking into it.
So that led me to look into programs, because as the catchy ad slogan puts it: “It’s okay to look.” I was excited to find how many schools had non-profit focuses that were deeper and more developed than I ever expected for a “banker’s degree.” In my research, I was really quickly able to answer the infamous “Why MBA” question. Simply put, I came to realize that for my purposes an MBA is an implementation degree – it’s about how to make things happen. Education and policy degrees are about theory. MBA=doing; Policy=thinking.
I can’t say I know much about non-profit management programs, but they seem kind of limited. I wanted to see about approaching education from different angles, and maybe that means through a job in consulting or entrepreneurship or tech. Finally, I am obsessed with interdisciplinary approaches. I like that the MBA is a multi-faceted degree filled with people from super diverse backgrounds. I would be curious to hear from people who attend or graduated from non-profit management programs. Perhaps I overlooked a good option?
Doesn’t matter though, because we all know the real reason is that I like being unusual. What other crazy non-profit people would get an MBA? Just me, I’m a special flower!
(darn it turns out I’m not unique at all! oh well, at least it’s a fun and interesting degree!)
Sassafras is a 30-year-old MBA applicant who works for a San Francisco-based non-profit organization with a primary focus on youth development and education. With a 730 GMAT and a 3.4 grade point average from a highly ranked liberal arts college, he currently blogs at MBA: My Break Away? His previous posts for Poets&Quants: