Adam Grant’s Dumbest Idea Ever

Wharton superstar professor Adam Grant

Adam Grant is a superstar.

The organizational psychologist’s classes at the Wharton School are among the most sought after in the world. Recognized as one of the world’s ten most influential management thinkers, Grant has been Wharton’s top-rated professor for seven consecutive years. ​He’s the #1 New York Times bestselling author of five books that have sold millions of copies and been translated into 45 languages. His TED talks have been viewed more than 30 million times, and he has more than five million followers on social media.

In other words, he is a heavyweight in business education, arguably the most influential business school professor of his generation. So it may come as a surprise that Grant favors the elimination of the two-year MBA program. It’s not that he does not believe in the MBA. He thinks two-year programs should be replaced by one- and three-year MBA options.


During an interview at Wharton with former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, Grant dropped this bomb: “So in my dozen years at Wharton, the proposal I’ve been most excited about that’s gotten zero traction is to eliminate the two year MBA and only offer a one and a three year. The one would be for career accelerators who are going to go right back to their same industry. The three would be for career switchers to have time to do two internships and actually learn what they want to do moving forward.”

Frankly, this has got to be Adam Grant’s dumbest idea ever.

Ever since the Harvard Business School created the MBA in 1908, it has largely been a two-year experience: a first year of required core courses to provide a grounding in the basics of management and a second year of electives to allow for deeper study in a discipline or topic. In between, students get to do a paying summer internship that can often result in a full-time job offer when they return to campus in the fall. That model has largely stood the test of time.

INSEAD launched the first one-year MBA program in 1959 which became widely emulated throughout Europe. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management put its one-year MBA program into the market more than 50 years ago in 1965 for students with the focus and discipline to earn their degree in 12 months. The accelerated option is not for everyone, but if you have a business background and the need for speed, it can be an ideal choice. There already are a large number of one-year options. Many would welcome an accelerated MBA at Wharton, and that is not a bad idea.


But what about Grant’s notion of killing the two-year program and replacing it with a three-year experience? The cost of doing this simply outweighs any benefit whatsoever. MBA degrees already cost too much money. Going for an MBA at a top business school is serious business. Overall, the average cost to attend a top-25 MBA program in the U.S. for two years is now just shy of $200,000, up $4,128, or 2.1%, from $195,416 a year earlier (see What It Now Costs To Get An MBA From A Top Business School). And not surprisingly, the big brand schools often have the biggest price tags. An MBA from Grant’s employer, Wharton, now costs a total of $230,928 for tuition, fees, and room and board. Add an extra year and that sum would come to more than $346,000.

A recent Poets&Quants analysis found that the highest amount of MBA student debt is, you guessed it, for graduates of Wharton, which is not nearly as generous with scholarship support as Harvard or Stanford. The estimated debt loan for a Wharton MBA who has to borrow money for the degree? A whopping $145,186. Unlike Harvard, Stanford, Yale, or many other business schools, Wharton’s debt loads are so embarrassingly high that the school stopped reporting them years ago.

Asking students, many of whom already have undergraduate student debt, to fork over nearly $350,000 for a graduate degree is unconscionable, especially when the benefits are questionable. How many more elective courses can an MBA possibly take and absorb? There is already plenty of room in a two-year curriculum to specialize in a specific discipline and, in some cases, to specialize in two different areas.

We asked Grant to explain why he thinks a two-year MBA is no longer the best way to get a graduate management education and told him, point-blank, that we think this is the dumbest idea he has ever espoused.


Grant’s emailed response came within an hour. “Every year since I arrived at Wharton in 2009,” he says, “career switchers in our MBA program have told me they wish they could have an extra year to explore their intellectual and professional interests. It’s gotten more pronounced as recruiters have accelerated their arms race. In what world does it make sense for students to apply for internships before they’ve even finished their first semester of b-school?!

“Most of them default into banking or consulting, and many decide it’s not for them. But they haven’t had the opportunity to consider anything else, so they’re lost. Some start searching in September with no idea where to start. Others accept full-time offers to pay back their loans, which just delays the career indecision for a couple of years.

“My pipe dream is for b-schools to band together and ban recruiters from internship recruiting until the spring. According to many of our career-switchers, though, that still isn’t enough time.”


Grant, of course, took our criticism in stride. He preceded his email answer with this line: “LOL. Might it be time to think again?”

Indeed, it is. As Grant himself noted in a Tweet last month, “one of the clearest signs of learning is rethinking your assumptions and revising your opinions.”

Adam, this is one that sorely needs revision.


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