So you want to get an MBA?

That’s the question I asked myself pretty much most of 2008 and 2009. I had a great job (I managed 12 people in an exciting and innovative group) with great hours (working 55 hours a week put you way ahead of the game), and a great company culture (50 people under the age of 28). Plus the pay was reasonable to the extent that, with bonus, I could probably expect to make the median post-MBA salary in a few years. So why give it all up (plus don’t forget those opportunity costs) to get an MBA when there are so many articles like this out there claiming that an MBA is a waste of time and money?

Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but nobody else does either. But a conversation with a McCombs alum with the 007-esque name of Q helped me make up my mind.

When you decide to go to business school, you’re mostly deciding that you want to pursue a career in one of four things:

1. Finance (including PE, hedge funds, investment banking, venture capital, etc)
2. Consulting (specifically Strategy/management consulting, like BCG, Bain, Booz, McKinsey, etc)
3. Brand Management (aka Marketing, aka working for major CPG firms like General Mills, Pepsi, Dr Pepper Snapple)
4. Everything else.

78% of 2009’s McCombs grads, for example, went into one of the first three fields.

When you’re applying to business school, many people (myself included) think that #4 is where all the excitement’s at. It’s also where you should look at the man in the mirror and ask him whether you have to get an MBA. The tracks are greased for industries 1-3. They understand the value of an MBA. But the rest of the world might or might not. People in your desired industry might think an MBA is a waste, as that author of the earlier article did. They might even decide to not hire you because of, in their minds, your poor judgment. So you have to decide whether your desired industry really appreciates what an MBA gives you.

The good news is that business schools like McCombs know this and ask precisely that question in their application process. They aren’t going to accept you if you can’t make a compelling case that you need an MBA.

My conversation with Q (a McCombs ’10) was really what got me off the fence between not going (and saving my money for starting my own business on my own) and diving in. Q basically said, “if you want to bootstrap your own business, try to keep your head above water until your revenues catch up to your costs, and then grow from there, you don’t need business school. But if you want to create a high growth company that requires venture capital money, you’re going to need to learn the lingo and concepts that VC’s are looking for you to understand, and an MBA can offer that.”

Q went on to talk about how he’d learn something in class, then call his accountant or lawyer and have them change something in a contract or plan. What he learned in B-school, he said, was vitally important knowledge to him in starting his business, and he was applying it every day. And that to me was awesome.

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