If you’re thinking about business school, there’s going to be a moment when you find yourself wondering what you’ll actually learn there, and even, whether or not you really need an MBA.
Since, chances are, you’re going to be spending some serious cash, these are valid concerns. Business school is an investment and commitment of both your time and money.
So, what can business school teach you that the real world can’t?
Your time spent in B-School is less about learning technical skills. That’s the kind of stuff you’re actually going to learn on the job. And though you’ll undoubtedly end up walking away from B-School having learned a new hard skill or two, what you’ll actually take away goes so far beyond that.
That being said, we’ve compiled a list of 10 ways getting an MBA can drastically affect your life, both professionally and personally. We’ve started with 5 of the more basic benefits, things like developing ridiculously awesome interviewing skills, unlocking your passions and learning how to deal with (and benefit from) not being the smartest person in the room. But as the list progresses, we’ll delve into things like expanding your network, landing better positions, and, well, making more money.
1) Your interviewing skills are going to increase dramatically
Very quickly upon arriving at B-School, you will “recruit,” and interview with a TON of companies. School essentially SHUTS DOWN during recruiting season. How many companies do you want to interview with? Five? 10? 20? Whatever that final number is, that’s a LOT of interview practice. Being calm, cool and collected – essentially just being able to interview well -is an important skill you’ll use time and time again throughout the rest of your career. B-School will make you a much savvier interviewer. In comparison, consider how long it would take to get that kind of experience in the real world.
2) Your ‘smarts’ will be tested
You will NEVER be surrounded by a group as smart as the group of people you’ll be sitting next to at a top B-School. If you’re used to always feeling like “the smartest person in the room,” you better get ready for an adjustment.
You will, perhaps for the first time, get a TRUE sense for how bright you are compared to your peers. And not only that, but more importantly, what aspects of your intellect are TRULY unique compared to this room of SUPER smart people. There is no better environment to find out what your true strengths and weaknesses are.
3) You’ll start to learn more about what you’re REALLY interested in
The world is a BIG place, and the business world is too. No matter how strong your background was prior to business school, there are a TON of things you’ve never experienced before. If you play your cards right in school, you can discover new ideas, new fields, and new areas of interest.
Let’s pretend that you have a conversation with a classmate with a marketing background one day and walk away really interested. You think you might find marketing exciting, but you’ve been a real estate gal/guy for your whole career prior to getting your MBA. The beauty is that, while you’re in B-School, if you find a new area that you love, you can easily set yourself up for a transition that would otherwise have been either extremely difficult, or just plain improbable (more on this later).
4) You’ll learn to present with confidence
There is nothing more intimidating than raising your hand in front of a room full of 89 classmates who are all razor sharp and attempting to say something “worthy” of that room. It’s a tough, tough room, folks.
Beyond any skills you may pick up along the way during business school, you will learn how to present to a group of impressive peers. This will serve you very well in the future, as you will surely find yourself in such a room down the road (whether pitching to get a job, or sitting on a Board of Directors). Learning to persuade smart people of your opinion is essential.
5) You will learn some hard skills
Especially if your background was weak on quantitative skills going into B-School, there is no substitute for coming out and “knowing your way around Excel,” or knowing what “the 4 Cs” are. The less you know coming into school, the better served you will be, leaving you with a sufficient knowledge of IRRs, WACCs, etc. There is SOME benefit here for sure, but numbers one to four above will be more valuable.
What if I Already Know Those Things?
Let’s say you feel like you’re on top of all these things we just listed off: your interview skills are already on point, you’ve been surrounded by the best and brightest your entire life, and you have no problem pitching even a half-baked idea to the toughest of crowds. Let’s say, for a moment, that you’ve had the clearest vision of what you want to do with your life from the the time you were just seven years old.
That’s great! You’re going places. That being said, there are still some pretty darn good reasons for even someone as extraordinary as you to get an MBA. Here are several ways an MBA can help even professionals who have “nothing left to learn.”
6) The networking edge an MBA will give you is truly unparalleled
The networking benefit that you’ll derive is definitely one of the strongest long-term arguments for attending B-school. You’ll meet amazing people who will help you in ways you can’t even imagine today. For example, one time I was asked by a friend to help raise money for a movie he was making. I doubted I could be much help. I thought, “Nobody from HBS is that big in the movie business, right? We’re in Boston, after all. We don’t even have any entertainment classes.”
But a quick search through the HBS database told me that the CEOs of many huge entertainment companies are actually Harvard Business School alums. HBO, MGM Goldwyn, AMC… Literally within a day of checking the database, I was (true story!) on the phone with the CEO of AMC Theaters. The network is INSANE.
When will you ever be surrounded by so many amazing people, in one room, ever again? It’s much bigger than simply knowing executives in every major company in the U.S.; it’s more about benefiting from the experiences (shared during and outside class) of these peers. They have done amazing things in areas and disciplines you have no experience with–LEARN from them.
We don’t talk much about friendship in business school applications, do we? Well, we should. If you surround yourself with hundreds of folks like you—similar hopes, dreams, skills, etc.–you will inevitably forge lasting, lifelong friendships.
Think about it—there are two choices: stay at your current job with your current friends, or meet 900 new people, who are driven like you. Pick option number two—develop your PERSONAL network, which is really just code for “go out and make new, amazing friends.” B-School’s a perfect place for that.
7) You’ll probably be able to land a sweet job right after graduation
Some pretty great companies hire only MBAs. In fact, neither of the two jobs I had directly after school hire anyone but MBAs, and some only hire MBAs from top-tier schools. If you are interested in certain companies (McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, for example), you will only be hired (or promoted past a certain level) if you have an MBA.
And if you also want to change careers, a good MBA may be like Obi-Wan Kenobi… your only hope.
Imagine you work in HR for an investment banking firm, and you get a resume from someone in the non-profit space. “Does this person have any relevant experience? No? Well, let’s go to the next resume.” Now, if that same person comes to HR, but has a high-powered MBA, majoring in corporate finance, perhaps leader of the corporate finance club, and perhaps even with a summer internship in banking… NOW that person has a shot–but only with the internship and the MBA. Career changes are ALWAYS difficult, but MBAs, when used in a savvy way, can make it possible directly after school.
Your MBA program’s Career Services will introduce you to companies you can apply to that you’d never even have known existed. All companies come recruiting for smart, talented (and relatively cheap) young MBAs. By simply fingering through the lists of firms that come recruiting (including ours, for example) you will be exposed to countless new companies, even entire fields that you would never otherwise have looked at. This is a great chance to find yourself in an unexpected but promising new area.
8) You’ll be presented with amazing (unique) opportunities
Go to a new city for your MBA, my friend! It’s just… well, a cool experience. You can even go to a new country. When’s your next chance to do that going to be?
So, if you’re from Texas, pick up and move to Boston for two years. Move to Texas if you’re from Boston, to LA if you’re from NYC, and so on. Spend a year in Barcelona! This is a free chance to experience a new city, a new lifestyle, and perhaps discover a new future for yourself. Take it—such chances often come only once in our adult life.
You’ll also meet PEOPLE from different cities, countries, and industries; people from other countries is especially important, since business becomes increasingly global every year. Surrounding yourself with, well, “others” is the best way to get to know yourself. And the best businesswomen and businessmen are the ones who know themselves—their strengths, weaknesses, and passions—the best.
Take two years off. When is your next chance to take two years away from work, and magically, after you return… get a pay raise? When you go to business school, you can travel to faraway countries and bounce new ideas off of exciting new people (not just at the B-School, but elsewhere in the university, and in the world). This is your chance to shake things up a bit. There is a TON of upside here because who knows where you will find yourself after two years. The sky is the limit.
9) The credibility you’ll gain is a big deal
Perhaps the most valuable tool you will take with you will be your newly-minted, instantly credible pedigree. In five years time, ten years even, who knows where your journey may take you? One thing’s for sure… having this degree under your belt will work in your favor.
No matter what you want to do, it is all, at some point, a business. Leaders will always respect the opinions and backgrounds of credible, respected businesswomen and businessmen. After all, business is just code for “leadership,” anyway. With an MBA, especially if you go to a GREAT school, you can be credible, even a leader, in ANY field.
When a hiring manager is looking at two similarly qualified candidates, and one went to a great MBA program, they’re going to pick the MBA. This person is credible, not just because of the brand name, but because of the intense amount of vetting that went into the applicant’s MBA application.
Once you get into your new career, people will take you more seriously. Your opinions have, presumably, been formed by a number of super smart people, great professors, and high-powered summer internships. What you say now matters in a way that it simply didn’t before. Your degree is also a pedigree that your future employers will come to rely on. They will introduce you as “____ Smith, who got an MBA at Harvard Business School,” and exploit that connection for all it’s worth.
Finally, when you launch your own company, the fact that you have this degree will instantly give you credibility with investors. At that point, your MBA can translate into cold, hard cash.
10) Your earning potential will increase
The MBA WILL pay back on its investment, but it may not necessarily do so in 5 or even 10 years. You have sat out two years of earning, and your new job may not show $50K-$100K raises in pay.
But… so what? Your career is a LONG game, and the MBA is all about the LONG game. If you’re looking to make a quick buck, don’t even bother going–Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc., obviously didn’t. The MBA will help you to make more money, for sure, but it’s not always an overnight thing.
If you stay at the same company post-MBA, you will at the very least be given a promotion and the increased credibility that we mentioned above. This should put you on a leadership track at the company, even if it takes a few years to rise to the next level. Once you decide to leave your company, the MBA will become worth its weight in gold. After all, job titles are hard to compare across companies. Small firms give out VP titles like candy, whereas at large banks, for example, such titles are nearly impossible to nab. Your MBA will solve this problem by acting as a sort of currency that is equalized across a number of other difficult-to-compare factors.
So, is there anyone who wouldn’t benefit from an MBA?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is that there are people for whom other, more specialized degrees might be more useful. There are also applicants who would definitely benefit, but might have difficulty getting into an elite program.
Check out the story of our CEO, Jon Frank, and his personal MBA journey here for more.