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Why Achieving an MBA is No Longer My Goal

by Ryan Guina

About a year and a half ago, I was gung-ho about getting into an MBA program. One of the main drivers for this goal was a recent career change – from a blue collar military background to a white collar consulting job. I thought achieving an MBA would help me advance in my career.

In many ways, an MBA would have helped me in my career, and I’m sure it would still be beneficial. But my personal and professional goals have changed since I began researching MBA programs, and in that time, I realized that I don’t need an MBA like I thought I did.

Personal Goals

One of the personal reasons I wanted an MBA was for the challenge. I enjoy working toward goals and I enjoy difficult challenges. A top tier MBA program places you among some of the top business minds in the world and you have a chance to learn from your professors and fellow students. In the last year and a half I have gotten most of the challenge I was seeking from my small business.

Professional Goals

My professional goals no longer dictate the need for an MBA either. While an MBA would help me if I were to pursue a managerial path, I have come to the realization that I don’t mind where I am in my career at this time. When I first joined the civilian workforce I felt like my options were limited, but as my experience has grown, I feel like there are more options available to me.

ROI of an MBA

Achieving an MBA is an expensive endeavor – both in terms of tuition and in terms of opportunity cost. A top tier MBA program will cost anywhere from $20,000 – $40,000 per year (or more) for tuition alone. And in that time you will usually have to forgo your normal salary. The total cost of a top tier MBA program can easily run into the quarter million dollar range in terms of tuition and opportunity cost, and that can take years to pay off.

My ROI has decreased in the last year and a half. When I first wrote about selecting an MBA program, I wasn’t making much money from either my day job or my business. However, things changed rather quickly. In the last year and a half I have received several raises and I now earn substantially more than I did a year and a half ago. My small business has also grown, and while I am earning more money with it, it also takes up more of my time. Starting an MBA program would mean that I would be giving up a higher salary and have less time to grow my business, and that means it would take much longer to achieve a positive ROI from an MBA program.

What about an online MBA program?

Online MBA programs offer a lot of flexibility and are better accepted now than they were a few years ago. But an online MBA program takes up the one thing I don’t have enough of right now – time. With a baby on the way and a small business that takes up much of my spare time, I don’t have the time to commit to an MBA program at this point in my life.

Seizing opportunity by growing my small business

Part of becoming an MBA is learning to recognize things like return on investment and opportunity cost. Right now I realize that my business is providing me the things I was seeking from an MBA program – in terms of increased income, a challenge, and learning new skills. I am the CEO of my company… and the CFO, chief marketing officer, secretary, technical writer, and everything in between. I wear a lot of hats around here, and it has been an incredible learning experience.

I’m not closing the door on an MBA forever

Just as my situation changed in the last year and a half, I realize things can change again. I could lose my day job, I could sell my small business or it could fold, my company could offer to sponsor me into a program, I could decide that an MBA is the right thing for me no matter what the opportunity cost. But right now, that isn’t the case. Instead, I am choosing to grow my small business and see where that takes me. I know the MBA programs will always be around, but this opportunity may not. For the time being, growing my business is my choice.


Published or updated April 13, 2009.
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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ron@TheWisdomJournal

Although I did finish my MBA back in 2007, it hasn’t shown up in my paycheck. I think you’re wise to wait it out.

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2 tom

Depending on someone and what age they are it varies.

I thought about switching careers at 24 but just figured if I do, it will take 4 years, at minimum to get the education and then another year or so to get my foot in the door.

As opposed to now, I am in my field, although not the exact path I am in, so instead of me wanting to escape from the problem, I need to deal with it.

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3 Ryan

That’s a good point, Tom. Many people choose to get an MBA as a means to escape their current situation, whether or not that is the best path for them or not. Perhaps I was also in that situation to some degree.

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4 Craig

Are there online MBA’s that are better regarded than others? I have thought about it as well, and would not like to give up a salary completely, maybe see if cut hours if and when the time came. Also, I really don’t want to go for a full MBA program, kind of just want to take classes I am interested in in technical areas I need. Any research you recommend for online programs?

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5 Ryan

Craig: Most MBA programs teach business courses, and are not very heavy on technical skills (depending of course by how technical you want to go). There are some great online MBA programs, but some of them require you to enroll in the entire MBA program and do not allow you to pick and choose which courses you want to take and when. (Many online MBA programs are lock-step courses, which walk you through the MBA program with the same group of people in the same course order, which allows you to build working relationships with your peers).

There are so MBA programs that allow you to take classes more or less at will, but the only one I know off the top of my head is University of Phoenix online.

If you are just looking to boost technical skills, I would recommend looking into taking technical classes at a local community college or state school instead of paying more money for master’s level courses.

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6 Kristy @ Master Your Card

I did something similar in terms of escaping my current situation and it’s cost me a lot of time and backtracking with school. I knew I didn’t want to be in finance, but that I wanted a degree that would open doors. So, I started down the path of an English major because I want to be a screenwriter/author. But, just as you realized you didn’t need your MBA, I realized I didn’t need an English degree to write, and frankly I wasn’t enjoying the cookie-cutter classes. What I really wanted to study – which is something else I’d like to do in this life – is forensic psychology. But, I didn’t consider that at the time because it was a secondary goal to my writing. I was hoping the English degree would help further my writing. At any rate, I’m on track now, but I’ve taken the long way around instead of facing things head on.

I say it’s good that you’ve recognized what you want to do now because it will save you time and money later on.

Good luck!

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7 Curious Cat Investing Blog

Good choice. You can learn well in MBA programs however, I think many are very flawed. Some good ideas: The Lean MBA.

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8 RAJEEV SINGH

I agree with you that doing an MBA is no insurance against uncertainties of job loss etc, but , I guess by not doing it also you are not better off. I think the decision has to be taken basis one’s financial situtaion and expectation out of an MBA program. All MBA s dont end up heading Unilver so one has to be realistic about ones expectations..loved the post though..

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9 MoneyEnergy

Good thoughts…. there’s a lot of popular trade books out lately too about the same topic. Interesting how the question isn’t “Do you really need a Law Degree to Practice Law”? The two professional degrees are so different. Many critics have said the MBA is just about networking opportunities – and having had some friends in some of the top programs, I can attest to that, too. But I hear you on the personal challenge bit, and I think that’s also very important. Because half of success, at least, is what you think about yourself, right?

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10 Ryan

Rajeev: Good points. For me, the decision is based on my desire to grow my small business. Right now the opportunity cost is too high to stop my business to go back to school.

And to be honest, I have no desire to head a Fortune 500 company, at least not at this point in my life.

Money Energy: I’ve read the same thing regarding MBA programs. The networking opportunities are great if you are doing an in residence program and you are the type of person who works well with others. Networking opportunities are far fewer and not as effective if you go to an online MBA program.

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11 FFB

You could always try something like the Personal MBA which gives a list of books and such to educate yourself. It still takes time of course but you still may learn what you need for your business.

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12 Dividend Growth Investor

An MBA might be helpful for networking with other MBA’s.. You never know when you will be needing help in finding a job or something else careerwise.
In terms of real business skills, your blogging business is really a much more fullfilling experience than an MBA. Furthermore it’s not only much cheaper than an MBA, but also earns you some money right away ( I hope)

Just remember that some of the biggest visionaries in the world such as Bill Gates or Richard Branson never got an MBA or even a bachelors degree..

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13 Mrs. Micah

I’ve been thinking about this recently regarding taking additional professional development courses before starting a Master’s in Library and Information Science. Micah and I were looking at the course list (I felt stalled, so I asked for his opinions) and he pointed out that each of these courses was also something offered by one of the colleges where I’d be doing my Master’s and I’d probably get a more relevant course focused towards librarians as part of my program. So unless I arranged beforehand for them to be counted as replacements, it would just be redundant.

I think that in terms of candidacy and even finding a job afterward, running my own consulting business and developing various web skills will probably make me more marketable than a couple of database courses. I’m planning to continue learning PHP & MySQL and at least some basic Perl. I may develop my XML skills as well.

I’m also planning on talking with some people I know in positions that I’m interested in about what they’d recommend I do before & during library school (electives and such).

I think it makes sense to reconsider your MBA. There are a lot of ways to learn and make you more valuable. Maybe down the road it’ll be a good idea, but if it’s not furthering your goals yet, then you’re already doing a great job on your small business. :)

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14 Enrique S

An MBA is never a bad thing to have. I finished mine about five years after getting my bachelor’s degree, and my employer at the time paid for most of it through tuition reimbursement. It depends on what you plan to do with it. If it’s the challenge that drives you, you can learn on your own with a “Personal MBA”.

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15 The Happy Rock

I completed my MBA about a year ago and I would say the actual teaching really wasn’t worth it. With that said the personal journey and personal growth side of things was well worth my time investment.

I would probably second FFB’s Personal MBA suggestion which looks like a wonderful self paced option with the best books on the market.

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16 Ryan

Happy Rock: I’ve visited the site for a personal MBA before, and it looks good. But that gets back to one of the major restraints for me right now – time. Of course, I can always take several years to complete that program, and do it in any order.

I don’t think I will ever stop my personal and professional growth though… Just the direction I decide to go.

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17 DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad

I have very strong opinions on this topic . . .

If I were you, I would do the part time or on-line options without question– don’t give up your career or income for two years.

Here are more of my thoughts:

An MBA Degree Ain’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be . . . http://divorceddadfrugaldad.com/2008/09/27/an-mba-degree-aint-all-its-cracked-up-to-be—.aspx

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18 Mark

I finished my MBA in 1997 & although it “looks” good on paper, I feel that the only “real” thing that it gave me was what my wife says is the “awww” effect; when everyone hears that you’ve got one, they want to know everything about it, etc, etc.
I can say that being a business consultant, showing that you have it both on your presentation papers & business cards sure opens the door but, as my wife says: “a donkey with a degree is still a donkey”… (no she doesn’t think I’m one but sometimes… maybe more of an a…)
Having said that, I don’t believe that with the drive I have, an MBA made that much more of a difference. I’ve always told myself that I would get everything in life – just not all at the same time.
People have a tendency to look at degrees as someone who is smart – one of my professors though always said that knowledge may be power but applied knowledge was even better.
Now without going “all philosophy” here, the best thing I believe I ever did was to set myself attainable goals & write them down. As someone already mentionned, some of the great men & women of this century don’t even have a bachelors degree so…
And by they way, be careful which program & school you take your MBA from; I currently reside in Quebec and ironically found out that my degrees aren’t recognized in this province; I took my BBA & MBA via internet courses (I believe they were one of the first offered). I’m moving to Ontario in June and just for fun, contacted the Ontario Ministry of Education and their response was “why wouldn’t they recognize it”? I figured maybe it was because it was in English… (No, I’m not a Quebecer, married one though)…

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19 Sandy

Hi! If I had to do it over again I would never have gone to graduate school. Fully half of my debt is from the MBA and it has mail absolutely no impact on my pay. Of course the company that I work for is happy that I have one and used it in the hiring process, but like the first poster said, it hasn’t shown up in my paycheck. This is now 4 years out. So this means that I am now in deeper debt and there has been a negative return on investment if you count the interest that I’m paying on the loans.

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20 Bulldog Gin Co.

An online MBA will DEVALUE your creditials #1.

#2, always get your MBA part time so your employer pays for it.

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21 CarolinaHRGuy

Great points, but the truth is that we don’t have enough knowledge to make the call on if an MBA is right for this person. There are so many factors to consider, it comes down to personal choice and looking at what you want that degree to do for you. Maybe it’s strickly ROI through the paycheck, maybe it’s the passion for learning, advancement opportunities, heck, maybe it’s to be able to sustain life after college on loans until you can figure out what you want to do.

I’m a Regional HR Manager, and I will tell you that it’s not uncommon for hiring managers to seek out those with a Masters-level degree…that being said, I’ve rarely…actually never… seen anyone say, “we must have an MBA”. What I have seen in that Masters-level degree be what seperates candidate A from B. In many situations I believe it speaks to employers that you are serious about your field, and you have taken some sort of ownership in your own personal development.

Do you want to know what the most incredible response I’ve ever heard when I asked someone about why they pursued a MS degree?

It was a 32 year old Production Supervisor…he said something to the effect of…I’d like to be the best at what I do and I focused on my Masters degree at XXX university because I researched costs, accredidation and the program and found that it was the most cost effective way for me to gain that knowledge. I paid 13K start to finish, and now feel comfortable sitting in meetings with individuals 3-4 steps above me and holding my own.

Doesn’t that sound smart to you?

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22 Ryan

Thanks for the comment, CarolinaHRGuy. The guy in the article is me, and for my situation, an MBA is no longer my goal. I desire to learn more and go through the personal challenge, but my life has changed in the last few years, and I know that an MBA is not necessary for me to achieve my goals.

And you’re right, the person you are referring to knew exactly what he needed to do to achieve his goals and he was motivated to do it. He is the kind of person every employer is looking for.

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23 Financial Samurai

There’s really only one practical way to go, and that’s getting your MBA part-time and letting your employer pay for everything.

I was making about $250,000/yr at the time, and there was NO WAY I could give up that income. Instead, I went part-time to a good school and the employer paid the $30,000/yr tuition. In the meantime, I was promoted as well.

Don’t go full-time unless you’re absolutely sick of your job, have no job, or are super rich already!

My article is simply entitled “To MBA or Not To MBA”

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24 Ryan

Not all employers will foot the bill for a $30,000 education, but if yours will do it and you have the time and inclination to pursue an advanced degree, then it can certainly be worth it!

My current employer offers tuition reimbursement (enough to cover a decent, but not top tier MBA program). However, I don’t have the time or energy to pursue it at the moment. Nor do I feel like it will help me as much as I would want it to.

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25 Financial Samurai

You guys can also read “10 Day MBA” if you want to get all the download skinny in a couple days. I read the book and it’s pretty good.

I have to admit though… i do enjoy looking at my diploma hanging in my hallway every time I come upstairs at home, and thinking back on all the good times, hardships, and friendships created during that time period.

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26 Ryan

Many people say the network you gain while getting your MBA can be jsut as valuable (or more valuable) than the MBA itself.

Learning principles is good, but I prefer the hands on experience.

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