“You dropped 150 grand on an education you could have gotten for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.” Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting
In The Personal MBA Josh Kaufman makes a very compelling case (as does Will Hunting) that for people considering an MBA, the economics aren’t that great. For many graduate students (not just Business majors), it feels like a Casino: everyone takes the tests, and gets primed, then takes out a huge loan from the bank (often a six-figure amount) hoping that when they come out the other side, there will be an awesome, high-paying job waiting for them. It’s a financial transaction, not really an educational one. In fact, much of the education gleaned from an Master in Business Administration is theoretical and marginally updated from the projects and Case Studies done in Bachelor of Business and Economics programs; after all, how can you possibly sit in a classroom and ‘learn’ how to be a Manager, or an Executive? Of course you can’t. But the schools are more than willing to let you try, as long as the cheques clear.
Provided those cheques do clear (in many states in the US, the juice, as they say, is running the day you take your first class, not after you graduate), students can expect a marginally better income (in this economy? yuck) awaiting them on the other side; it turns out they’re getting a crash course in finance after all! Ouch.
In the beginning of The Personal MBA, Kaufman reveals something striking: research shows there is little evidence that getting an MBA has any correlation with long term success in Business. Top tier Business programs make sure that they only accept brilliant students, which is why many go on to greatness. Business schools make it their business to take credit for other people’s work–namely, your undergraduate degree, and your having studied for the GMAT. In a perfect world, you’d be better off, studying for the GMAT, applying to Harvard Business, getting accepted, and then refusing to attend (and pay the exorbitant tuition, and 2 years of your life), then bragging on your CV that you were accepted at Harvard, and applying for a plum job with a Fortune 500 company, ready to put you through the Management training program.
Why doesn’t anybody do that? Because the MBA itself acts as a signal to help simplify the recruiter’s job: he or she doesn’t want to read 5,000 CVs. Reading 50 is a lot faster. It’s that simple. Which 50 get the job doesn’t really matter. When the eventual 20-something is hired, he or she will proceed to the actual training program, and begin to be molded into the perfect Hewlett Packard / Cisco/ Apple/ GE/ Nike/Starbucks Manager. That’s right: real companies don’t hire college grads and just plop them in a management or executive role. They have training programs. They have quarterly reviews. They promote you based on progress, not based on your GPA.
Where else did you think you would learn how to be a Manager?
Unfortunately there’s no way around it. Since MBA students are required to pass the GMAT first, a fundamental understanding of business and finance is required before you set foot on a real campus. If the Personal MBA (book, and accompanying website) is going to attempt to replace an actual MBA, they must put the reader through the paces of very fundamental Business Concepts.
Business and Finance majors (like myself) will find much of this familiar, but that shouldn’t take away from Kaufman’s impressive achievement here. He’s taken 2 years of Education and compressed it into a fantastic 400 page reference material. Kaufman will hold up the six-figure MBA and declare that by buying this book you’re effectively saving $99,982, but of course, you’re not getting a piece of paper either.
So for anyone who didn’t graduate in Economics of Business,this book is a great summary of the definitions and concepts that took us about 4 years to get through. And it’s pretty much the same material (minus countless case studies and Powerpoint presentations) you’d get from top-tier business programs.
So what do I suggest for young career-minded readers?
The point of an MBA, traditionally, was not for a 19 or 20 year old to ‘train’ to be a manager (whatever that means) but for a middle-manager to train to be a leader in his current company. An ideal situation would be to get a job (any job) with a great company and work your way up, and eventually have your boss pay for your education. The company will consider the investment in human capital worth it if they see potential in you, and will also have you promise to stay with the company for at least a few years upon graduation, so they can benefit from their investment.
Education is great. If I didn’t believe that, I sure wouldn’t have started a blog about it. But so is avoiding foolish six-figure debt. Consult your boss, and consult this book before proceeding.
(PS. Yes, I’ve graduated from a post-secondary International Business program. That one came with a five-figure student loan, not six.)
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