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Career Advice

"Should I Go To Business School?"

You've come to me asking the question that every working 20- and 30-something has asked themselves at some point: "should I leave what I'm currently doing, put my life on pause for two years, and invest something like $150,000 to go study finance and marketing and 'the coming of managerial capitalism'?" Said more succinctly: "Should I go to business school?"

And my answer: It depends. There are several factors you should consider, but I'll focus on two of the most important:

1) What are you trying to accomplish?

2) How are you going to pay for it?

Question 1: Why Should I Go to Business School?

Though every individual who goes to business school is obviously a unique human with a different set of dreams and experiences, their reasons for getting an MBA tend to fall into one of four buckets. Chances are, if you're here reading this article, you're also contemplating heading to b-school, and your reasons may fall into one of these buckets as well:

1) You're interested in the subject matter and want to dive deep.

2) You want to build your network, whether for connections now (for finding a co-founder for your startup idea) or later (for being a part of an influential alumni community over the long run).

3) You want to make a career change, and the credibility of an MBA and business schools' built-in recruiting processes are great ways to facilitate that process.

4) You want to "level up," perhaps by getting a higher-prestige job in your current field or becoming eligible for a big raise.

All of those are valid in their own ways. It's true that an MBA can deepen your knowledge of business, leadership, and entrepreneurship; it can give you tons of access to thought leaders, professors, and peers from a variety of industries; it can be a good launching board from which to make a career pivot, supported by a new set of skills and connections; it can lead to more financial gains in the long run.

And there are other reasons why you should go to business school that can be supplementary support to one of the main four above, like to have a space to experiment and fail without major consequences, or to round out major gaps in your skill set (maybe you're a great on the tech side of things, but not so good at people management).

Reasons that aren't so valid?

1) Everyone else is doing it, so you're missing out if you don't.

2) You don't have a job or the economy sucks and this seems like a good way to spend the time.

3) You know what you want to do and want to get there faster. Quick example: let's say you're a school administrator and you want to be a superintendent. Grad school may help, but try something more subject-specific than an MBA, like a master's in education or public policy, where subject matter will be more of what you need and your peers will be focused on the same thing.

Is your answer to "Should I go to business school?" one of the first four reasons? If so, let's move on to talking about how you'll pay for it. Is it one of the second three? Then you already have your answer. (It's "no.")

Question 2: How Will I Pay for Business School?

Even if you have a valid reason for going to business school, if you don't have a reasonable way to pay for it, it might not be the best choice for you. Getting an MBA is expensive, both in terms of financial cost (the $150,000 minimum mentioned above) and opportunity cost.

You'll spend two years not working, not gaining experience, and not getting raises. That might be fine, if you've done the math and the salary increase you should expect to see from having your MBA would more than make up for those two lost years over time. But how long would that time horizon need to be? And how are you covering your costs now? If you'll need to take out a bunch of loans to pay for B-school, just how big will that salary have to be in order to pay them off in the next decade?

Let's talk about payment in terms of who will actually be doing it. We have two options:

1) You pay to go to business school. This might include using your savings or getting financial aid, including loans.

2) Someone else pays for you to go to business school. This might include getting a scholarship or having your degree sponsored by your current employer (usually in exchange for a few years of commitment to that company after the degree's completion).

The "someone else footing the bill" option is obviously more attractive, especially if you're not independently wealthy and you having to pay for it would require shackling yourself to tens of thousands of dollars of debt. But if you've done the math and paying for it is worth it in the long run, proceed, my friend.

Other Considerations

If you have a good reason for going to business school and a good plan to pay for it, I'm happy to give you a resounding "sure!" to your question of "Should I go to business school?" Just make sure you're not sacrificing the quality of your education or your achievement of your goals based on where and when you plan to go.

If your goal is to make new connections and transfer into a new field, but your plan to pay for it is to do a relatively inexpensive all-online program (no new room and board costs!) while you keep your current job, does that really meet your goals? If you do an online MBA, will you get the same networking benefit as if it were in-person? And will that mid-tier online program come with the same after-graduation job opportunities as a more prestigious program?

Before making a final decision, stress-test your logic with the questions above and talk to as many people as possible about what worked and didn't work for them. Reddit is actually a great place to start—yes, there's some bitterness there, but also a lot of honesty—as are alumni of the programs you're considering.

Go forth and prosper, my friends, whether your definition of "prosper" includes an MBA or not.

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