Is an MBA worth it? Why get an MBA? Should I get an MBA? What can I do with an MBA?
There are a multitude of reasons to get an MBA and the value of an MBA is different to everyone. I became interested in the idea after being in the workforce for a few years and found myself wanting more – more responsibility, more things to do, and more things to learn.
There are two types of MBA programs: full-time, that typically attract freshly capped undergrads, and part-time, that attract those with experience who typically continue to work during the program.
Of course, there are pros and cons to which path you take and when. If you complete your undergrad and move to the master’s program right away, you’re already in the mindset of a student and prepared for the long study sessions. However, if you complete your undergrad and move into the workforce before tackling your masters, you not only gain real-world experience, but you have a better idea of whether or not a master’s degree in that field of study is right for you.
Additionally, if you take the part-time track and continue to work, you can apply the things you’re learning in the classroom and potentially align your projects for an added intellectual bonus. This is the path I took and I’m glad I did. With that, I give you a list of things I learned throughout the program that made me feel that my MBA was worth all of the long hours.
Top 10 Highlights From my MBA
- People are priority.
Organizations, big and small, exist because of people. Select good people and create long-lasting relationships – “good” doesn’t necessarily mean the people with the best skill sets, but rather those who fit in with your current crew and who are willing and able to learn. A happy team means a hard-working and dedicated team, and your organization won’t do well without it. In “Good to Great,” Jim Collins says, “start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” In other words, rather than applying people to an organization, the right people should be the ones developing and driving that organization.
- Culture is king.
It is the responsibility of the leadership to create and maintain company culture. Culture should be strong, pervasive, and easily followed. When done well, it will attract the people you’re looking for, and more importantly, keep them there. Culture could be a long-standing Monday morning meeting, two-way reviews between managers and their employees, implementing a ritual to celebrate even the smallest of victories, and so much more.
- Play to people’s strengths.
Everyone has different skill sets and that’s great. That said, let them stick to what they’re good at because otherwise, we all become average at everything. One of the best examples from the program we touched on was from Youngme Moon’s “Different” where she describes the dilemma faced by two car makers, one with a luxury model and the other with an SUV. Luxury car owners wanted more ruggedness and the SUV owners wanted more luxury, which would ultimately end up with two similar vehicles, neither with unique attributes. Imagine forcing the accountant to learn graphic design and vice versa; instead of having two experts, you have two disgruntled employees struggling with something they may have been trying to avoid all their lives. Of course, if someone is interested in learning a new skill, encourage it.
- The cohort connection.
An MBA program is not without its challenges. For two years you work with the same people through high-stress situations, awkward presentations, and the constant onslaught of fast-approaching deadlines. But all that stress, time, and energy creates an incredibly strong bond despite sometimes stark differences. You create a camaraderie where you hold each other up, hold each other accountable, and help each other out, which inevitably leads to learning how to ask for help. All of this taught me that with a common end goal, we call work together successfully. Additionally, you have an entire pool of resources to tap in the future for feedback and networking. Bonus: making friends as an adult is hard (really hard), and you’re guaranteed to meet some fantastic people who could become lifelong friends and connections.
- Increased critical thinking skills.
A master’s program gives you another two to three years to develop critical thinking skills in a much deeper way than an undergraduate degree. MBA’s often have a focus, and in my case the program was an MBA in management. With a focus, you’re able to better connect disparate departments and topics to see that everything is truly connected – and if it’s not, it should be.
- Increased responsibility.
If you’re considering an MBA, you’re probably already a hard worker. As you gain new skills and show you understand how to apply new concepts to your organization, you will likely receive more and more responsibility. I noticed that my input was increasingly asked for the deeper I got into the program and the more I gave thoughtful feedback. That said, don’t expect to receive more responsibility – you may have to ask for it. Don’t be afraid to ask if that’s what you’re looking for.
- The Benjamins.
With a higher degree, you’re more likely to receive a raise or capture a larger salary at another firm. Of course, this is not always guaranteed. If your plan is to move up within your existing organization, be sure to speak with your leaders to make your intentions known and see if upward mobility aligns with more responsibility and pay.
- The importance of a plan.
Make time to make a plan. Making a plan is crucial. It will foster discussion, help determine goals, and overall get you and your team on the same page. Perhaps most importantly is to include at least one representative from every department in the plan and make sure that they have spoken to their entire department – that means everyone from the worker bees to the queen bees. Everyone has some piece of important information to put the puzzle together. Creating a personal plan is just as important as leading one within your organization, too.
- You will likely deviate from the plan.
A plan is just a plan. Even with all of the information, you cannot predict what will happen with the market, with your vendors, with your personal life, etc. But putting that plan together means that you have a strong foundation to react to those changes more quickly. You may create a number of contingency plans for extra preparedness, but even those may not speak to what you’ve prepared. And all of that is OK. Be malleable and move as quickly as you can without collapsing. The true health of an organization is seeing how they react in times of change.
- An MBA is universal.
You can apply your MBA education to pretty much anything. We all work for or with some kind of business, whether it’s publishing, engineering, marketing, or anything else in between, the knowledge you gain during the program can be applied to your work.
Is getting an MBA worth it?
Was working 40+ hours per week and attending class two nights a week, four hours a night, plus an additional 10 to 20 hours a week of studying worth it?
For me, yes. I enjoy learning and I learned both from my teachers and from my peers. Most importantly, I gained the confidence and the skills to help launch intellitonic.com, a digital marketing agency for nonprofits and small-to-medium sized businesses. Without my MBA, this feat would have seemed too daunting to even entertain.
Having an MBA on the team has helped our small business create a solid first-year plan including our sales goals, marketing strategy, and more. We have regular discussions on what we want our culture to look like and how we will maintain it. Best of all, our team values the relationships between each member as well as the relationships with our clients. We’re in it for the long haul. What is an MBA worth to you?
Courtney Rambo attended Western Washington University’s evening MBA program starting as an MBA student in 2014 and becoming an MBA graduate in 2016. Including tuition and books, the program cost about $30,000 over the two years. Although it was not one of the top MBA programs, it was certainly one of the best value MBA programs available.
Update: U.S. News rankings show WWU as top public master’s-granting school in Pacific Northwest