Thursday, August 23, 2012

Should I get a full-time MBA in the US?

Since September and hence the application season are round the corner, I thought it would be a good time to offer my two cents on whether young professionals should get a full-time MBA degree. My cousin (an Asian male in his late twenties working in a professional service firm in the US) happened to ask me this question a couple months ago and this was my response, in bullet points ...

- MBA education must only be weighed on a return on investment basis, comparing the cost and time of getting the degree with your projected future earnings. If you want to learn something theoretical, go read a book. If you want to learn how something actually works, talk to multiple people in that field. If you are bored and unhappy with your job, get a better one if you can. Otherwise just suck it up

- I don't know about the MBA job market enough these days but my gut tells me that only positions that are recruiting in top 10 or maybe top 20 MBA programs will offer the right returns on investment for someone that has a well-paid job in a professional service firm to spend $100,000 and forgo 2 years of income

- Don't even think about your employer paying for your MBA unless you work for a major management consulting firm, a big corporation that has specific arrangements with a top business school (Ford-HBS comes to my mind) or a non-US government entity (Singapore government and Japan central bank/ministry of finance come to my mind)

- GMAT scores are generally used as gatekeepers for top MBA programs. Once you pass a certain score, it doesn't matter. That said, the GMAT threshold for Asian males is at least 730 these days for top MBA programs

- For Asian males, there are generally two ways of getting into a top MBA program: 1) Have an impeccable resume, i.e. Ivy undergraduate degree, 3.8+ GPA, 2 years in an investment bank + 2 years in a major private equity/hedge fund or 2 years in a management consulting firm + 2 years doing something interesting or 2) From now on, do everything right to the admissions people but silly otherwise (e.g. working 50 hours a week and being in the top tier in a professional service firm + be the chairperson of your local Habitat for Humanity chapter + take a leave of absence for 3 months volunteering in Tibet) and beg (I mean it literally) them to let you in

- I assume both options are not applicable or appealing to you so I will skip the pros and cons but let me tell you who are the people that would most likely thrive in top MBA programs: women and minorities (and needless to say Asian males don't count), people that are and can sound passionate but don't know enough about investment banking or management consulting, people that have very specific dream jobs that top business schools can bridge to (the best example I have heard of is product manager for Xbox, another example is MBA marketing programs for major consumer packaged goods corporations like Kraft and Pepsi which bridge to top marketing jobs in the country), smart and capable professionals that are making very little money now so the return on investment is high (e.g. Navy SEALs, failed entrepreneurs, anyone from the third world that has an impressive resume and can speak good enough English to get a job in the US)

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