A reflection on MBA programs – was it worth it?

It is now almost two years since I completed my MBA (Duke Goethe Executive MBA).  The program itself lasted 22 months and covered the usual standard courses (finance, marketing, strategy, operations, etc.) and certain optional ‘electives’ (in my case including electives addressing risk, entrepreneurship, private equity, and negotiations).

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I am often asked the question “Was it worth the investment?”  Usually this question refers to the direct cost of doing the MBA (the price paid to the University for the tuition).  There are however other investments made (eg, opportunity cost of time invested, and ancillary costs of accommodation, travel, etc.) that need also to be considered, but are usually covered by the same answers to the question.

MBAs typically offer four components of personal development: learning, teaming, networking, and branding.

  • Eager students can generally find most of the learning benefit from books available on Amazon.com (in fact, the very same books used in degree programs).  The learning in an MBA program also benefits however from facilitation by a professor/teacher, structure, prioritisation and commitment (helping overcome personal apathy) and broader awareness of other people’s points of view, from different educational, geographical and industry sector backgrounds.
  • Teaming and networking differ in that teaming is about developing successful relationships with people who have different skills in order to solve a problem, while networking is about extending the volume of relationships with people who can potentially create opportunities for you in future.
  • Branding is the benefit of association with a certain university/program (being able to put it on your CV).

In each of these areas, I feel that I did benefit from the MBA, the branding being the easiest to measure (it is now on my CV), and ‘teaming’ being the most important one of these for me.  Not usually quoted as a core focus of degrees, ‘fun’ and ‘personal satisfaction’ (including also the satisfaction from challenging my brain), are two adjectives that I personally also attach with my two years, as well as extending ‘networking’ to mean also the building of new friendships.

Perhaps the best measures of individual success of the program are:

  1. Financial:   eg, measured by belief that the MBA helped increase your salary, or win you that new job (but could you have achieved it without the MBA anyway?), and
  2. Satisfaction:   overall, are you happy that you spent 22 months and $x doing the MBA?

This doesn’t make it much easier to assess the success of the program.

In my case, a large part of the financial investment was covered by my firm’s sponsorship, and therefore it is even more difficult for me comment on value for money.  My salary has increased since the start of the MBA (but I was promoted to my current grade shortly before attending the MBA), and I haven’t changed jobs since doing the MBA.

Perhaps the best way that I can assess my program is to ask myself the question “In hindsight, would I have made the same decision to attend the program?”  My answer is a resounding “Yes”.  While new potential new applicants cannot ask themselves this question, if enough alumni respond positively then this, together with an applicant’s own investigations (assessment of the programs structure, people and rankings, etc.), this should sufficient confidence to decide whether or not to do the program.

Did you gain ‘value for money’ from your MBA?  How will you judge a future MBA program?

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4 Responses

  1. Matt –

    Thanks for writing this! I’m about to start at Duke in the Cross Continent EMBA program, and it’s great to read another positive account of the experience.

    I have a question if you don’t mind. The main point of this article is that the program was definitely worth it, especially since your employer sponsored you (me too!). Given that you’ve stayed at the same job, and your salary increased while in the program, what would you say is the most valuable ‘thing’ you took from the program? I’m going to find myself in the same situation (same job afterwards), though whether or not my salary increases is out of my hands!

    Any advice/comments you have would be most appreciated!

    Randy

    http://crosscontinent2010.wordpress.com

    • Hi Randy.

      Most valuable thing? Well, it’s probably a broadening of my understanding of how different people, with different backgrounds approach the same problems that I’m looking at differently, and how one can use that in a team situation to produce more than the sum of the individual contributions of the team.

      Example: In one of my teams (4 people), during one of the terms, we had myself (accounting/finance background), someone from Credit Suisse, someone from Microsoft, and someone from Helaba (Hessiche Landesbank). Other terms involved people from Fraport (a German airport authority), Accenture, and IBM. And so on.

      See also my other post on “10 hints and tips before starting an MBA”:

      http://matthewbenson.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/10-hints-and-tips-before-starting-an-mba/

      Matt
      ps. I took a look at your blog, and look forward to following that over the next 2 years!

  2. Thanks Matt, that does sound like a valuable and interesting experience!

    Sounds like our situations are a lot alike; I work for a major financial services firm, and although my quant peers are from relatively diverse backgrounds, overall there’s a lot of homogeneity in thought. While I’m looking forward to the overseas trips in the CCEMBA program, from the few classmates I’ve already interacted with, the people are what’s going to make the program.

  3. Thanks for this post.

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