You Could Spend $50k on an MBA — or You Could Use These Alternatives
Is spending a fortune on an MBA degree really worth your time and money?
“I think college is basically for fun and to prove that you can do your chores, but they’re not for learning.” — Elon Musk
Traditional educational models, including Business Schools and the concept of formal degrees in general, are increasingly called into question.
From Google and others launching their own low-cost courses for tech-related roles, supplanting 4-year degrees which would cost in the region of 200x more, to policy markers realizing that current models are not fit-for-purpose in today’s fast-paced global economy…the world is changing.
The rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) over the past 5–10 years is also a continuing trend, changing the playing field for business education.
Should you invest in an MBA? Of course, this isn't an easy question to answer and everyone’s situation will be different.
A colleague of mine had graduated from the prestigious Warwick MBA when she joined my company at the time. She was also a couple of years older and with similar previous experience.
Yet, she joined at a grade below to me, and I ended up being her ‘buddy’ — helping her get to speed with the firm and the consulting world in general.
I was also earning more than she did back then. Without having to dish out $50k on a fancy MBA degree which would then take years and years to pay off!
Is it worth paying the price?
Is the return on investment justified?
Clearly, getting an MBA from a recognized institution like Harvard, Stanford or INSEAD still holds a lot of weight in today’s world of work.
Yet if you were to break things down, you’d find that MBAs really offer 2 core components:
- Learning about the technical aspects of managing and leading an organization.
- Growing a high-quality professional network you can keep for life.
The question then becomes:
Is it worth dishing out $50k, taking 1 or 2 years out of your life, to get the above?
The answer may not be what you expect. Let’s look at some alternative options covering these 2 elements.
1. Pick up the Technical Skills
An MBA curriculum will typically include the following topics. Have a look at Stanford’s for example.
- Financial Accounting & Management.
- Entrepreneurship (learning to build businesses in a classroom? Yep!).
- Global Management, Culture & Interpersonal Skills.
- Human Resource Management.
- Information Technology.
- Marketing & Sales.
- Strategic Management.
- Organizational Behaviour & Psychology.
Where else could you learn about all of the above?
We’ll present 4 options here.
1.1 Taking classes from top Business Schools, at a much lower cost.
For starters, you could actually take courses from the very same Business Schools’ graduate programmes…for free, or close to nothing!
Don’t believe me?
Have a look here — these tend to be 4–6 week in duration and are packed with valuable information.
Most are entirely free, unless you want to get certified which costs in the region of $40–$70.
Hardly breaking the bank!
- Introduction to Project Management.
- Introduction to Marketing (from Wharton Business School).
- Corporate Finance (in a podcast format).
- Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills (awarded one of the most popular business online courses of all time).
- How to Build a Startup.
- Foundations of Business Strategy (from Darden School of Business).
- Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence (EQ trumps IQ most days of the week — so don’t overlook it!).
- Building Your Leadership Skills (from the world-renowned HEC Paris).
- Introduction to Operations Management (from Wharton again).
- Becoming an Entrepreneur (from MIT).
- Negotiation, Mediation and Conflict Resolution Specialization (from ESSEC Business School).
And many more here, including Y Combinator's very own StartUp School.
You might just as well learn from one of the biggest startup incubators in the world, and from people who have walked the talk!
The second option?
1.2 Accessing completely free, yet high-quality courses and material.
You could take classes from the most prestigious Business Schools covering those key topics — at a cost, but a much smaller one.
Or, you could utilize the ton of useful resources available out there.
- For instance, check out Hardvard’s online course offering here.
- 50+ Business Models every entrepreneur should know — complete with explanations and real-life examples.
- 2,222 case studies of successful founders — a phenomenal goldmine!
- A database of 2,000 ideas, what they could be worth and how to go about implementing them.
The third way?
1.3 Watching talks and learning from real-life experience.
Check out these 10 Ted Talks every startup founder should watch.
- Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action.
- Bel Pesce: 5 Ways to Kill Your Dreams.
- Scott Dinsmore: How to Find Work You Love (yes, there’s little point in getting a fancy MBA if you’re going to be hating how you spend your days for the next 30 years!).
- Elon Musk: The Mind Behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity.
- Regina Hartley: Why the Best Hire Might Not Have the Perfect Resume.
- Ludwick Marishane: A Bath Without Water.
- Navi Radjou: Creative Problem-Solving In the Face of Extreme Limits.
- Joi Ito: Want to Innovate? Become a “Now-ist”.
- Tammy Nam: Managing Chaos — Responsibilities & Challenges of a Startup COO.
- Joe Gebbia: How Airbnb designs for trust.
The last option?
1.4 Reading books written by experts on key topics.
There is a wealth of useful books that allow you to absorb key insights — pick a few to start with, such as:
- The Lean Startup
- How to Win Friends and Influence People
- Good to Great
- The Innovator’s Dilemma (a true Business School classic!)
- Scaling Up Excellence
- This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See
…And many other suggestions here.
As you can see, picking up the technical skills you would get taught at an MBA programme is not the most difficult thing, in and of itself.
But what about the other — arguably the most important — part of getting a formal MBA education?
2. 10x Your Network
A major reason for enrolling in an MBA is to build a network of high-caliber individuals, who you keep in touch with throughout your career.
It certainly helps to have people you can work with; refer and get referred by; look up to and learn from; and so on.
Is it worth the price tag, though?
There are alternatives to growing such a quality network, at a far lower cost — or even, entirely for free.
Take Lunchclub for example. The platform pairs you up with people who have similar interests and/ or backgrounds, so you can create meaningful connections. Using AI technology for the most relevant matches — and all for free.
Using this tool, I was able to connect with like-minded people around business topics — even finding someone who was part of the very startup incubator I was planning to apply to!
I was able to ask direct questions and get insights from the inside before applying.
You could also join relevant professional groups on LinkedIn, a powerful tool for networking.
Most people welcome genuine connections that are mutually beneficial.
Don’t just click on that “Connect” button all day long, though! Take the time to follow and connect with relevant people in your areas of interest.
Reach out to them, comment on something they’ve shared and what you took away from it, and ask for their advice.
Check out this piece from Jordan Gross on how to build a strong network of many 1000’s of relevant connections — in as little as 30mns per day.
I’m not suggesting you should avoid MBAs at all cost.
However, by assessing your current skills and career goals, you can better understand whether the investment will pay off or not.
By picking one or a mixture of the suggested options above, you may well be able to build your own custom-made MBA — suited to your needs and interest areas.
We live in a world where the age-world equation…
Expensive degree + prestigious name attached to it = bigger paydays
…is no longer valid.
The resources presented here may help you fill some gaps to take your career to the next level, by demonstrating new skills and actually applying them in your job — rather than in a classroom or in a simulated case study environment.
Whichever way you go, good luck on your journey!
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