Is an MBA Worth It?


Consider the Why

A Wall Street Journal article in 2021 made waves by compiling the evidence that a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree pays off.

And how did they define paying off? Simply being able to pay off the loan you undertook to get the degree. That’s a pretty low standard for defining value.

If you’re considering an MBA, you may be asking: will the time and money I spend really make a difference for the rest of my life in business?

Warning: If you keep reading, it may change your mind about MBA programs.

Do you know it’s possible to obtain an MBA and NOT be more effective in business?

Research confirms that an MBA in and of itself from ANY program is a union card. It gets you in the door and starts you at a higher salary ($37,000 more, on average). If that’s your main purpose for getting an MBA, great.

However, after reading this, you may realize that a deeper purpose for getting an MBA is to do more than learn ABOUT business—it’s to learn business, and graduate with a degree that prepares you to thrive ANYWHERE you might land.

After all, that’s where the excitement is—the learning, the growing, the engaging, the becoming.

Instead of, “Is an MBA worth it?” Maybe the question to ask yourself is, “WHY are you getting an MBA?”

Is it because you think that’s what you need to rise in business? An MBA could, instead, be what you need to rise as your best self while you practice business.


Don’t Talk About It, BE About It

One of my mentors back in the day did classical music reviews on the radio in Chicago. Whenever he went on vacation, he asked me to fill in for him. Before he left, he would give me several different conductors to review who all did the same piece of music so I could speak as intelligently as possible about that piece.

Growing up, I was a musician first and foremost, so reviewing classical music came naturally to me. What was remarkable was that my friend could not play or sing a note. He had learned ABOUT music, so he was an expert at talking about music. But he couldn’t play music, so he could not connect on an experiential level with music.

Business is a skill, and like any skill, it needs to be talked about less and practiced more.

Rich Lyons, founding benefactor of the Lyons School of Transformational Business at Wright Graduate University, has a success story that illuminates the difference between these two things.


A Different Path to Business Career Growth

Rich is someone I have coached since he first did his MBA. When he graduated, he was excited to tell me he’d landed a very sexy consulting job with a great starting salary, signing bonuses, and benefits.

He was shocked when I said, “I thought you wanted to be a real businessperson, not a fake businessperson telling real businesspeople how to do what they’re doing.”

He asked, “What should I do?

“Get a job where you can learn business,” I said.

So, he took out an ad that read, “Recent Kellogg MBA looking for a job where he can learn business.” Brilliant, right? That led to him working for a two-million-dollar company which he then helped grow to three million by learning every function of the software-development business—from production and operations to sales.

Since then, Rich has had a wildly successful entrepreneurial career, building an e-commerce consultancy named as a “Fast 50” company by Crain’s Chicago Business and an Inc 5000 company three years running.

Rich’s vision in founding this MBA after the sale of his company to one of the world’s largest tech consultancies, was to create an applied curriculum that students can use to advance their careers immediately, rather than using it solely to climb the corporate ladder later.

Take a moment to think about the path you may be starting with an MBA. If you just want to become a product manager at Proctor and Gamble or any other major corporation, that’s fine. That’s a valid profession.

But if you really want to know business, DON’T look solely consider prestige. Look for positions and learning opportunities that will uniquely challenge you to grow.


Challenge the Status Quo

I had a client who was a top athlete, and when he got his MBA, he got hired by Converse rather than Nike. He thought this was a drop in prestige and complained to me. I asked him to outline his vision for the role. Then, he started communicating and implementing his vision all the way up the chain at Converse.

By the time he left Converse, every player on the Final Four Women’s and Men’s NCAA teams were wearing Converse, thanks to strategies for which he was the architect.

Moral of the story? Unique challenges give you the opportunity to learn and thrive where you are.

Applying your education to a smaller company can take you much farther in your career growth journey. Small companies are still learning and growing. You get to wear lots of different hats. You get to participate in that growth as you yourself are growing. Bottom line? You get to learn business more by doing more business.

And the opportunity for relationships is particularly powerful.

Here’s another question for you: is the MBA program you’re thinking about going to teach you how to have better relationships? Deep, authentic, effective business-empowering relationships?

I cringe every time someone talks about attending a prestige MBA program in order to access its network. While your network is correlated to your net worth, your relationships create your network, not the other way around. In a small company, you can nurture your relationships on another whole level.


So, when is an MBA worth it? When you learn by doing.

Still want to get an MBA? Make sure it’s one that teaches you how to do business. That teaches you how to build relationship and how to persist instead of breaking down when you run into a barrier.

I happen to know of an MBA program that does exactly that. If you would like to pursue an MBA, look into a powerful new MBA credential that empowers you with the management skills today’s market demands, AND the human skills that empower you as an authentic leader.

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Accreditation: Wright Graduate University is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, an accrediting agency recognized by the US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education (CHEA). Wright Graduate University business programs have received specialized accreditation through the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE). See complete accreditation and recognition details here.