All last year there was this dramatalk that application volume was going down, as if that signaled the end of the MBA. Last week we get the headline from the WSJ that “MBA Applications Decline for Four Years” — the media loves a the-world-is-ending lede – but remember that those reports go off the GMAC dataset which covers ALL schools, everywhere in the world. It’s long been known that any lower-ranked or unranked bschool was struggling to pull in candidates; we’ve been talking about this on the blahg for years. Too much supply and not enough demand – the whole “is there a bubble?” thing.
But you know what? We get this refrain regularly about once every 5-7 years or so. On a very regular cycle, the media picks up on this idea that the MBA is a goner, that it adds no value, that employers don’t want/need MBAs, that it’s too expensive, yada yada yada. Here’s a small sample:
November 2008: Harvard Business School Discusses Future of the MBA
And these from 2002: The End of Business Schools? (very long but interesting) — funnily enough, the authors hail from one top school (Stanford) which is increasing enrollment. And, The $100,000 Question from The Economist.
Actually, The Economist is a frequent source for articles on this subject, including:
1994: Cost-Benefit Analysis of the MBA.
1989: To MBA or not to MBA.
(Could not find the full articles for those two but you can check out the excerpts posted on the archive site.)
Quasi-related: If you want to read a rather biased but still interesting historical account of the origins of today’s standard bschool curriculum, check this out.
And we got this great feature from the New York Times Magazine in August that covers Dean Snyder at Yale and other trends and ROI analysis of the MBA (even if you don’t read the others we’ve linked to, read this one).
Since today is HBS Round 1 day, and since we have worked with a whole slew of amazing BSers interested in getting the amazing opportunity of the Harvard education for business, we know that lots of you are, in fact, still keen on using an MBA to get ahead. You’re aware of the costs (hopefully) and after all that research into careers and goals, you’re aware of the benefits, and you’re up for the challenge. Most BSers we run across are actually good-hearted people, not interested solely in the selfish pursuits of more money/more power – yes we do run into those ones too but they’re not all that common.
And maybe we’ve drunk the kool-aid but we do believe in the MBA — for some standard reasons, and for some that perhaps aren’t as commonly discussed. We can think of four points in particular that seem to be overlooked in much of these doomsayer articles:
1. The world has changed. With unemployment still very high among unskilled workers, and the realities of the 1% and the 99% as played out in the American political arena, it is ever more clear that education is a requirement for financial security. We’ve heard it said that these days, a college degree isn’t the minimum to land a good job – it’s a Master’s that you need.We’re not just talking about those who want to become filthy stinking rich (you know who you are); we’re talking about getting a decent job that pays an (upper) middle class wage that will allow you to start a family and maybe your husband can stay home with the kids like Marissa Mayer (OK she’s more than upper middle class but you get the point).
2. The MBA lets people switch directions. The number of BSers using the MBA to change careers is only increasing. This used to be the exception; in fact, some adcoms used to frown on applicants who wanted to change functions or industries. Not anymore. Given how mobile the workforce has become, and how fluid people’s lives are, and the fact that there’s no such thing as job security, it makes sense that this has evolved. We don’t think any of the bschools set out to support this change in their marketplace; it’s where the market has taken them.
3. The MBA confers respect. Despite all that’s detailed in those reports and articles about how the MBA doesn’t pay off for many people in actual hard dollars and cents (or even sense), it’s still a degree that elicits respect — from others, and for oneself. The MBA comes through graduate school, and the curriculum at graduate school (at least a good one) is challenging. When you finish the MBA, you will be proud of yourself. Just being accepted to a top bschool feels like a significant life accomplishment, given how grueling the process is. When there’s this much prestige associated with just getting in to a good school – much less in graduating from one – then you know there will be high demand for it.
4. The MBA is fun. People like to learn. People like to party. People like to be around other people like themselves. Many BSers use the MBA to go experience a new part of the world than they’ve lived in before. The MBA is like a society-sanctioned two-year break from the drudgery; you get to pretend like you’re doing something important. You’re advancing yourself (we hope). You’re learning stuff. Sure it’s expensive, but like so many things, the human psyche can easily rationalize all that away – the first bill won’t come due till after you graduate, and you expect to be in your $xxx,xxx per year job by then!
The MBA is one of the few vehicles we know of through which someone can radically reshape their life. It’s not going away.
To all the BSers applying today and soon, GOOD LUCK! We hope this dream comes true for you.
ETA 9/25: This post offers a few more reasons from the perspective of a non-traditional student who just started at Tuck.
ETA 9/28: Another article on the subject, this one a debate between Wharton’s Dean Robertson (pro) and Henry Mintzberg (con – and no, we hadn’t heard of him either but he has some good points).
Tell us what you think.