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To MBA or Not to MBA?

MBA

So I may have taken a little poetic license with the Shakespeare quote…but the question of whether to get an MBA is an important one that I and many of my pre-MBA peers spend hours contemplating.

Up until this past December, I was determinedly anti-MBA. My reasoning was simple: why would I stop working and acquire $200K in debt when I could keep working and save money? I would not.

Plus, I had earned my B.A. from an Ivy League university, which I felt made my educational credentials strong enough without an MBA. I admit I also had a slight aversion to studying for the GMAT….

So there you have it. No b-school for me.

Then I reconnected with a former colleague from Deloitte Consulting. She was absolutely shocked by my lack of interest in an MBA, as she had gotten an MBA from Wharton and greatly valued the experience. She’s also now a partner at Deloitte. “You have to get an MBA,” she said. “Don’t you want to have a serious career? Be taken seriously as a woman in the workplace? An MBA is status quo, and the money shouldn’t be a deciding factor for you.”

Well, obviously I want to have a serious career and be taken seriously as a woman in the workplace. What kind of absurd questions are those? First of all, I have a nasty shoe habit, so I need to keep earning money to fund my perpetual purchases. Second—and more importantly, I suppose—I come from a line of women who have all had serious careers. I did not let my parents sink $300K into my education to work for a few years, find a husband, pop out a few kids, be a full-time parent, and break that line of women. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you—being a stay-at-home Mom is a perfectly excellent and admirable choice for some women. It’s just not the choice for me.)

I started to wonder: do I really need an MBA to be taken seriously as a female professional? And does the money really not matter?

Over the past few months, I’ve asked a lot of people these questions, and I’ve gotten a lot of different answers.

Some people, mostly successful women without MBAs, sit fully at the DON’T DO IT end of the spectrum. My mom, for example, likes to point out how she and her best female friends have all achieved highly successful and lucrative careers without acquiring MBAs. “And why would you spend all that money? That’s a serious amount of debt,” they say. Many believe, too, that, given the current economic climate, it won’t be as easy for my generation to pay back that debt as it was for previous generations.

On the other side are many of my girlfriends who either are currently in or have just graduated from b-school. “So what about the cost? Pay your debt back later, when you’re making mad cash with your MBA,” they say. “ “This isn’t our moms’ world—a Bachelors isn’t enough!” They assert that the competition for top positions is fiercer and that you do need an MBA—the credentials, the network, the whole shebang—to be successful. Plus, they add, b-school is like a two-year-long party—it’s just so much FUN! (The “fun” aspect of b-school seems to motivate lots of people…I can’t deny that a two-year vacation does sound quite appealing….)

Some people have suggested that I enroll in a part-time program so I can continue to work. But that option comes with a whole other collection of questions: Will I get the same networking benefits from a part-time program? Will I have the same level of immersion in the material? Is a degree from a part-time program as prestigious as a degree from a full-time program? And so on.

Still others say I should only go if I get into a top-10 program, claiming less highly regarded programs don’t add enough to your credentials to be worth the investment.

Finally, one of my best guy friends even told me that if a woman doesn’t want to get a graduate degree (doesn’t have to be an MBA), he doesn’t think she’s serious about her career. This guy is 28-years-old—is this the voice of the modern man? Maybe that’s a question for another day…

What can I say? Everyone has an opinion.

After listening to all that advice, of course, still have to figure out what will be best for me.

I’m still sifting through my thoughts, but here’s what I do know: I’m smart. I’m ambitious and driven. I have potential. I’ve been given every opportunity under the sun. I have no excuse—none, not a single one—to not have a stunningly successful career. I also know that there aren’t enough women in senior leadership positions, and the ones who have “made it” are fighting damn hard so the rest of us can follow in their footsteps (Sheryl Sandberg is the obvious example here, but Elena Bajic, the CEO of my current employer Ivy Exec, is another, as is my mom and many of her peers). I feel the responsibility, and I have the right, to build upon what these women have done.

And yet…the economy is still in disarray. I have friends from my graduating class of 2009 that still haven’t landed on their feet, professionally speaking. I’m afraid of having a large amount of debt. Some people say I can’t afford not to have an MBA, but I have a very difficult time visualizing how I can.

To top it all off, there are articles like this one, which make me wonder if the whole thing isn’t just a severely over-priced hoax altogether.

This past winter, I did take a GMAT prep course, and I took the exam in May. I hardly crushed it, but my score is viable enough to make me a competitive candidate. As of right now, I’m planning to apply to schools this fall.

Ultimately, though, I still don’t have concrete answers to my original questions, and I may not have any answers for years and years. If I’m accepted to b-school, I have no idea what I’ll decide to do, but my choice won’t be made lightly.

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