If you're wondering if it's worth it to pursue an MBA in this day and age, you're certainly not alone. Based on the numbers, graduate schools offering business degrees continue to make a killing. The average tuition & fees collected for full-time, two year programs from the M7 (magnificent seven) schools lands around $150k. Let's consider a median class size of 600 students. If each student pays an average of $150,000 over the course of their degree, that equates to about $90 million in revenue per class, or $45 million per year. How about for Executive MBA programs geared for later stage professionals? EMBA programs bump up average tuition/fees to ~$200k over the duration of the program, but tend to have smaller cohort sizes. If we assume a conservative average of around 100 students per cohort, that's still a whopping $20M per cohort. Many universities accommodate 2-3 cohorts per calendar year, so it doesn't take much to realize that these programs are printing money for these universities.

I'll get to the point - in my opinion, it can be worth it to pursue a graduate degree in business, but it really will boil down to your personal expectations, the quality of school you attend, and correspondingly the quality of faculty, peers, and resulting network you will form for the remainder of your career. Regardless of what you think about the value of formal business education, you will objectively pay a pretty penny for it. I'll dive into each of the factors I mentioned earlier in a bit more detail for the remainder of this post and my reasoning as to why I landed where I did. Full transparency - I just recently graduated with an EMBA in 2023 from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

Personal Expectations

There can be a variety of reasons why someone may be considering business school. In my situation, I started my career in a technical field as a software engineer, but was slowly but surely leaning towards consulting and product development roles over the last decade or so of my career. I've always had an entrepreneurial itch and I figured it would be worthwhile to get a top-to-bottom understanding of business underpinnings in case I ever launched my own venture. This was the largest driver for me wanting to pursue an MBA (along with the personal/professional network...more on this later). In my case, it was not focused on the salary bump. I wasn't in a position to complain about compensation while working in tech and consulting, so I never really baked that into expectations coming out of the program. I mention this because there seem to be plenty of people that end up pursuing grad school without a specific set of goals in mind for what to get out of the experience. If you want to get an MBA as a branding exercise or simply to pad your resume, I would argue that's actually not a very good reason to strive for one in today's knowledge-based economy. Anyone can learn the nuts and bolts of business through YouTube or other online channels for a fraction of the cost. For certain careers like Private Equity or Investment Banking, the MBA may indeed be a "check the box" requirement to advance one's career. But for the vast majority of people out there, an MBA alone will not automatically catapult you to upper management. In a very consulting-esque and MBA-like way, I always suggest that people leverage a framework to chart out specific, measurable goals for what they want to gain from higher education. S-M-A-R-T is a great framework to use for this something like this. Here's a a quick primer on it:

As it turned out, attending b-school actually accelerated my decision to pursue entrepreneurship and I'm in the early stages of figuring out how to launch a product company right now. From that perspective alone, it has been immensely rewarding and totally worth it for me to pursue the degree.

Quality of Institution

Deciding where to pursue your MBA or EMBA isn't just about picking a name out of a hat. It's a deeply personal journey, one that's going to shape your career and life for years to come. I can't overstate the importance of choosing the right institution - the one that aligns with your ambitions and aspirations. And needless to say, the delta in quality of experience for students between the top 10 schools, the top 100, and the rest is massive (to say the least).  

First, let's talk about the Return on Investment (ROI). An MBA or EMBA isn't a minor expense, and you're going to want to see a tangible return on your investment. That return may or may not be purely in monetary terms and it certainly may not manifest immediately after graduating, but it needs to be there. Top-tier schools have a reputation for delivering, whether it be a salary bump, the opportunity to pivot to a different functional role or industry, or simply leaning on a solid professional network for the future . These schools are recognized worldwide and have the ability to at least open the door to connections or forums that you otherwise would not have easy access to.

The quality of faculty in these premier institutions is very, very good. I can personally vouch for this based on my experience at Kellogg. Imagine learning from the very people who've shaped industries, those who’ve walked the walk, and not just talked the talk. These professionals bring a richness of real-world experience to the curriculum that’s unparalleled, grooming you to make informed, strategic decisions in your own career. But it's not just the faculty; it's also about the peers you'll meet. High-ranking MBA and EMBA programs attract driven, ambitious, like-minded individuals - your classmates. These are the people you'll be bouncing ideas off at 2 AM, the ones who will challenge you, support you, and possibly become your future business partners. They form an incredible network that stays with you long after graduation. Once again, I can personally vouch for this based on my own experience. I've formed great friendships with cohort-mates and they are some of the smartest people I've known to date.

Last, but not least, the relevance of curriculum cannot be overlooked. The world is constantly changing and so is the business landscape. The best schools recognize this, ensuring that their curriculum stays relevant, up-to-date and in tune with evolving industry trends. You're not just learning about business as it is today; you're being prepared for business as it will be tomorrow. You'll generally see this in the form of second-year electives or specialized courses. They offer a great opportunity to explore the leading edge of what's happening at the intersection of core business alongside technology, innovation, and globalization.