I wish I’d thought about alternatives to an MBA

2:00 PM James 0 Comments

As I’ve written about before, I really enjoyed going to business school, and I learned a lot of topics that I never covered in my Bachelors of Science in electrical engineering. Here are some great things about the UCLA Anderson MBA program:
  1. Learning about tons of topics outside of engineering (strategy, marketing, organization behavior, mergers and acquisitions, real estate) and models that I still use today
  2. Meeting non-engineers who are great people, ambitious, and curious (my class was ~25% current and former engineers, 20% consulting, 20% finance, and various other disciplines)
  3. Fun social events with said great people
  4. Many opportunities to explore different career paths, with varying levels of engagement and commitment: case competitions (marketing, banking, hackathons, startups, consulting engagements, real estate deals, nonprofits)

I’ve described UCLA Anderson as “a 5-star buffet of educational opportunity (and I’m not just coming hungry, I’m bringing Tupperware!)” (They love to put that in the promotional emails). But what if you don’t need a 5-star buffet? What if, instead of the $50 Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, you just feel like some high-quality sashimi and only need to spend $25 to get it?

Here’s a decision flowchart that can help you decide whether an MBA is right for you:

Some quick takeaways from this flowchart:

  1. Instead of a full-fledged MBA from UCLA Anderson (and other top business schools), you could enroll in targeted certificate programs if you’re more sure about what you want to do after school.
  2. If you’re curious about other jobs, and you work in a company with people who do those jobs, talk to them before committing yourself to an expensive degree. Go out to lunch / coffee / drinks with them and say you’re considering a career change. Ask them how they got into this field, and what experience and education helped them. Ask if they ever hire internally. Ask if you can help out with a project, something they’d use an intern for.
  3. There are many ways to learn the same thing. Some career paths require a name-brand education, or formal training, and some don’t. Knowing which you need can save you lots of time and debt.
  4. I’m not against getting an MBA! Far from it, I’m happy I got a part-time MBA. It’s taught me many helpful concepts that I still use today. However, when I was deciding whether to pursue an MBA, I didn’t have this whole picture at my disposal. As informative as they were, the various info sessions I attended didn’t point us toward non-MBA paths (imagine that). I remember wanting to feel like I was making active effort and measurable progress towards my dream job. For some people, these paths do not require a fancy piece of paper.