The Value of an MBA: It’s Not Only about the Money

Value can be defined in several ways depending on whom you ask. An accountant would likely focus on the monetary worth. An economist would point toward both the utility (pleasure or satisfaction) derived from the good or service and the power of the good or service in voluntary exchange. Marketers would tell you the value is dependent on customer perception. As an MBA alumnus, I could explain the value of an MBA from any of those perspectives but would rather tell you about a few of the intangibles. These are the things that are harder to find in a google search for “value of an MBA” where results tend to focus on ROI or whether it’s worth the cost.

After I completed my undergraduate degree in business, I was equipped with the ability to think critically and understand business theory. I had some previous work experience but the first few years after graduation were still eye opening. I started to realize there were several classes outside of my marketing focus where I should have learned the information instead of just getting through them. I wanted to go back to learn the information now that I had more context. I was doing OK in my role but I wanted to do better. I wanted to be at the level of those making decisions and earn the paycheck to go along with it. That is what pushed me to consider a graduate degree. I didn’t fully realize or consider the skills that came along with getting an MBA at the time. Now I understand it is so much more than just gaining the business knowledge and a good promotion after finishing the program.

An MBA was a natural fit because I had the opportunity to re-learn the areas I didn’t necessarily focus on as an undergrad. For instance, the finance concepts made sense but I didn’t understand it well enough to speak to the finance people in my organization and effectively get my ideas across using their preferred terminology. Throughout the MBA program, I was able to learn with those with a diverse range of backgrounds. I took a marketing class, my undergrad focus, where I easily understood the concepts but also had the opportunity to watch and practice what it took to get those with liberal arts, accounting or operations backgrounds to understand it. I learned from my classmates who would talk about how the topics we were discussing would and would not work in their company, competency area or perspective. I also took classes in other core business areas where the engineers, biologists and chemists asked a different line of questions than I would have even thought to question previously. All of this was incredibly informative. The classroom simulated my work environment in terms of backgrounds of those working around me and it provided an opportunity to practice my new found understanding in a non-threatening setting. What is the value of an MBA? Becoming a more effective employee who is confident and able to both communicate across functional areas and understand the implications of a decision on the business as a whole.            

The more I learned in class, the more curious I became. It is impossible to become an expert in every areas discussed in an MBA program but the key is to know what questions to ask and keep asking them. Because I was working while completing my MBA, I was able to bring many of the concepts we were learning in class into my work. While taking classes I had a great excuse to ask questions outside of my normal day-to-day work. I worked in sales and marketing but at one point did a project on how much revenue was needed to cover building space expenses for the organization. This got me outside of my role and working with people who I may pass in the hall but didn’t work with regularly. Not only did asking questions help me to better understand my organization as a whole, it also created allies in other areas who have helped me in other projects. What is the value of an MBA? Becoming more curious, asking questions and strengthening understanding of the ecosystem within a company.

As consumers, we encounter many different companies, understand their products and have ideas on which may be good employers. None of this consumer knowledge compares to hearing about companies, cultures and career tracks in an MBA classroom. Each class surrounded me with people from many local companies large and small. It was enlightening to hear about company cultures from an insider perspective rather than in the hiring process where, of course, people will be promoting the positives. There are local companies who do great work but in hearing more about their internal culture, I know that it would not be a good fit for me. Not knowing this information could have led to making a poor decision when job searching and potentially a year or two in a company that is not a good cultural fit. When hearing fellow classmates talk about experience, the number of times I thought to myself “hm…I never even considered there would be a job function doing that” is too many to count. I was able to better understand what jobs and companies would bring together my interests and what I needed to do to get there. What is the value of an MBA? Gaining a better understanding of myself, the career paths that excite me and the companies that best match my goals.

I’ve mentioned the variety of backgrounds of my classmates. In each class, I worked on teams and learned with an average of 28 different students with experience at Fortune 500, mid-size and small companies. This means, I was exposed to about 476 people throughout the 17 courses I took in the program. This doesn’t even mention the people I have met through other networking events on campus.  I have an ever changing list of companies represented in my LinkedIn as these people move around in their career. It’s hard to know which of these contacts may be helpful in the future as I build my career. If just one of these classmates I wouldn’t have otherwise met gets me to my next position, the return for my investment in time and money in the program can be justified more easily. What is the value of an MBA? Building a network of people in the community who can support and facilitate career growth.

It is easier to write about the value of an MBA after being done with the program for six years than it would have been at times throughout the program. There were certainly occasions when balancing class and work was a struggle. No pain, no gain, right? My opinion is that the pain is worth the gain. The value can be measured in monetary value, utility, power of exchange or consumer perception but I think it would be missing something if it isn’t also measured by the ability to make educated decisions, confidently bring opinions to the table, effectively communicate with those outside of core competencies and network with the right people in and outside of the organization. It isn’t just the three letters or the diploma that gets these things. The value is created by the overall effort put forth by each individual student as well as the choosing a program with faculty who carefully craft the curriculum, leadership and advising staff who create the culture of the learning environment and an admissions team who carefully brings together a strong group of fellow classmates.

Find Your Answer
We invite you to join the conversation. All of the #FindYourAnswer questions have a unifying theme: they address business issues at the forefront of today’s business community that are frequently asked, but rarely addressed. This initiative is part of the Opus College of Business’ new call to action: one that fosters diverse perspectives and divergent views while focusing on practical, forward-thinking approaches to management challenges.