Have you ever wondered if you you should go back to business school and if it would make a difference in your career trajectory or make you a more successful entrepreneur or executive? It used to be that an MBA was often a must if you wanted to bolster your career and make it into the management pipeline. Now in the age of the entrepreneur, dominated by founders, digital mavens, and a millennium-driven workplace, the choice is often more difficult and perhaps not as compelling. The future of MBA education has been up for debate and the results have a whole new generation weighing the pros and cons. Over two years ago the Chicago Tribune reported that application numbers for part-and full-time MBA programs dropped at more that half the U.S. schools. The Economist was even harsher stating “more and more students are finding the promise of business schools to be hollow. The return on investment on an MBA has gone the way of Greek public debt.” Telling prospective applicants “Think Twice.” This dire prediction just may not be true as Poets and Quants estimates that 40% of the graduating classes in 2018 and beyond will be comprised of women and we are close to reaching the “hallowed” 50% mark at some of the top schools.
Lindsey Fisher, Recruiting Manager at Goop.com, the modern lifestyle brand founded by Gwyneth Paltrow, considered going back but summed up the current dilemma by explaining “Ultimately I came to the conclusion that my on the job training would be just as valuable as any curriculum put in front of me. ” Adding, “the economics didn’t make sense for me at the time because business school is prohibitively expensive.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Catherine Kenny, National Account Executive, Yelp Inc. has a completely different narrative about why going back for her MBA is a personal must.
I am a twenty-five year old woman, born and raised in New York City. I treasure my independence and individuality; I want to be the author of my own success. Ultimately, I’m driven by a desire to define myself – especially in my professional career. Since entering the workplace, I’ve focused all my energies on the marketing field, specifically the world of branding and image consulting. I’m passionate about helping companies streamline their message – to create brands that will leave an indelible image. I’d like one day to start my own boutique-marketing firm. For years now, I’ve had the incredible experience of working for a firm that encourages me to express my ideas and values my input. Yet, I believe it’s now crucial to take the next step in my life and career. I yearn for that next opportunity, which refuses to present itself. But I believe that intellectual development and understanding is the key to unlocking potential, placing one in position for dynamic growth. Business school has long been within my field of vision; I now feel ready to take on the challenge even as I continue my career. I’m confident that an MBA will open new worlds of opportunity.
This seems to be a recurring theme. For many aspiring female founders and entrepreneurs, having a strong business background and the right tools, seemed paramount to long-term success. Carolyne Morton, currently living and working in LA in the beauty field, told me,
I was born in Colorado, went to High School in Arizona, and was stationed in Hawaii at the Pacific Command Joint Intelligence Operations Center as an IT. I served 4 years in the military and am now pursuing my passion and a career in the beauty industry/global marketing and relations field. I have a prior AA degree from Hawaii Pacific University that I obtained while serving, and just finished my AA in Beauty Merchandise and Marketing at The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. I am continuing on with my Bachelor of Science in Business Management from FIDM. I have the desire to complete my education with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. I currently work in the field I hope to own a business in (a place that is innovative and offers a variety of services), but wouldn’t want to do that without a sturdy base of schooling to work from.
From the academic side, Kim Corfman, Professor of Marketing and Acting Vice Dean for MBA Programs & Online Education New York University Stern School of Business expanded on why an MBA might just be the right choice for many applicants saying, “I believe that in order to be more viable in the market, it’s essential to have the appropriate education to back you. A Master’s Degree not only will open doors by the connections you make, but also grounds you with strong expertise, intelligence, and insight. Over the past several years, the fashion and luxury companies have increasingly acknowledged the competitive advantage of adding business-educated talent to their ranks, especially in the face of significant technological disruption.”
If you are thinking it over, and perhaps you should, here’s what you need to know about how the business school environment has changed and the factors to weigh in your decision process.
1.Having An MBA Is Still a Must In Some Fields. If you are pursuing a career in a specialized area such as banking, investment banking, finance and actually the arts, then an MBA is often critical. You will literally be the odd man out. Do your homework and check with specific firms to find out if the lack of an MBA is going to keep you out of serious consideration for key management positions.
2.Consider Your Long Term Goals. If you are on an entrepreneurial path there are many realities to confront. Foremost is the importance of the pitch and raising capital as well as dealing with your investors. Hiring the right talent is also at the top of the list. Ask yourself if you have the business acumen (and internal confidence) for the long haul. Do you have the skills, knowledge, and potential opportunities in the workplace to gain the experience? If the answer is no, maybe getting an MBA is the right step for you. Dean James Ellis of the USC Marshall School of Business added, “We feel that the MBA gives one a skill set that is unparalleled with other degrees, and find that a great number of women are applying now. They have great opportunities to gain employment with good firms right out of the program, and then can move up from there. If they want to be entrepreneurs, they will gain the skills here as well.”
3.Build Your Network. Never underestimate this element. You often make lifetime connections that serve as great resources throughout your career. These are your lifelong business peers who you can tap into for everything from advice to how to find your next job
4.Select The Right Program. Here comes the tricky part. Not every program is right for every applicant. Investigate whether you should be in a two year, one year or part-time night program. There are lots of new options out there including the innovative new NYU Stern MBA dedicated exclusively to fashion and luxury. The first one year program (and their first incoming class is in just a few weeks) at a U.S. business school to offer an MBA dedicated exclusively to fashion and luxury. Stern’s program is designed for students with a commitment to management roles throughout the fashion industry and luxury sector – apparel, accessories, beauty, jewelry, high-end automotive, fine wines and spirits, real estate, wearable tech and more. Even if this isn’t your area of interest, other schools around the country and worldwide from The Kellogg School at Northwestern, Cornell Johnson, London Business School, are offering creative programs like these that lower your financial and time commitment away form the workforce. Just like the new NYU program, look for schools that offer immersion weeks or study as well as projects in the field . This way you don’t fall behind with your peer group in terms of practical work experience. Schools are literally innovating to meet the changes in the marketplace.USC is also leading the way with breakthrough programs. Dean Ellis detailed how they “have a number of one year master’s degrees, including one in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, as well as one in Social Entrepreneurship (the only one in the country as far as we know)”—— advising “if you are headed straight to entrepreneurship or running of a non profit, this might be their better option.” Additionally, USC has one year Masters degrees allowing specialization in Finance, Marketing, Accounting, Supply Chain, Business Analytics, and a Master of Business for Veterans (which is now in its fifth year), where about 20% of the students are female—which circles back to the potential need for an advanced degree in specific fields. Again, they are not the only ones, but represent a new trend in how business schools are approaching the needs of the students and the careers they want to pursue.
5.Ask About Financial Options. Lots of these programs have realigned and reduced the financial commitments with the length of the programs or have all new ways to assist with student loans. When considering your options, make sure to get this information upfront. You might be pleasantly surprised how schools have restructured their programs to get you back into the workforce with lower student loan commitments.
The decision is ultimately up to you. The good news is there are so many more creative options out there now that balance the time and financial commitment to go after your MBA while giving you skills in your specific area of interest. No more cookie cutter solutions. The paradigm has shifted.
By NJ Goldston |Women@Forbes
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