An MBA from a top school can cost almost $100,000—a huge expense.
But is it really worth it?
Top HR recruiters, CEOs, and startup innovators disagree about the value of MBAs, depending on the situation and person.
Attaching the MBA to your name can affect your hiring chances, your networking abilities, and your innovation skills.
While none of the recruiters think to waste your time at a less-than-prestigious graduate program, they do debate whether the top ones deliver on the promise of producing better business leaders.
Christine Ricci believes that an MBA is crucial for success in the business world.
'An MBA or some advanced degree is almost a must-have right now,' she said. 'It's expected now.'
Ricci handles marketing and public relations for B.E. Smith, an interim leadership recruiting firm that focuses mainly on health care industries.
'I'm even seeing senior leaders that are very seasoned go back and get one just because their organisation is putting the pressure on to go back and get one,' she said.
However, Ricci cautions, not all MBAs are created equally.
'I think it's more important to find the program that's a good fit for you,' she said.
If you're fresh out of undergraduate studies, a business school that focuses on seasoned professionals probably is not the best fit, Ricci said.
A MBA can be an asset, but only if you're getting it at the right time in your life and from the right school, according to Jonathan Guidi, the president of HealthCare Recruiters International.
Guidi emphasised that a MBA is only valuable if it's issued by a respected school.
'I don't think, from a hiring point of view, that anyone cares if you have a MBA from the University of Phoenix,' he said, adding that MBAs from top-tier schools are the only ones that matter.
'But you get below that, into just regional schools, I don't think anyone cares,' he said.
In the same vein, Guidi said he doesn't think returning to school once you've begun your career is the best move.
Professionals who choose to leave the workforce to return to school will only be hurting their careers, he said, adding that his clients want someone who has been focused and on an upward trajectory--not someone who has moved back and forth.
Entrepreneur Jay Bhatti, who co-founded people search engine Spock.com and also worked as a product manager for Microsoft, said that many startups don't want to hire people with MBAs.
'The MBA program is designed to teach people to look at prior data and patterns in order to identify future outcomes,' Bhatti wrote in a Quartz article. 'In the real world, this just does not work when it comes to new markets or innovation.'
Bhatti, who holds an MBA from the Wharton school, believes that successful people have certain characteristics that make them successful--and an MBA is not one of them.
'While there have been recent MBA startup successes like BirchBox (Harvard) and Warby Parker (Wharton), the founders of these companies were already high-achieving individuals who got into top programs and probably could have succeeded without their MBAs,' Bhatti wrote in Quartz.
Bhatti recognises the quantitative skills that an MBA delivers, but says that innovation is created or it is not.
Don't believe the hype: MBAs aren't all that great, according to Tony Beshara, president of Babich & Associates.
'I have never in 38 years had a company hire a candidate because or not because they had an MBA,' Beshara said.
A MBA won't help an applicant become a superstar employee. People with MBAs who have reached leadership positions would have done so even without the advanced degree due to their skills as an employee, Beshara said.
'It's a big myth,' he said. 'It doesn't make you a better professional. You're either good or you ain't. I would make the same contention regarding undergraduate degrees, too.'
Beshara believes that the prestige surrounding a business degree stems from the fact that most of corporate America has earned an MBA and only want to hire people who have done the same.
However, unless you're earning a degree from the top three or four programs in the country he said that going to business school is really not worth the cost.
'And I would certainly never quit my job to go to business school so I can go out and get a better one,' Beshara said.
Curalate founder and CEO Apu Gupta, who has a Wharton MBA, thinks that MBA graduates follow the herd.
'I think the notion that you can go to business school to learn to be an entrepreneur is a misnomer,' Gupta said.
Though business schools encourage innovation and entrepreneurial activity through incubators or funding, Gupta says that true entrepreneurship can't be learned in a classroom, and that is should be done organically.
'I've always found it odd that people go to business school and study entrepreneurialism. If you want to study entrepreneurialism, you need to go be an entrepreneur.'
Gupta also said that he holds people with MBAs to a higher standard--at least in interviews.
'Whenever I get a résumé from a person that is an MBA it does raise my eyebrows and I look a lot more closely. I'm a lot harder on the candidate,' Gupta says.
While an MBA isn't necessary for every position at Johnson & Johnson, it is an asset for many.
'It is something for us that we actively recruit for,' said Frank Rodriguez, global director responsible for university recruiting.
Employees with a MBA learn valuable leadership and collaboration skills. They also understand how to work effectively with different cultures.
'The MBA definitely gives the student a broad business background,' he said.
While Johnson & Johnson tends to recruit from high-end schools such as Wharton, Duke, and the University of North Carolina, Rodriguez said that the company also recruits internationally, from schools in Australia and the U.K., like the London Business School.
'It's not just a U.S. curriculum that we value,' Rodriguez said. 'We're very open and we actively look at conferences for students from all schools.'
While a MBA may not give a student a significant edge when interviewing for a job, it will help once the student gets hired for the job, said Tom Becker, the vice president of recruiting for Experis.
'We are seeing more secondary educational requirements,' he said, which makes a MBA worth it.
The skills students learn in business school--such as data analysis--better equip them to perform on the job.
Becker recommended that students attend schools that offer a practical curriculum and have ties to the local business economy.
While Oliver Tomlin, vice president of education, not-for-profit, and health care practices at Witt/Kieffer, recommends students earn a business degree, he said they should bring some real world experience to the table.
Ideally, students should work for a few years then leave the workforce to return to school.
'I think it gets them additional skills that can be fine-tuned to their interests and the needs that their corporation would have,' he said. 'It just gives them more tools for their toolbox.'
While Tomlin said he isn't in a position to recommend specific business schools, he recommended students choose schools with strong advisory boards.
He also recommended future students check out U.S. News & World Report's rankings, which ranks schools as well the schools' individual programs.
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) CEO Rich Lesser said that recruiters no longer just look for candidates with MBAs.
'What has changed is the kind of teams our clients expect,' Lesser said. 'They want a depth of expertise in particular industry sectors or functions, so the breadth of talent that we draw on is broader.'
'We still hire--in the U.S., in particular--large numbers from business schools, but we also hire people with different post-graduate degrees: doctors, Ph.D.s, lawyers. And we hire more people from industries, at all levels, who can bring insight and expertise,' Lesser said.
MBA programs also lack in their weak focus on emerging markets and international advising, skills that are invaluable to large companies and startups alike.
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