I’m Never Getting an MBA

An exhaustive framework for why an MBA is not a good fit for my life goals

Image via Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

I thought I had life figured out.

It was fall of 2016. I had just finished my summer internship at McKinsey and received a full-time offer to return the following year.

I was entering senior year of university with only 4 credits left in my dual major — with absolutely no obligations in terms of school work, student groups, and definitely no anxiety around looking for a job after graduation.

I checked off the “working at McKinsey” box in my proverbial 5-year plan (note: no actual checklist was made, this was all mental).

The next step was to study for the GMAT, get into a deferred program at a prestigious business school like HBS or Stanford GSB, and then start my career at McKinsey — working my way up to Partner at the Firm.

High school top of the class. Northwestern University. McKinsey.

These are all accolades that I desperately wanted to collect — building into this idea of who I wanted to be, or rather who I thought I should be. Who I thought others wanted me to be.

Another notch on my belt. And onto to the next brand to attach to my identity.

Five years later…

…And none of those other accomplishments materialized.

No GMAT score. No admission to business school. And no longer employed at McKinsey.

Instead, I’m sitting on my friend’s living room couch typing this blog post — unemployed, without a home, and paying for health insurance out of pocket (thanks Biden).

And despite the stark contrast between how my 21-year-old self thought my life would play out and what actually ensued, I’m definitely much much happier than I was five years ago.

I wrote about in one of my very first blog posts Stop Running the Rat Race.

I learned to see life beyond the external validation of certain accomplishments and learned to live life authentically true to my core values.

One the things I learned to let go was my initial dream of going to business school — of having an Ivy League brand attached to my name forever.

And it’s still a hard decision for me to reconcile, as my friends are now going to graduate schools like HBS, GSB, Yale Law, Columbia MPH, Harvard Kennedy.

But I know in my heart that business school — or even graduate school broadly — is not the right fit for me. That I would be going for ulterior, unauthentic motives.

I always knew that business school wasn’t the right choice for me, but I didn’t know why.

So I’m glad that I’m taking the few hours to sit down and write out this blog post to exhaustively communicate to myself my decision-making process.

Why people go to business school

My methodology is simple. I polled nearly all of my friends (and some acquaintances) who are going to business school and asked them why they’re going to get their MBA.

My goal is to synthesize that information into an exhaustive set of reasons advocating for getting an MBA.

I then plan on refuting each point based on what I know about myself and what I want to accomplish in my career.

I want to emphasize that this is an exercise that is inherently subjective — and I’m not advocating for no one to get an MBA. But rather what’s the right decision for myself.

The reasons I received were the following three buckets:

  1. Brand / network benefits of the school
  2. Increase in future earning potential by having an MBA
  3. Down time to chill and reflect

These aren’t the most MECE buckets, as there will be some details that span two buckets — but I tried my best to make this as digestible as possible.

Let’s double click on each and I’ll offer my counterpoints.

Brand / network benefits

By far, the most frequent answer I got from my discussions was the benefits of the business school network — having a network of incredibly high-achieving and talented folks that will push you to be smarter and vouch for you down the line for whatever it may be.

I’m going to break this concept down into 2 sub-buckets: (a) brand of the school and alumni network; and (2) interacting with your actual classmates.

On the brand of the school — say Harvard, there’s no refuting that this is an incredible network that boasts well-accomplished alumni like U.S. Presidents, founders of unicorn startups, Fortune 500 CEOs.

For me, I feel privileged to already have an awesome network to leverage — having worked at McKinsey and going to Northwestern for undergrad.

Although those two networks don’t fully compensate for the power of having another additional alumni network to tap into — especially one as robust and accomplished as Harvard’s, I think it’s good enough, and I’m always one degree of separation away.

On the caliber of an actual HBS class, there’s merit to repeatedly interacting with sharp minds to push you to become an even better version of yourself. You may end up learning more from your class than the actual course curriculum.

This was almost reason enough for me to applying to business school — until I saw a shocking statistic that 55% of the Stanford GSB class of 2020 came from banking/PE, consulting, and big tech.

33% came from consulting alone — with McKinsey being the top feeder consulting firm into GSB.

Read the full report for free at Fortuna

So if I were to go to Stanford GSB, I’d be interacting with the majority of the same people that I already interact with — folks in tech, consulting, and finance.

And even if I didn’t know each GSB admit personally — I’m also only one degree of separation from them. An intro from my MBB/ex-MBB friends would allow me to come face-to-face with them quite easily.

And yes, without going to get an MBA, I won’t be interacting with these folks every day, but if I only have so many hours in the day that I can dedicate to interacting with new people, I’d rather expose myself to diverse minds, like those that may just reside in the Bay Area in collectives like RenCo or OnDeck.

Increase in future earning potential

I’m honestly believe that an MBA is necessary to increase future earnings only under two conditions: (a) you want to pivot your career into a different field; or (b) you want to join a company that requires — or at least respects and values — an MBA in order to get a promotion.

On Condition A, I can’t refute the merit of that. For me, I’m pretty comfortable staying in my current career path of Product in Crypto.

It’s wear my passion lies, and even if I decide to pivot, I think it’ll be in an adjacent position or industry where my experiences and demonstrable track record speak louder than an MBA will.

On Condition B, I see less merit in this argument. I believe that the work environment has changed where it’s not the case anymore that you need an MBA to get promoted, or to even get a good, high paying job.

Even at McKinsey, I saw Partners who didn’t get their MBAs — opting to rise through the ranks all the way from the post-undergraduate role.

And while they surely are companies that hire only MBAs for certain positions, I’m sincerely uninterested in working for a company has that value in their hiring process — sorry!

So that’s my rebuttal of the assertion that an MBA is necessary in order to earn more money. One can realistically do without an MBA and still progress in his/her career.

So an MBA is not necessary, but it still can be a prudent investment in one’s career, right?

We’d have to think about it from a opportunity cost perspective; we’d have to believe that an MBA would unlock so much future earnings that it would be worth not only the $150,000 tuition investment but also the lost opportunity of earning a salary (+ equity) from a full-time job.

Here’s the equation where yearsWorking is the payoff period:

And here’s the break-even period of around 9 years (check out the shitty model here)

However, for my career goals, I would argue that an MBA doesn’t help out in getting a higher earning role at all; in fact, in some cases, having an MBA may be seen as a negative — where hiring managers favor more experiences in the trenches (of a startup) or being a founder with a successful exit.

With that said, this skews the payback model in which yearsWorking may never have a payoff period for me.

Down time to chill and reflect

I get it — you’re completely fried from 2+ years in banking, consulting, insert another brutally time-intensive career here.

You need time off. And two years in school gives you time to relax, reflect, and focus on yourself — not what others want from you in a draining work setting.

You had passions you wanted to explore but never quite had time to.

Maybe it’s hobbies: pottery, hiking, reading, writing lame crypto blogs.

Maybe it’s thinking about what’s next in your career: a switch into Product, social venture, flipping Pokemon cards.

Maybe it’s even starting something new: a venture that you’ve always been itching to do, and now you have the time and the support in the form of professors as advisors and classmates as co-founders.

Or maybe you just wanted to catch up on sleep, and go out partying with some awesome people.

What if I told you that you could do that — without going to business school, and without paying $150,000?

It’s called: quitting your job.

Not working. Relaxing. Traveling. Reflecting.

You don’t need to pay for it — it’s completely free. And you don’t need to attend classes or apply to clubs.

It’s just you with the world as your oyster. For 6 months. A year. Two years. As long as you need.

“But then there will be a gap on my resume!” people proclaim when I offer that suggestion.

Two responses to that: (1) yes there will be. And you’d be surprised how little employers care. Have you ever asked a hiring manager about resume gaps, or had you just assumed it was a bad thing?

(2) No, you won’t. If you’re like me, you’re a high performing individual that makes something out of nothing. You’ll have side projects, mini ventures, hobbies that build your brand. These will fill your resume and add much more color to your background.

For me, I’ve been unemployed for nearly two months now, and I’m loving the free time to reflect and explore my passions in crypto, writing, reading, catching up with old friends in Chicago, etc.

I’ve had conversations with employers and not one asked me about my resume “gap”; instead they said that it made sense for me to take a break between jobs.

“Of course we are also often terrified of a true “break” if this means stepping off the well worn path to success. Hence — the MBA. At business school you can take a break from the workforce in a way that ensures your trajectory and resume is in a constant upward trajectory.” — Juliette Levine

Closing Thoughts

Phew.

That was the first time I’ve ever comprehensively documented my thoughts regarding not getting an MBA, and it’s a pretty cathartic experience.

While I’m not framing this as advice in any way, I do hope that some people who have shared similar experiences as me find this helpful in digesting whether going to business school is the right fit for them — and if they’re doing it for authentic reasons.

I’m sure the few people who made it all the way to the end of this post are wondering what’s next for me, since I decided not to go to business school.

I’m honestly wondering too lol.

Although my North Stars are twofold: (1) always be learning, and (2) build something fun and transformative for the world.

Right now, I’m having way too much fun learning about crypto, DeFi, Web3, NFTs, the Metaverse. I think we’re on the cusp of truly changing the world with these technologies (along with autonomous vehicles, IoT, quantum computing, genomics, and other insanely crazy and fast moving industries), and I’d love to be in the forefront of it all.

Ultimately, the thought of spending two years in school watching while the world transforms from the sidelines was too much for me to bear.

Now is the time to build.

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As always, please DM me on LinkedIn or Twitter if you have any questions or want to discuss any of these topics in detail. I love talking to folks about careers and about life broadly :)

Crypto investor, product manager, and tech enthusiast. I (try to) post daily!