Why I'll Take my Chances and Stay in School

Last Updated Oct 18, 2007 8:40 PM EDT

When BNET's Nicole Solis first asked me to write a rebuttal for BNET's latest feature package "What's That MBA Really Worth?" my first thought was, "Well, I don't know. I just started an MBA program! What do I know about what it's worth in the real world?" (OK, so maybe I also thought, "Oh, great. Now what I am going to do?")

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I did have something to say on the matter. Before I jump into the fray, here's my disclaimer: I don't have an MBA (yet); I'm not a manager deciding whether to hire an MBA. Basically, that means I can't promise you that the feature's wrong, and I can't guarantee that going back to school for your MBA will bring you all the success you deserve. Then again, I went back to school, and I'm staying there, so that should count for something.

And, actually, I don't think the article is wrong. If you headed back to B-school with dreams of six-figure salaries and corner offices filling your head, odds are decent that you'll be disappointed.

At the end of the day, a degree really is a piece of paper. Don't get me wrong: It's a very important piece of paper, and it's increasingly necessary -- much like a passport. However, it's no guarantee or predictor of your abilities either. How many of you are working in areas that have nothing to do with your actual degree?

Maybe it's because I've worked for TechRepublic for eight years, but this sounds very familiar to the ongoing technology certification debate. On the site, which caters to information technology professionals, the discussion over the value of certifications is usually pretty lively. Seasoned IT pros often get offended when working with "paper MCSEs" -- in other words, people who earned a certification for a technology but who have no real-world experience working with it. Sound familiar?

In the same vein, it's easy to understand a growing backlash against MBAs. Education's great, but it loses a lot of its effect when it's in a vacuum. That's why I think what really matters is why you're pursuing an MBA.

I headed back to school not with delusions of company jets and six-figure bonuses but with the desire to become fluent in the language of business. Business really is a common denominator -- if you work, you deal with some aspect of business. Even if you don't work, you still deal with business in some way: You pay bills and handle a budget, you negotiate a big purchase like a house or a car, you "manage" your kids.

We've all got some business experience; it's just more defined for some of us than others. And that's a main reason I headed back to school -- to better define and bolster my business knowledge. In my mind, the advanced degree will complement both my bachelor's degrees in journalism and English and my nine years of work experience.

Should you go back to school expecting to find a C-level position days after graduation? Absolutely not. Can you expect those three letters to at least help you get an interview? Hopefully.

At the end of the day, I don't think the problem lies in the value of the degree as much as in the expectations of the student. More education isn't bad, but you can't treat it as a shortcut. An MBA should help complement your work experience -- not replace it.