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Opinion: 5 Myths About MBAs Debunked

Elitist? Exclusive? Smug? Business schools and MBA students have changed, says BusinessBecause editor Marco De Novellis

Tue May 22 2018

BusinessBecause

Row after row of white-shirted, 30-something men sit with wicked grins on their faces. A few high fives; back slaps; tailor-made suits; Ray-Ban sunglasses; note-packed wallets.

First, the school’s dean, and then a speaker from Wall Street congratulates them on their graduation. They’re the next generation of business leaders, he says. From their sweaty palms, the rest shall feed.

The pomp and ceremony is followed by the booze; by a night out, maybe a strip club. Then, by cocaine, casinos, glitzy offices, and job offers at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.

These are MBA students—elitist, exclusive, smug. And this is the vision of business school that many in the mainstream media would have you believe.


In an article published in The Guardian, Martin Parker—himself a professor in the department of management at the University of Bristol—proposed the bulldozing of the business school. Business schools, he says, are corrupted, profit-driven machines, producing graduates who are ‘taught that greed is good’. Most will amount to little more than ‘precarious cubicle drones in anonymous office blocks’.

As editor of BusinessBecause, I speak to business school students, grads, applicants, and staff on almost a daily basis. In my conversations, one thing is immediately clear: Today’s business school community couldn’t be further from the hedonist, male-dominated, Wolf of Wall Street stereotypes of old.

As John Byrne, editor of Poets & Quants, put it in his response to Martin’s piece: ‘More often than not, the criticism leveled at business education has little relevance today.’



Graduate Management Education (GME) has changed and is constantly changing. Today, GME appeals more than ever before to women, LGBTQ+ communities, ethnic minorities, and people from every kind of background all over the world.

In April this year, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) bought us for exactly that purpose—it’s about GME for the many, not the few.

Speaking recently to GMAC CEO, Sangeet Chowfla, the topic of ‘MBA myths’ came up. Generalization is a terrible thing. Business school applicants need to know that all MBAs are not big-shot bankers; they aren’t all driven by money and greed; and there’s so much more to GME than Harvard and Wharton.

Plenty of MBA myths came up—business school mythology is an established genre. So, after our conversation, I took out my notepad and jotted some of them down.


Here’s five myths around MBA programs which are ready to be debunked:


1. If you want an...

ou need to go to Harvard


hbs harvard myth


Or Wharton, or Stanford, or even INSEAD. Wrong!

Yes, brand name is important. Typically, top tier business schools have bigger alumni networks and can set you up for success on a global scale.

But there’s life beyond the MBA rankings. Outside the elite, there’s plenty of value to be had in doing an MBA.

Take Fox School of Business at Temple University, where if you get in you can almost guarantee you’re going to get a job afterwards—even if you’re an international. Or Arizona State’s WP Carey School of Business, which offers all accepted full-time MBA students full scholarships covering the total tuition cost of the program.

Or Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, which offers a unique MBA program centered on responsible management and sustainability.

Different schools offer different things. For an MBA applicant, it’s all about ‘fit’. If you’re based in London, and want to launch your own fintech firm in London, then what the hell are you going to do for two years at an East Coast business school out in the US? You’re better off at Cass Business School, or Imperial, or LBS.

Big-name business schools are not the right fit for everyone. Blindly applying to Harvard because of the brand-name is unlikely to do you any favors. Plus, almost 10,000 people apply for the two-year MBA program at Harvard each year, and little over 1,000 get accepted, so you may have to look elsewhere.


2. MBAs are just egomaniacs bound for Goldman Sachs


myth-wallstreet


In April, I met with Stuart Robinson, the new MBA director at the UK’s University of Exeter Business School. Stuart spoke of MBA students building family businesses, of small-scale social entrepreneurs, of an Australian student who runs a small farm in a remote area of Senegal—there’s no big-shot bankers present here.

At Lancaster University Management School, I’m told there’s only one former consultant in the current MBA class. The stereotypes around MBA programs are outdated, and MBA applicants know it.

American University's Kogod School of Business—Washington DC’s first business school—offers some of the best resources for women and minority students in the US, according to the Princeton Review. Kogod’s full-time MBA class is 43% female; 31% minority students.

At the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, close to 20% of MBA students are active or ex-military personnel. Dean Sri Zaheer tells me there are artists, diplomats, lawyers, doctors, and nurses in the current MBA class; many doing dual degrees.

Across the board, that diversity extends to MBA careers too. Technology giants—Amazon, Google, and Microsoft—all hire MBAs across a variety of roles. At Carlson, 25% of MBA students go into jobs in healthcare.

Yes, consulting and finance are still heavyweight MBA recruiters. But consulting today can mean social impact or infrastructure development projects; finance can mean fintech startups or impact investment. Today, even big-name firms are making concessions to allow MBA students to pursue their own social impact projects, alongside their work, as part of their hiring package.


3. MBA programs are too expensive


money-myth


Yes, MBA programs are expensive. If you want to join Harvard’s MBA class of 2020, you’re looking at paying more than $146,000 over the two years in tuition alone.

But are MBA programs too expensive? Business schools offer generous return on investment (ROI). On graduation, Harvard MBAs can expect to land salaries of around $135,000—with a median class signing bonus of $25,000—so students recoup their investment in a couple of years.

From before to after graduation, Harvard MBAs enjoy salary increases of over 100%. The average Harvard MBA earns over $190,000 three years after graduation, according to the Financial Times.


Read: The 15 Best Business Schools For Return On Investment


roi-myth


Then, very few people pay the full cost of their MBA in cold hard cash. Harvard’s wealth—HBS makes over $2 million each year just from its application fees—means the school can offer a huge number of fellowships for incoming MBA students, some covering full tuition.

In fact, most schools offer their own financial aid packages, MBA scholarships, and funding innovations like WP Carey’s full tuition initiative. There are plenty of external scholarships available for women in business or African-American MBA students for example, and alternative MBA loan providers like Prodigy Finance, which has lent more than $505 million in loans to over 10,300 students globally.

One-year MBA programs, common in Europe, naturally cost less than their two-year counterparts in the US. Plus, outside the world’s elite business schools, MBA programs become considerably cheaper. Lancaster University’s full-time MBA—which is triple-accredited and ranked best in the world for corporate strategy by the Financial Times—costs just $29,000.

There’s also more flexible, more affordable alternatives to full-time MBAs on offer. Birmingham Business School’s Online MBA—the first 100%-online MBA to be accredited by AMBA—costs around $120,000 less than Harvard’s, you can carry on working while you complete it, and you’ll get the same certificate as a full-time Birmingham MBA student when you graduate.

Lesson: If you don’t have loads of money but you want to do an MBA, you can.


4. MBA=Success


mba success-myths


You’ve spent sleepless nights studying after work, you’ve sweated through the GMAT or the GRE, you took the leap and quit your job, and you got into your first-choice business school. Now, you can relax; breathe; smile. Success, respect, and hundreds of thousands of dollars lie in wait.

That’s the dream. But unfortunately, it’s not the reality. An MBA doesn’t guarantee success, and the hard work doesn’t stop once you get into business school. The most common words of advice I get from successful MBA grads? ‘An MBA is what you make of it.’

Still, I’d say future business success is made more likely in business school than outside it, with the network, the resources, the teaching, and everything else to boot. That’s why so many entrepreneurs are doing MBAs. You don’t need an MBA to become an entrepreneur, but it certainly helps.

Barbara Stöttinger—dean of Austria’s WU Executive Academy—in her 2016 article on MBA myths puts it nicely: ‘An MBA degree does not guarantee career advancement,’ she says, ‘but more often than not it prepares the ground for it.’


5. The MBA is the be-all and end-all of graduate management education


It’s the world’s foremost postgraduate management degree, but the MBA is expensive to do and expensive to run. Some business schools are shelving their MBA programs.

London’s Kings College Business School opened in 2017 with no MBA program on offer, while London School of Economics (LSE) offers an Executive Global Master’s in Management (EGMiM), marketed as the alternative to the MBA.

Specialized master’s degrees are on the rise and eating into the MBA market. Dean Sri Zaheer of Carlson School of Management tells me that while the Carlson MBA has enjoyed a steady application rate, applications to the school’s Master's in Business Analytics have boomed.

The multitude of options on offer means GME is a realistic option for anyone looking to take it up. Across business schools today, graduation scenes are diverse, inclusive, and hopeful.

The days of the white-shirted, Wall Street-bound boys’ clubs are over.


Read more from our Editor: How The MOOC Became A Cash Cow For Business Schools


mooc



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