A group of carefully-vetted candidates walk into a new building miles away from home.
They’ve never met before, and have all quit their jobs to invest their time in a transformative experience. Through it, they hope to recoup their losses and make a mint through business deals, brand partnerships, and even starting their own companies.
When you put it this way, the hit TV show Love Island—where attractive young singles ‘couple up’ over the course of eight weeks in a bid to win a cash prize—isn’t that different to an MBA at a top international business school. In fact, they’re more similar than you might think.
But here's the burning question: Which one offers a better return on investment?
Opportunity Cost: Love Island wins!
In 2018, around 85,000 people applied to be a participant on Love Island in the UK. That’s more than triple the most recent application statistics for MBA programs at Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School combined.
It’s not hard to see why this might be.
One of the deterrents from applying to business school is the cost—both financially, and in terms of the things you’ll miss out on while you’re away.
Most full-time MBAs require students to take one, maybe even two full years out of work, possibly missing out on promotions and new job opportunities in order to study.
The same is true of Love Island: one of the UK show’s class of 2017 alumni Theo Campbell (pictured above) was a Team GB sprinter before entering the villa, but it was widely reported that his decision to go on the show had caused him to skip a key championship, and thus damaged his chances of competing at the Olympics in 2020.
However, a stint in the villa lasts around two months—or, in the case of the aforementioned Callum, five days—while an MBA can be up to two years.
When weighing up the options, it’s clear why at first glance, young professionals might want to put all their eggs in the basket of reality TV.
Actual Cost: Love Island wins!
This cost advantage widens once you get accepted onto a course.
In addition to ruling out other opportunities, the time you spend pursuing graduate management education is, crucially, time you pay for: the cost of an MBA at London Business School, for instance, is around £50,000 ($62,000).
In contrast, this is the amount offered as the prize on Love Island—and is still only a fraction of many top American schools, where fees can soar over $150,000.
Even Love Islanders who don’t scoop the main prize money receive payment for their time, albeit negligible—not something that can be said for MBAs.
Islanders also get the benefits of room, board, and even clothing supplied for them. To some, forfeiting privacy and eight weeks of your time might seem like a small price to pay.
Short-term pay-off: Love Island wins!
Let’s face it: as even the most casual Love Island viewer knows, the return on investment isn’t to be found during the program, it’s in the aftermath—much like at business school.
Though the show ostensibly follows a group of attractive young singles on their quest to find love, it has become almost legendary as a career launchpad for social media influencers.
Last year, every UK Love Island cast member who made it to the final of the show (pictured below) emerged with over one million followers on Instagram, and the benefits aren’t limited to finalists.
One of the 2018 season’s runners-up, Rosie Williams, claims that in the month after her appearance on the show, she had earned the equivalent of a full year of her previous salary as a solicitor—a huge return on only 16 days spent in the Love Island Villa.
Likewise, although the upfront cost of going to business school seems astronomical in comparison to going on Love Island, the dividends can also be massive, and this is where the competition between the two gets really tight.
Long-term pay-off: Business school wins!
Stanford MBA grads’ salaries increased by an average of 129% last year. At Fudan University School of Management in China, this figure was even more enormous—an average increase of 195%.
This saw MBAs at these schools jump to a whopping average weighted salary of $228,000 (Stanford) and $110,000 (Fudan).
Though the low cost threshold offered by Love Island might mean that the show has a greater short-term ROI than business school, the world of influencer marketing is decidedly unstable, and may not parlay into a long-term career—particularly for those whose careers on the show are short-lived.
Not to mention, the show has come under fire for the lack of financial planning support for its contestants, meaning that the immediate rewards can peter out quickly as the allotted fifteen minutes of fame tick down.
Making career connections: Business school wins!
As with any investment, there’s more to the decision than money.
Just like on Love Island, the name of the game on an MBA program is to make connections, both professional and personal.
Some people even find love at business school—though, we will admit, it's unlikely that they do so through regular recouplings and 'challenges' where they have to transfer elements of a meal between each other's mouths.
Although many Love Island alumni from different seasons do go on to become friends, there’s no question that business school alumni networks are more wide-ranging and, arguably, more valuable.
You can find job opportunities, mentors, and business partners among the previous grads from your alma mater, picking from an ever-expanding pool of successful businesspeople.
The trouble with Love Island in comparison is that it funnels people into social media marketing and television—not quite the diversity of careers offered by a business school network.
Overall: Business school wins!
So, although Love Island might be a firework of an investment if you’ve got the guts, we might have to take the less glitzy route.
Despite short-term highs, an MBA has a better guarantee of long-term return on investment; Love Island won’t be receiving our GMAT score any time soon.