by Ben Williams, CTO at Reelio Labs
In the tumultuous and intimidating world of entrepreneurship, the prospect of an MBA can be a divisive thing. It is both aspired to and demonized, but a lot of the debate misses the point: Earning an MBA is situation- and person-specific, and it can be a waste of time or a lifesaver for different people.
I’d love to tell you that I had a totally rational and logical process backing my decision to get an MBA. In reality, I had a lot of half-baked ideas about what I wanted to do with my career, and I knew that my current skills probably wouldn’t get me there. I wasn’t so sure an MBA would help, but I went for it, anyway — and luckily, my decision paid off.
One of the most important things my MBA has given me is perspective. It’s easy to keep your head down and become completely immersed in your own company and role. Getting an MBA gave me the chance to look up from my desk and consider different markets and industries. As a result, I have a network of friends and colleagues across dozens of industries with wildly divergent work experiences.
For you, however, the experience could be completely different. That’s why you need to ask yourself these six vital questions before enrolling for an online MBA or otherwise:
1. What do I want from an MBA?
Grab a piece of paper, and make a list of your top priorities and goals. Want a new network of friends and connections? Want to become an expert in a new aspect of business? Want to look more impressive on paper? Take the time to really zero in on why you want an MBA. This will be the foundation of your decision.
2. Can I obtain the things on my list without getting an MBA?
Now, go through your list and determine whether you can replicate any of those advantages in another way. If it’s pure learning you’re after, perhaps you could consider taking a few short courses alongside your current job. If it’s the network you’re after, you could focus more on attending events and conferences in your area. If it turns out that you can replicate a majority of the things you’ve listed, maybe there’s no need to spend time and money earning another degree.
3. Can I handle it financially?
Pursuing an MBA can be extremely expensive, and the best programs are often the most costly. Before you even think about applying, you should lay out your finances as they stand; explore all of your options for loans, grants, and scholarships, and make an objective decision about whether you can afford to get an MBA right now.
4. Do I need to be in a certain location?
Whether due to family commitments or future job plans, there are geographical implications to consider. Some MBA programs are fantastic at pairing graduates with nearby business opportunities, so if you want your future company to be focused on or located in a particular region, consider programs that have advantageous networks in that area. If you’re free to study wherever you’d like, identify a few cities you’ve always wanted to live in, using this as an opportunity to move to one of them.
5. What particular program do I need?
Not all MBA programs are created equal; different programs focus on different areas of expertise. Be sure to identify which ones specialize in your preferred field, and base your decision accordingly. The type of skill set you’re trying to build could narrow your choices for you.
6. Do I like the brand of the institution?
Yes, brand power is a thing when it comes to earning an MBA. Along with rankings, there are other value judgments people make regarding universities’ reputations. Is it known for having a vibrant international population? Is it known for being traditional or innovative? When you’re networking or interviewing for jobs, the brand of your institution — for better or worse — will precede you on paper. Choose a place you’ll be proud to associate yourself with.
Once you’ve thoroughly considered your motivations for getting an MBA, you’ll be much better equipped to make this life-changing decision and pursue it without regrets. The benefits are countless — but only if you do it for the right reasons.
Ben Williams, an entrepreneur and a technologist who specializes in IT, energy, and aerospace, has worked for large organizations such as Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy, as well as founded and led startups. He is currently the CTO at Reelio Labs, a tech startup based in New York City.