Benefits of Getting an MBA

A lot of readers have asked me what benefits the Duke MBA has brought me. The MBA is a huge upfront investment and the opportunity cost is high. Most applicants have decent jobs and 2 years is a long time. Any savvy investor would want to know what return they will be getting from the time and money devoted to completing an MBA.

This is the 4th post in my new series, Duke MBA Insights (FAQ). Visit the page if you're interested in reading about other posts on the topic.

Tangible Benefits of the MBA - Salary, Career Progression

Salary

The tangible changes after the MBA are often clear and can easily be calculated based on career data published by all MBA programs. The average salary after the MBA is usually $100,000 - $125,000 depending on what industry or function you decide to pursue. Depending what kind of job you had prior to the MBA, most see a 50% - 100% increase in their annual pay. In general, consulting and banking pay the most but have the more intensive work hours, whereas corporate jobs pay slightly less. Consulting firms often also have larger bonuses and some firms pay for students' second year MBA tuition if you interned there in the summer.

Career Progression

If you work for a company that hires a lot of MBAs, there are typically separate career tracks for recently hired MBAs. These can be rotational programs or accelerated programs and can enhance your overall career progression. It's hard to provide concrete data on this, but one good thing to do is to connect with folks who have graduated 4-5 years ago and see where they are in their careers. In big firms that hire a lot of MBAs this is usually easy to do and can be done while you're with the company during the MBA summer internship or through informational interviews.

Intangible Benefits of the MBA - Confidence, Business Thinking, Network

Confidence

This is particularly important to career switchers, especially if you weren't in a traditional business function prior to the MBA. In the 2 years of an MBA program, you'll brush shoulders with many "legendary" leaders like CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and build connections with other senior leaders in these companies. Through the internship or other experiential projects, you'll get to work directly with senior leaders and develop your business skills (I'll touch on this next). By observing senior leaders and seeing how they behave and think, students develop "executive presence". You can read a nice article on "executive presence" on Wall Street Oasis here

In my own observations of myself and of my classmates in the Duke MBA, you tend to see a big leap in confidence after the first year of the MBA program. Second year MBA students return from their summer internships, do well and gain lots of nice experiences, and begin to serve as role models and mentors to their first year classmates. 

This was really quite amazing to see, and you can see everyone really thrive and grow to become the leaders they each strive to become. Students in these programs are hungry to learn and set high standards for themselves, and after one year's worth of reflection and intensive training, you can already see the results within a year. Overall, students want to stretch themselves, and the MBA's faculty and staff help equip students with the tools necessary to do so.

Business Thinking

When I was taking my first year core classes and electives in the Duke MBA program, I didn't think too much of the things I was learning in class. I mean, I wasn't going to do accounting or become an economist, so the value of the course materials weren't immediately apparent. However, after completing the program, I realized how powerful these individual parts became - when combined. Right now I'm already putting my MBA skills to use in real projects outside of school and I'm very comfortable working with accountants and bankers, building financial statements and building financial models that have helped with decision making. In the Duke MBA, students practice this "combining" of multiple business skills through Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum, Program 4 Entrepreneurs, Mentored Study, and other experiential learning opportunities.

Good MBA programs should provide business learning that is "a mile wide but an inch deep". Cases and concepts should be broad enough so that students can be exposed to potential decision points at least once or twice and know where to look or who to look for to get more information prior to making a decision later on in the real world. When faced with a decision, for example which project to invest in, the MBA graduate should know what information needs to be uncovered before a sound decision can be made and who they should speak to for advice.

This intensive yet broad business training also helps feed into confidence as previously mentioned. In my view, MBAs shouldn't focus too deeply in a specific subject, as there are more specialized career paths for that and often such support will already be provided in large companies. MBAs should be able to synthesize information - oftentimes ambiguous - from multiple sources and help firms make the best decision.

It's the soft skills like business strategy or something like communication that's really hard to quantify and see as a tangible benefit from the MBA. It may be easier to just say it this way:

In 2013, I was a science guy working in a lab and saw no way to join a pharma company and work in a business role. The Duke MBA has not only opened the door for this opportunity, but also equipped me with the business skills to find initial success in the role. As an added bonus, the business training will transcend into other areas in your life beyond just work, as almost every decision in life also involves finance, economics, etc.

Network

Despite the popularity of LinkedIn, it's actually pretty hard to network out of your current industry or function. I've used LinkedIn and attended a lot of networking events like seminars, happy hours, conferences, and Meetups before and during the MBA, and I must say the networking within an MBA program is the most efficient. Connecting with alumni for informational interviews or getting advice on various projects has been easy and almost completely painless. The network at Fuqua also extends to big Duke, and I've connected with folks from the Medical School, Law School, Undergraduate School, and various other graduate programs in my 2 years here.

In addition, once you join an MBA program, you benefit from its brand almost immediately. It really helps when you're trying to break into an unfamiliar industry to be able to introduce yourself saying, "Hi, my name is Steven and I'm a current MBA student from Duke." It gives you instant credibility (at least initially) and helps open doors. For me, prior to school I was branded a science guy and needed to convince people that I had business potential. With the Duke MBA, I didn't need to do that anymore.

Taken together, B-School networking is like normal networking on steroids. The built-in networking opportunities combined with the brand of the program that a student can leverage is powerful. In addition, networking takes time and you get a lot of flexible time to allocate to networking during the 2 years of the program - something that is hard to come by if you're working full time.

Summary

This post doesn't cover all the benefits I've obtained from going through the Duke MBA program. However, it does contain the main points that most students can expect from going through a 2-year MBA. Also, goals differ between MBA students so my transformation may or may not be relevant to you. The good thing is that you can really tailor the MBA experience to your own needs as I mentioned here.

Overall, the MBA can help most people open a new door to the industry that they want to break into and give you business training that will help you find initial success. The word "initial" is key here, as the MBA can only get you in the door. This is often good enough, as most people just need a little help to make that leap.




This post is part of my Duke MBA Insights Series where I answer frequently asked questions about Fuqua. These are questions that I've received from readers throughout the 2 years and also sourced from GMATClub. Check out the page here to read the other posts in the series. Also feel free to ask questions about the Duke MBA anywhere on this site, which I may include in the series in the future.


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