The difference between the value of a top-tier MBA [i.e top five or ten schools] and all the others is very big. In fact, if you don't get into a top-tier program, the value of your MBA is so compromised that it's not worth it to stop working in order to get the degree. Go to night school instead. . . . For a while now, it's been clear that the true entrepreneurial geniuses don't need degrees. The most effective way to learn about entrepreneurship is to practice in real life. You don't need an MBA for that.
Now that trend is filtering into the finance industry. Pausing one's career to get an MBA used to be non-negotiable for investment bankers. But today, the top candidates in finance are choosing to forgo business school. They're already making tons of money, and they're well-positioned to keep making tons of money, so the MBA seems unnecessary. . . . If you're not a star performer before b-school, you probably won't be one after you graduate.
She also notes that there are better ways to make connections and network than going to business school, and that the usually business school pattern is not biological clock friendly: "Typically, business schools required a few years of work, then an application process, then two years out of the work force for school." Do the math.
I largely agree. The pool of people for whom business school is a wise decision is small, and not all business jobs call for what an M.B.A. teaches. The pool of people for whom a full time residential M.B.A. program is a wise decision is even smaller.
There are people who could benefit from M.B.A.s In my view, the greatest beneficiaries are people who have established careers outside business who want to transition into middle or senior management in a large, established business. The M.B.A. also still has currency on Wall Street in certain circles, like investment banking (most M.B.A.s have a bias towards finance and strategic decision making in large enterprises). But, for the prospective small business person, a subscription to a couple of good business periodicials, a library card, a willingness to ask strangers questions, and a few night classes is a better choice.
She earlier advised business school in the following situations, but is backing away from even this advice:
If you dream of climbing ladders in the Fortune 500, get an MBA. The degree a VIP ticket to corporate life and a prerequisite for the top ranks. And if you have the luck of being in your 20s, don’t wait, get the degree now, when it can get you a better starting job after you graduate. If you’ve already made headway in your career, you’ll still need that MBA, but when you’re older it’s more like a career lubricant than a jump start: The degree has little impact on where you are now, but prevents you from getting stuck later.
She also notes along with the material above again the importance of going to a top school or none at all, which is largely, I think a function of the fact that the credential only has currency in the rarified league of the Ivy-grad filled Fortune 500 executive suites.
The author also has good advice on bad reasons to go to graduate school:
1. A humanities PhD makes you less employable not more employable.
Most people who get degrees in humanities will not get teaching jobs. And people who are looking for jobs in the corporate world, with a humanities PhD under their belt look like someone who tried to teach but couldn’t. Or, worse yet, it looks like you spent five years getting a degree you had not made a plan for using. . . .
2. You can shift careers by enrolling in a night-class.
. . . [T]he majority of fields require some knowledge, but not a degree.
3. Grad school is a bad way to deal with uncertainty.
If you don’t now what to do, and you go to grad school to buy time, and then you figure out what you want to do, you will always have to answer the question, why grad school? It will be hard to come up with an answer that doesn’t reveal that you went back to school so you didn’t have to deal with adult problems. Better to flail in the work world and learn what you like then put it off. Grad school is too expensive to be a backup plan.
4. People who love to learn don’t need a degree for it..
Don’t go to grad school because you love poetry. If you love poetry, read it. . . Why do you need a degree? What will that accomplish besides putting you into debt?
She notes that: "One out of five people who enter English literature PhD programs will get a job in that field."
Of this advice, the only one I'd quibble with is the last, because the people who intensely deeply desire to learn are often the ones with the best shot at getting the research and teaching jobs for which graduate education prepares you. Also, quality of life is an intangible and graduate education enhances it, in much the same way that having traveled the world does.
I'd also note that different rules apply in different fields. For the most part you can't be a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, or a professional economist or psychologist without the credential.
Also, while I seriously question the usefulness of a system of graduate degrees in K-12 education, graduate education towards earned degrees has become the customary format for continuing education in that field and is expected and financially encouraged. Likewise, a graduate degree in social work or nursing typically has some pretty direct financial and responsibility rewards if you stay in the field.
Outside academia, in the creative arts the Master of Fine Arts is entirely optional outside the rarified realms of opera and symphonic music, in journalism the value of a graduate degree in journalism itself is dubious (some people with graduate degrees in something else get journalism gigs as commentators in their field of expetise), and in the humanities and most of the social sciences there is little direct professional application for a degree outside of academia at all -- although a degree can be a plus factor to show that you really a literate, something that a mere B.A. does not always prove, especially if it is from a less prestigious institution.
Indeed, even in my own profession, law, graduate education is the exception and not the norm, internationally. In most countries, law is primarily an undergraduate degree.
In education, I'd like to see both undergraduate education degrees and the continuing education oriented education degrees for practicing teachers replaced with a Master's of Arts in Teaching with an undergraduate degree in the liberal arts as a pre-requisite, at least, for high school teachers. But, that is a problem for another day.