During my final semester of college, I had one of the finest professors in my academic career, in a course called “Politics of International Financial Relations.” I probably would have absorbed more information had I taken the class in any other semester, but all the same, there was one fundamental nugget that I extracted from it. The professor suggested that college graduates were highly competent in deciphering financial statements and breaking down the stock market, but when it came to our personal finances, we were less than equipped to use such foresight.
Perhaps it is my looming graduation that brought me back to this, but I couldn’t help but feel that now, many years later, but not necessarily wiser, there’s some truth in it. One’s business school education brings that into focus. To say that it is costly is like saying a share of Google is expensive. It’s true, of course, but misleading; a high price is supposed to beget an impressive reward. Like any security, business school is a financial investment. We seek to buy low, and sell high, albeit on a very large scale.
So, as an aspiring analyst of securities, I sat down to evaluate my choice in an objective fashion. The timing wasn’t great, as I made this choice two years ago, but as they say, better late than never. The costs are very self evident; most notably, there is a hearty price tag, consisting of a few too many zeroes. For me, there was a substantial opportunity cost also: I had to forego a job in which I was doing just fine, and would have been doing more fine had I remained. And as much as I’ve come to admire some of the finer points of Durham, it was difficult saying goodbye to my rent-controlled, walking-distance-to-work apartment in DC.
But, of course, we wouldn’t do it if there weren’t some foreseeable pay-off. There’s obviously the potential to get a better paying job. One also pays for the faculty: it’s not possible to get this depth of learning by simply reading a book. And we’re told that the network we’ll build here in Durham will pay dividends for the remainder of our careers.
Was that all? After a few corporate finance courses, I know that these numbers can be distorted almost effortlessly, and that sometimes, potentially relevant numbers are omitted, to the detriment of the truth. I began to think that there were virtues I was neglecting because I couldn’t quantify them, and that, all financial considerations aside, there was some indeterminate value arising from them that might tip the scales.
Here are a few things that jumped out at me:
- Not having a boss for two years. Aside from getting more credit for my own work, which has intrinsic benefits, I also don’t have quite as many get-it-done-yesterday requests as I once did. My stress level can be mitigated by my own efforts to plan out my schedule, and not disrupted.
- Dress code. I used to hate wearing suits to work. Especially when it rained (and especially when it was really hot out). Now I only have to wear a suit when I’m masquerading as a professional in interviews.
- Working from home. When I was consulting, we’d be jammed into under-heated and over-crowded conference rooms until the bitter end of our projects. By contrast, when I get grumpy at school, I can just go home and do my work there, in front of the TV, with a dog and cat as my teammates for the day.
- Being happy with exhaustion. I’ve certainly had my share of late nights and projects that have taken far longer than they should in business school. But I haven’t had any regrets about it, because it’s mostly been voluntary or in pursuit of something where I’m able to visualize the benefits. Maybe it’s just that we have better transparency here, but either way, it’s an upgrade.
- Clarity. Our economy has transitioned to a point where it’s tempting to become hyper-specialized. There are well-defined career paths for most gigs one would take out of undergrad, and substantial incentives to stay within those tracks. This is a chance to break the mold and see what else is out there; it’s a real option of sorts.
So, as I approach graduation, and contemplate whether or not this was the right choice, I’m feeling increasingly confident, even if most of my reasons will never show up on my personal balance sheet.