Why do an MBA? What’s in it for me? What can I get out of it?

These were questions I asked myself before I started the Global Executive MBA program at Fuqua in 2017.

Going back a decade prior to that, I wanted to start an MBA simply because friends and peers around me were. However, I couldn’t fully justify to myself that it was the right thing to do. I did not pursue it blindly and thankfully let it slide off my to-do list at the time. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure I would have regretted doing it too early.

When I hit a certain plateau at work a number of years later (around 2015 to 2017), I looked around me and asked those very same MBA graduate friends for advice. There were pretty powerful suggestions that now it might be the right course of action for me. Much like how many individuals begin their business school journey, I was enthralled by the various benefits the program would bring me.

An MBA Program is Like a Steak Dinner

Having completed the program now, I can safely elaborate on those benefits for you. But before I do that, let me first tell you how I visualize the approach to an MBA.

Pursuing the degree is very much like going to a nice steak restaurant. There’s something for everyone depending on what experience you’re looking for.

  • Some folks go all-in on a 24-ounce monster steak.
  • Some go in looking for the 16-ounce cut, with a side of mashed potatoes and maybe a beer or two.
  • Others who are looking for a different experience walk in, have a glass of wine or two, trade smiles with someone at the next table, and share notes on what they’re having. They order an 8- or 12-ounce cut, with rosemary potatoes, creamed spinach, and another glass of wine. Maybe they leave room for dessert.

None of these are wrong. They are all perfect ways to enjoy a good meal, and though I lean one way, I have enjoyed all three approaches.

What Do You Want to Get Out of It?

To use that exact same analogy, there are many different ways to approach the MBA program. I personally was looking for a wide mix of things.

  • Fill some fundamental gaps in my business understanding
  • Explore what other like-minded individuals in my cohort were doing to shake things up and see if there was something more appealing for me
  • Build on my network to create a wider and diverse long term support structure
  • Top-off my resume with a prized brand like Duke
  • Explore entrepreneurship in a more structured way than my personal attempts in the past

The convenient schedule, research-based academic learning, and leadership curriculum at Fuqua were big value-adds on top of that.

Going beyond this list, several of my cohort members were looking for other things that did not apply to me—a great promotion at their existing workplace which would come after mandatorily completing an MBA, and the ability to switch careers from a technical role to a business role.

How the MBA Benefitted Me

I ended up completing the program in 2018 and six months later dived into working towards building something on my own. The program really did meet my expectations, helped me meet my goals, and enabled me to chart a course for the next stage of my career. Sitting in close proximity to infectiously ambitious, energetic, competitive individuals is very uplifting. And watching them in action, learning some of their tricks and perspectives, really does a lot to push oneself forward.

The community and network aside, you have to understand that doing an MBA is Business Management 101. You learn the true basics of every element of running a business—strategy, accounting, finance, marketing, operations, the foundations of management, and leadership.

Upon completion, you now have the keys to the ground floor of a very tall building. You need to understand and internalize how these pieces work and fit together to frame a bigger picture, as well as the possibilities and challenges with each element. Using the tools that you gain and capitalizing on them over your competitors to deliver value is where the real ROI comes in.

Other Questions You Might Have

But is having a strong direction before you start an MBA important? Even if you may change your mind later?

I do believe that having an idea of what you want before you get in is ideal. Most people do shop around and change their minds through the program, but that’s really OK. You’re there to absorb everything the experience has to offer.

Is an MBA for everyone? Probably not. Which is why the admissions team works very hard to understand the real you and do their best to accept people who are a good fit.

Isn’t it expensive? Yes, it is a lot of money, for sure. However, I have personally witnessed what happens when an aspiring entrepreneur starts a venture and doesn’t really know what they’re doing. I was involved in a business at one point that ran up $2 Million in debt from family and friends (now ex-family and ex-friends). That was definitely more expensive than the cost of an MBA, which would have equipped me to avoid that disastrous situation.

And that is my summary of what an MBA can do for you. I hope that answers some of the questions you may have, and I wish you the best with your decision.