Historically, a MBA has been viewed as a path to strong employment. Students who went to business school were primarily looking for a way to “climb the ladder” in one established company or another, with an advanced business degree serving as a ticket to a reliable career path.
Now, however, perceptions about what constitutes a valuable career are changing. Particularly among millennials, an entrepreneurial mindset has become predominant, leading many to pursue startups rather than established jobs. Accordingly it stands to reason that many who in past decades would have pursued an MBA are now jumping right into startup culture.
One of the most interesting questions to come out of this shift is whether or not aspiring founders can still benefit from taking both paths. That is to say, is there still a need for someone who wants to start a business to obtain an MBA? There is no definitive answer, but for those who might be facing this very dilemma, let’s look at some pros and cons.
Skill – It’s important to some extent not to overthink things in this conversation. Accordingly it’s worth remembering that one of the key benefits of an MBA is transferrable skill. We tend to fall into the habit of considering degrees merely as keys to careers, but the programs that lead to these degrees do still teach valuable skills. An MBA will teach you to be a better leader, a more analytical thinker, a more effective communicator, and more — and will also likely cover some specific concepts like how to build a business plan or pitch an investor.
Networks – Another major benefit of an MBA is the network you can begin to build through your studies. Most anyone who’s succeeded as an entrepreneur will speak to the benefits of successful networking — whether to raise capital, establish clients, build teams, or market effectively. An MBA program will kickstart your network and give you an initial batch of classmate, professor, and alumni contact information.
Accessibility – Until relatively recently one “con” of an MBA for an entrepreneur was inconvenience. Obtaining an MBA in the past might have meant leaving a job, moving to a college campus, and enrolling for a two-year program. Now, however, the prevalence of online opportunities has made these programs far more accessibility. An online master’s in business administration can be obtained in as little as one year of part-time study from any location — meaning it’s now a perk even practicing entrepreneurs can pursue, rather than a requirement that puts a personal business ambition on hold.
Time – One of the most interesting thoughts that came out of an interview with a CEO we posted previously was that anyone with a business idea ought to go ahead and try it. Said CEO’s primary advice to young, aspiring entrepreneurs was to “think less about their fears” and “just do it,” because the younger you are the more risks you can take. Now, we just noted that pursuit of an MBA has been made much simpler and more efficient by online options. Nevertheless, there’s something to be said for taking initiative with a business idea rather than devoting time or attention to an advanced degree.
Expense – Often, the same online MBA programs that make studies so much more convenient are also more affordable. However, we also know that aspiring entrepreneurs are often saving every last penny to put toward a startup effort. Putting money toward tuition (or going into debt to pay for a program) sometimes isn’t a feasible option.
Questionable Advantage – In a round-up of university students’ thoughts on entrepreneurship, one of the most interesting ideas came out of the University of Oxford. There, a student posited that entrepreneurship should be “de-risked” such that pressure to chase the prestige doesn’t lead to undue recklessness. This speaks to why a lot of prospective startup founders might in fact pursue MBAs — as security blankets or career insurance. This is a sensible idea in general, but with specific respect to entrepreneurship, the de-risking idea is questionable. It may provide a road to an alternative career, but it won’t necessarily make a startup pursuit any more defined or less risky.
Once again there’s no right or wrong answer to the question of whether aspiring entrepreneurs need the MBA. There are undoubtedly some benefits the degree provides even to those who are starting their own careers. But it’s clear that there are potential drawbacks as well. Ultimately it’s a decision for entrepreneurs to make individually, though it’s helpful to consider the various pros and cons all together.
Written by Anna Winter Coffey Exclusive for gopreneurs.com