MBA Program or MOOCs? 4 Tips Before You Apply. |

MBA Program or MOOCs? 4 Tips Before You Apply.

By QS Content Writer

Updated Updated

The first time I didn’t go to business school I was thoughtless. The second time I didn’t got to business school I was restless. But the third time I didn’t go to business school was the charm. With the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that I approached my graduate education all wrong. While I believe that I got it right in the end – more on that later – I also believe that you can do better. So put down that GMAT prep book. There are a few things I strongly encourage you to do before you apply to a single MBA program.

Meet Laurie Pickard, creator of the No-Pay MBA

First, a bit about my educational path: The first time I didn’t go to business school I got a master’s in geography. At the time it seemed like an easy choice; having spent a few years as a teacher in a broken school system, I was highly interested in urban issues. So I applied to an urban studies and geography program and was offered a full scholarship. A no-brainer. And that was precisely the problem. I didn’t take the time to think long and hard about what I would do after I got my degree. I was so excited to get back into the world of academia – where I could explore my intellectual curiosities, where it was so easy to understand the metrics by which I would be graded – that I didn’t even stop to think about why I needed another degree. What exactly was I preparing myself to do?

The second time I didn’t go to business school I joined the Peace Corps instead. When I finished my geography degree and prepared to re-enter the workforce, one thing was very clear. I wanted an international career, and if that was going to happen, I would need to get started. By this time, I had been doing some part-time work for a business incubation startup, and the suite of business skills that I hadn’t learned in graduate school was starting to look quite attractive. There was a moment when I strongly considered getting a second graduate degree, an MBA. But the dream of an international career was too strong, and I didn’t want to wait any longer to pursue it.

The third and most recent time I didn’t go to business school, I benefited from serendipity. Some of the best business schools in the US and the world were just beginning to make their course content available via massive open online courses, or MOOCs. I saw an opportunity to create the education I had long desired practically for free and without taking time out of my burgeoning career in international development. In August of 2013, I became the first person to publicly seek to replicate the MBA education using the free MOOCs, modelling my curriculum after the top business programs in the world.

As I said at the beginning of this post, ultimately I believe I made the right decision not to go to business school. However, I didn’t know that for certain until I was well into the business education I have acquired by other means, like MOOCs. What follows are my recommendations on the analytical process anyone should undertake before enrolling in an MBA program, but especially if doing so will require going into debt.

What every prospective MBA student should do before applying

1. Get very clear on what you will do AFTER you complete your MBA program.

I don’t just mean identifying a field you would like to be in or if you want a startup. Be very concrete. What are the job titles you are interested in? What does a typical day look like in those jobs? Which are the firms you might like to work for? What will your career progression look like? Which of the skills you will acquire in your MBA program are you most excited to put into practice? Which of your talents will you hone, and how exactly will you translate them into the world of work? 

2. Next - and this is critical - talk to some people who do the job, or startup, you think you might like to have.

Find out from them what it is like to do their job. Ask yourself if you would truly enjoy doing that type of work. Find out whether a degree is necessary to get hired or create a similar startup and which type of degree – and from which schools – is considered most valuable. Find out what each person would have done differently if they could go back and do it all again. If any of your assumptions change at this point, go back to step one.

3. Run the numbers on ROI.

If you’re thinking of getting an MBA you must like to do analysis, since that is the bulk of what you will learn to do in an MBA program. Why not get started early? Take a crack at valuing your potential MBA investment. Yes, there are tons of articles on the ROI of the MBA degree, but what is your personal expected return on investment?

Come up with some numbers. What is the starting salary among people who do the job you want to do? What is the average salary for people who have been doing it for a while? What are the top earners making, and how likely is it that you will be among them? How important is the rank of the business school you attend versus the fact that you have those three letters behind your name?

Don’t be one of the many MBA graduates who regrets taking on a mountain of student debt and ends up in a job they don’t love just to be able to pay it off. Do the math to find out your actual ROI so that you can be sure you are making the right choice. If you don’t know how to calculate ROI, take a MOOC on finance or use the MBA calculator I created after my first finance course.

Given that I didn’t plan to work on Wall Street, my decision not to get an MBA makes financial sense for me. This may or may not be the case for you. Find out for sure.

4. Really consider the alternatives like MOOCs.

What is it about the MBA program that will be most valuable to you? Do you need the network? Do you need the pedigree? If you are going into finance or high-end consulting, the answer is probably yes. But if you are planning to create a startup, that may not be the case. What will your long-term path look like with a degree versus without one? Which will be more valuable to you in the long run – a degree or two more years of work experience?

Now you can write your applications

After you finish this analysis, you will have plenty of fodder for your admissions essays…or you’ll be ready to start down an alternative path. Either way, your investment of time and energy is bound to pay off.

About Laurie Pickard 

Laurie plans to be the first person to do the equivalent of a complete MBA using MOOCs. She shares insights on this endeavor at In addition to her studies, Laurie works as an international development professional in Kigali, Rwanda


This article was originally published in . It was last updated in

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