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Tuesday, August 18, 2015 at 1pm

Why Getting Your MBA Degree is About More than a Sheepskin

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Recently I was talking with a struggling colleague who went to a top business school to get his MBA degree for all the right reasons only to find that his peers were overtaking him professionally. He had done well in his classes, kept his head down and worked hard, so he couldn’t understand why other people with MBA degrees from top business schools were passing him by to get what he felt were more impressive positions. Well, I asked him, how much of a low profile did you keep?

He admitted to me that he had treated his MBA degree like a lot of seminars at a conference. He hadn’t really interacted with his fellow students or taken advantage of anything beyond the degree-required classes, like networking or the all-important gleaning of soft skills. He had commuted into school, done his work, and commuted home. When his MBA degree was listed after his name, he thought about the return on investment (ROI); “Great... now pay me more!” Don’t be that guy.

Be true to your school! Invest in yourself and your MBA degree

What my friend failed to realize is that a full half of attending the top business schools is about networking with other elite business performers in your area of expertise. Remember, your peers will be a lifeline in your later career. Invariably, the reason someone advanced ahead of my chum was that they had a school connection, or were referred by a connection – faculty, peer, advisor, or extracurricular cohort. Make sure to meet people and take advantage of every possible networking opportunity – that means especially interacting with your professors and visiting lecturers. These people will be your career lifeline. Make it a priority. Call it networking class if that helps. Do your homework, get your materials together (cards, LinkedIn profiles, etc.). It is every bit as important as getting that A grade in Macroeconomics.

Don’t let the ROI blind you

Another mistake MBA hopefuls make is thinking it’s all about the ROI. You can look all over the internet for (often flawed) studies on how much you can expect to earn back from the money you pay, as well as ROI calculators, and they’ll even admit (such as in this Bloomberg article) that their sampling doesn’t make the best sense (in this case using students just one year out of school). But more importantly, there are many reasons that money, and ROI, isn’t everything—especially right away (see QS’s analysis of ROI at European business schools here).

Education isn’t just a hurdle

God forbid you actually should learn something! I think that a lot of MBA applicants I work with see the degree as an ends rather than a means. Again, they think they’ll trudge through the classes without really thinking that they might gain any perspective. Instead, their hope is that their degree might add a zero to their paycheck. But what savvy grads actually often say is that taking the time to consider the larger span of business in school gave them insight into what they really wanted to do with their lives and the ways to make that happen. Without a chance in school to focus on overreaching business strategies, they would never have come to these conclusions and might have stayed in dead-end jobs.

Stand and deliver: Soft skills

Other skills that are learned in top business schools by those who are active and observant are those all-important soft skills. The ability to stand in front of people and tie a few words together in a meaningful, informative, and perhaps even inspirational way, is something that business school gives you the opportunity to practice. Take advantage of as many of these chances to talk, lead, and report as possible, as these soft skills will help you in managerial positions in your later career. In addition, the diversity represented in most MBA programs will advance your cultural thinking so that you can have a chance to move forward in the increasingly globalized economy. Make sure to seek out people who have come from other cultures to talk to them about their prospective – these conversations will not only be fascinating, but will help provide you with education, and soft skills development, you are not getting in the regular curriculum.

There are so many reasons to go to business school outside of just the degree. Change your thinking. The degree is not only about classes and grades, and isn’t a key to wealth and prosperity. Rather, it’s an opportunity to take advantage of the educational, personal, professional, and skill-based growth that school has to offer. As with life, business school is about the journey... and the people you meet along the way.

 

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Ryan Hickey is the managing editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.