It’s no secret that having an MBA tacked after your name has quite a few professional and monetary benefits. So why haven’t you run off and enrolled in the first MBA program you can find?
Because earning such a respected degree also means taking on a massive amount of debt. And it’s not getting any better. Tuition fees continue to increase dramatically, and many have started to question the true value of MBA degrees. There’s also the question of ethics when it comes to the marketing tactics many business schools use to attract potential students.
Could MBA programs be a bubble just waiting to burst?
As with any financial investment, you shouldn’t wait until everybody agrees there’s a bubble to save yourself from it. By then, it will be too late.
Instead, follow these tips to hack together the same benefits of an MBA degree without mortgaging your future and taking on six figures of debt:
1. Beat out the MBA competition with skills they don’t have
If an employer has the choice between two equally experienced candidates — someone with an advanced business degree, and someone without one — you’d think the MBA would usually win.
But in reality, the degree has little to do with it. The candidate who has the most valuable and desired skills will be offered the job.
Research the most rare and desired skills in your industry. Maybe it’s the knowledge of a new technology, specific professional experience or fluency in a particular language. Train yourself in those skills or find a way to add relevant experience.
You don’t need an MBA to be the candidate an employer can’t resist hiring. (Click here to Tweet this thought.) Don’t mortgage your future to buy a tie-breaking joker when you can have the winning card for much less.
2. Amp up your earning potential
Yes, it’s true that those with an MBA earn more than those who don’t have one. But the MBA is not the reason. Most of those graduates had to prove a high level of professional experience to receive admission to business school in the first place.
Instead, focus on increasing your salary in the long run. Employers look for specific work experience, and they’re willing to give big bucks to those who have it. Develop your experience in a growing industry you love and train yourself in the most in-demand skills in that market.
Your salary will increase along the way; it’s supply and demand.
3. Out-network the MBA-ers
An MBA is not a nobility title. You go to business school to meet amazing people… who are just the same as you. You may never again cross paths with your classmates in the real world if your professional projects have nothing in common.
Develop an amazing network yourself. Buy Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz’s book Never Eat Alone, and start connecting with key people who can help you accomplish your professional goals.
This is the 21st century. You don’t need a pedigree. Perfecting your social skills and leveraging your social networks will help you build a world-class network.
4. Change careers the smart, debt-free way
The possibility of a career change is a false business school promise. You don’t need an MBA to successfully change careers.
If you want to do something new professionally, take it upon yourself to gain experience in your target industry. Network with people who already have jobs in your target field. It may take a year or two for an opportunity to present itself, so patience is key. And when you switch careers, you may have to accept a lower salary, but keep in mind you’ll have saved a fortune in tuition by dodging the MBA bullet.
5. Flaunt your admission to business school — without actually going
Perhaps you’ve always dreamt of that Ivy League stamp on your resume. But keep in mind all that comes with it. You’ll have to work your tail off for up to 90 hours a week at not-so-glamorous jobs for at least 10 years to pay that investment back.
Maybe that doesn’t sway you. Your “Master of the Universe” fantasies might be strong enough to convince you it’s worth it.
So why not go for it? Get the admission letter from at least one top business school on your list. And then stop right there. Think for a minute.
You already have a brand. Maybe “admitted at the MBA program of the WeAreTheSmartestGuys Business School” isn’t as flashy as “MBA graduate.” It’s like being an Academy Award nominee instead of an Academy Award winner. But the difference between the two is mortgaging your future and accepting the risk of getting stuck with a monumental student loan.
If you opt to just keep your admission letter as a “brand,” use it carefully. Think how you’ll explain to potential employers why you didn’t follow through. For example: “I preferred to use that time and money to develop strategic skills to benefit my potential employers’ competitive advantage, such as…”
Don’t bury yourself in debt just because everyone else is doing it. That’s how bubbles are formed. Take some time to think whether that pricey title is really worth the investment of your time and money.
Mariana Zanetti earned her MBA degree from one of Europe’s top business schools and has more than 12 years of international marketing experience in three countries. She is the author of The MBA Bubble.