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Best alternatives to MBA | Cheaper & better options

Increasingly, business majors and future managers and CEOs are looking at a curve of diminishing returns relating to the relevance and practical applicability of the MBA degree. Should or shouldn’t young and aspiring future business leaders sign up for a program that is billed to carry the ultimate credentials for a career in business management?

Exactly 108 years after the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration set up their MBA program in 1908, the holy grail of a business education appears to be losing some of its sheen. Or maybe the world is simply becoming a more irreverent place!

How so? Well, if you’re willing to forfeit a stuffy program that will set you back by more than $120,000, plus the cost of not working for two whole years, and you’re open to other sources of learning, you have multiple options to choose from. Yes, there are some pretty darn good moves you can make as alternatives to an MBA. While engineers form the bulk of applicants applying to MBA programs, this post is equally relevant for non-engineers who are looking at cheaper, faster and better ways to improve their career as opposed to investing in an expensive MBA.

More good news…Recruiters are less rooted in stereotypes, including the MBA stereotype, and are willing to give real talent a chance. Remember, they are always happy to hire individuals who add value to the organisation – employees who have a varied skill set and are versatile, the ability to motivate and drive teams to achieve desired results, employees who are target-driven, and those who can think on their feet. With some amount of innate ability to do this and a whole lot of hands-on experience, you can be that employee. Here are some of excellent alternatives to an MBA degree.

Best Alternatives to the MBA Degree for Engineers & Non-Engineers


1. Learn To Sell

The ultimate goal of any business venture is to ‘sell’, whether it’s a product, a service or even an idea. Anyone who has superior sales skills has a huge competitive advantage. Let us go back to that classic cliché about selling ice to an Eskimo. And if you can do that, well, why are you wasting your time reading this!

What we are trying to say is, average performers who can ‘sell’ always outperform exceptional performers who cannot. Take the entrepreneur, for instance… You may have the business idea of the century but if you can’t sell it to investors, your idea will never take off. Even landing a new job involves good sales skills – in this case, selling yourself, your skills and your potential worth to a prospective employer.

There is an avalanche of evidence demonstrating the importance of sales, and a plethora of sales training programs and courses you can take. Then, there’s multimedia that puts a wealth of books, videos and online training courses at your fingertips. Our gut feeling is that MBA degree or not, if you can achieve sales targets, your superiors will sit up and take notice, and you will be well son your way to the upper echelons of management.

2. Learn To Code

Believe it or not but writing code can teach you a lot about running a business. One of the big benefits comes from the flow charts programmers draw to break down a complex problem into bite-size bits before they actually start writing code. These flow charts are akin to the logical thought process one experiences while making business and life decisions; they help you to analyse the problem, view it from various perspectives, and predict outcomes.

When writing code, the programmer has to first understand exactly what the software needs to do. He or she then has to use the grammar and syntax of the programming language very precisely. Mastering the nuances of code is like mastering human communication, where the way you say something is as important as the words you use to convey your message.

Yet another way in which computer programming mimics good leadership is when something goes awry with the software. Called ‘debugging’ by techies, it is the process of getting to the source of the error. Since a software program depends on the program that was written or set of instructions it was given, a good leader will trace a problem to its source before apportioning blame or jumping to conclusions.

There are many other ways in which learning to write code can teach you to be a good manager or leader, so if you are even slightly inclined towards programming, it would be a great investment to actually take a course.

3. Learn A New Language

No, not just any language but one that will give you an edge at work. With China being a great influencer in the world economy at present, Mandarin is clearly the flavor of the season. But, of course, the language you choose to learn would depend on, say, where your business partners and clients are located, where your company has set up regional operations; and where your customers are located.

Language is a core cultural element and speaking the same language is a great way to gain the trust and confidence of your clients and customers. It is thus likely to make you a favoured employee and, perhaps, even get you an overseas posting. It could even put you at the forefront of important negotiations; make you a part of sensitive meetings; and get you co-opted into core managerial teams. Here’s an article on the funny variations of the English language .

4. Gain Proficiency In A New Domain

Just as you would learn different modules in an MBA program, you can switch jobs and go from a job in your comfort zone to one outside it, to broaden your skill set. So, for instance, you can switch from operations to marketing, or from accounting to business development.

This would give you invaluable, hands-on experience in how companies and businesses run as opposed to the highly theoretical knowledge you would glean in a classroom. And employers are open to job switches like this as long as you can justify them and convince recruiters that your apparent ‘job-hopping’ doesn’t mean you can’t hold down a job.

5. Alternative Study Programs

Getting into the management cadre means you will be called upon to lead teams and make sure the company meets its organisational goals. You will also need to deal with financial planning and handle budgets and forecasts.

Instead of spending two years acquiring these skills in an MBA program, you could opt for certifications more directly related to your area of expertise. In the above instance, you might want to get certified as a Chartered Financial Analyst or a Certified Merger & Acquisitions Advisor. There are certifications in virtually every field of business and there is bound to be one suits your career path.

These certification programs, while gruelling, can be acquired by burning the candle at both ends for a while and not giving up your job. They are also much more focused than an MBA program and take less time to obtain. There’s another upshot: Many companies will pay for your certification course even as the probability of promotions increases dramatically. Here are some courses that are good alternatives to the MBA.

On a related note, you might want to consider earning a Master’s degree in Management as an alternative to an MBA degree. These Master’s programs, both full-time and part-time, can give you a competitive edge and turbo boost your career. A Master’s degree also costs far less than an MBA program, takes much less time to complete, and typically covers subjects such as Statistics, Finance and Accounting while giving you an opportunity to acquire practical skills like Project Management, Team Leadership and Business Communication. Read more here – Masters in Management (MiM) Degree.

If you’ve read this post from start to finish, you have lots to think about. There’s a world beyond those three little letters, so go out and seize the day!

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

9 thoughts on “Best alternatives to MBA | Cheaper & better options”

  1. Hi Sameer
    I am a science graduate with a PGDM postgraduate degree(AIMA) having 19 yrs of Pharma sales and marketing experience. Have worked in top pharma companies all through my career. Till 2011, I was doing pretty good and achieving all success, but one wrong decision spoiled my C.V and brought in instability in my career.
    With growing age, and my C.V getting spoiled off-late, my C.V is not getting selected for interview. All I am getting is calls from smaller or lesser known companies….and joining such companies further detoriates my C.V, although it fetches me bread and butter.
    Since last 4-5 years I have been working for smaller companies/start-ups…..which has hampered my management skills and I am not learning anything new……and have stopped loving my job…..and only doing it for the hake of earning money.
    So, in the month of Jan’16 I left my job and have picked up few MOOC courses to learn something new and to recharge my batteries.
    Looking at the immense scope that the Pharma International Business has to offer, my next ambition is to go oversees in Pharma sales……since I have good number of years of experience in domestic pharma sales.
    And to make myself ready for the assignment, I am planning to join the Executive Post Graduate Diploma in International Business from IIFT or IIM,Calcutta.
    But, at the same time I am in immense pressure to earn money as I have a family to support.
    Along with a job and that too the profile of pharma sales has, makes it very difficult to join and complete a professional course, unless your company is very liberal.
    And at the same time, not doing a job for next 18 months is also not possible……and a lay-off for such a long period will further destroy my C.V.
    In this mid-Life career crisis of mine, I am in a catch-22 situation.
    All, I need Is a good break in a good company where I can work for a long period……which I am not getting and thereby is amounting to the increase in my frustration level. It really hurts, after working for big companies, you have to compromise on everything. I am a workaholic by nature, and ready to give in everything in my next good break.

    There could be few probabilities:
    1.I change my profession. Which is highly risky and do-not know what to do and how to do.
    2.Start up my pharma business…scarcity of funds. Not now may be later after few years.
    3.Do some part-time job till I get a good break. Which again a very volatile decision
    4.Give my 100% dedication to the professional course if I take up.
    5.Take up any new job first and see what needs to done next. Just be on the move. But this is again not helping me since last 4-5 years and I have only added up few B-grade companies in my C.V and have learned nothing new.
    6.Make my hobby as my career,like Photography. But again a very risky decision.
    7.Shift to sales training……..but who will give me an opening?
    8.Will doing a Executive course in International Business help me in pick up a decent enough job in Pharma International market.? Should I go for it? Am I thinking on right lines looking into my experience that I have.?

    Your counseling and advice would surely help to take my career in the next level.

    (Ajit)-Name Changed

  2. Hi Sameer

    I have close to 11 years experience in the IT industry. I always wanted to do an MBA but circumstances were not so ideal. Now that I might be in a position where I can pursue one, I am a little confused on what type of MBA would be best. Should it be India or abroad? Should it be a one or two year course (Ideally I would prefer to do a one-year course.). Should it be an EMBA? (It seems in cases of EMBA, there is a not a lot of in-campus placements, so that scares me a little). Your opinion would be really helpful. Thanks


  3. Heya Sameer,
    I have completed Bcom and currently i am doing my Mcom. Have scored 84% in SSC and 79% in HSC and 70% in Bcom. I am actually doing CA but wanna change my course and guess doing MBA is best. I am bit confused whether I should do it from India or abroad? I have 1 year experience in Bank audits i.e including statutory audit and concurrent audit.

  4. Hi,

    Need your help to choose best PG course in Visakhapatnam.
    I have passed by B.E (EEE) in the year 2009. I have a very good academic record more than 90% in all stages X, XII and graduation.
    I selected in a MNC through campus placement and I have 6 years of work experience (4 years in FMCG sector and presently working in LPG Terminal).Presently I am working as a Procurement engineer in a LPG Terminal at Visakhapatnam.
    I am married and having two kids, for better work life balance shifted to Visakhapatnam from Hyderabad where opportunities are very less.
    Now I am planning to do MBA in supply chain management from premier institute. But I cannot afford time to do full mba and also cannot pay more fee as I am from mid class family. As I have a good academic record want to do part time/executive mba from good institute in Visakhapatnam to enhance my career opportunities. Please suggest me good institutes for doing part time/executive mba in supply chain management in Visakhapatnam.


  5. Hii am SURAKSHITH am a 2015 B.E civil engineering and 2016 passed one year PG from NICMAR hyderaba. Currently I am working as a Govt. Civil engineer for Telangana. Am looking forward to do MBA in some world’s top universities so that I can shift my stream and earn handfull. Please suggest me what and how I need to plan from now. And which MBA course would be best for a person like me.and share any other information required

  6. Hi sameer,I am rizwan sheik.a B tech Biotechnology graduate.currently working as a key account manager at johnson n johson lab diagnostics heading AP.I have 7 years of experience in the healthcare sales n marketing. now i want to pursue a good MBA from a reputed business school which offers a part time executive MBA to enhance my skill set and to grow in the corporate ladder.Request you to suggest the b schools whivh offer part time course or evening classes in hyderabad and also the application procedure.

  7. Hi samir.
    i m working in core manufacturing group with 11 yrs experience (operations), chemical . salary 16 lakhs.

    Would like to seek ur opinion.
    – is it good to leave my good paying job and join full time 1 yr MBA or can part time program can help.
    – I m planning to join SP jain 1 yrfull time PGPM in 2017 batch. Is this course valued. and good for operations guy also
    – Should i instead attend 21 month AMBA recognised modular program offered by SP jain.
    – how are ONLINE courses offered by IIM/IIFT through hughes platform
    – EFPM from IIM indore /raipur/kashipr is another option… i m exploring…
    – How are ONLINE courses of IIM/IIFT/XLRI offered through Hughes platform. for job change / salary hike

    pl guide

  8. @Ajit: Option 3 sounds like a good way to balance income and new opportunity. The others may be too risky.

    @Deepak: A full-time 1 year MBA from India may be worth exploring. Like IIMA PGPX.

    @Carolyn: Without any experience, Indian (CAT) MBA would be better than going abroad.

    @Appikonda / Rizwan: Sorry, we don’t know much about local options in Visakhapatnam / Hyderabad. A Google search would help you more, as will talking to local relatives and friends.

    @Surakshith: This should give you clarity on the requirements and application process for an MBA abroad:

    @Shanu: Part-time MBA and distance MBA courses don’t have the same market value as full-time options. Talk to current students of some of these courses and then take a call.

  9. HI Sameer,

    I am a 2017 graduate in Hons from DU. It’s been 6 months that am working in Accenture. My parent want for me do to MBA ASAP. However, i do feel that i am not ready right now. Could you tell some options which i can explore abroad apart from MBA that will help in my career. I am looking some courses in Finance but i couldn’t be able to find anything. Waiting to hear.


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