7 Reasons when an MBA is not worth it

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Those who want to join the top international MBA college in the world are constantly battling with the ominous question – ‘Is an MBA abroad worth the cost?’

While the question is important, the answer can be quite convoluted.

There are too many hues to consider, too many pros and cons to weigh.

Add to it the fact that an MBA applicant from India may have certain specific expectations after an MBA from a U.S. Bschool that American citizens applying to the same university wouldn’t care about (like the H1B visa application process).

Your pre-MBA qualifications and experience also play a big role in the decision. Whether an MBA worth it for engineers, doctors, army / military personnel, finance professionals is tough to answer with a single statement.

In order to make this post relevant for applicants from diverse backgrounds, we thought it may be interesting to twist the oft-asked ‘Is an MBA worth it?’ question to ‘When is an MBA not worth it?

By analyzing the counter-views, you could create a simple yet nifty little decision framework to help you tackle the big dilemma of whether a foreign MBA is worthless or useful in your specific case.
 

An MBA is not worth it when…

 

1. Your expectations are unclear

This is the situation where you know that you aren’t happy with the current job, but you don’t really know what’ll make you happier. The vague idea that an MBA abroad will do wonders for your career, isn’t good enough.

There’s a reason MBA Admission Officers insist on the ‘Why MBA’ essay in most bschool applications.

When you aren’t sure what you really want from the experience, you’ll probably not be happy after graduation. A bschool is not the place to gain that clarity.

In fact, with all that’s happening at break-neck speed on campus, don’t be surprised if there’s more confusion than clarity once the program starts.
 

2. Your timing is wrong

Even if you are perfectly sure about what you want from the MBA, the timing could make or break your decision. When you apply too early or too late in your career, investing in an MBA may not be worthwhile.

The average age of MBA students in USA (2 year MBA programs) is quite consistent. Ditto for the average age in the shorter 1 year MBA in India, Europe, Canada, Australia.

Just as you wouldn’t aim for a 2 year MBA in IIM after 10 years experience, you’d have to be choosy about the geography and MBA college you choose.

An MBA after 30 has its unique set of challenges.
 

3. You have incorrect perceptions about what you are signing up for

There’s nothing wrong in expecting a better job after completing an MBA abroad. In fact, that’s probably the primary reason why you are planning to empty your pockets and take on a humongous education loan.

But is it what the bschool promised you? Nope!

Think about what you’d have done in those 2 years as an international MBA student and how much of it was directly related to the new job you are targetting.

Apart from a ton of theoretical work, there’s very little of direct (and practical) relevance for your new employer, specially if you are aiming for a dramatic career shift.

When you start looking at bschools as job placement agencies, instead of educational institutions, that’s where the disconnect starts and the value of an MBA drops.
 

4. When it’s less about the MBA degree and more of an escape route

Everyone has job problems in India. Right from the job description, colleagues, politics, competition, lack of growth opportunities, salaries, brand name of the company and the constant fear of getting laid off, there’s enough to ensure that you start losing your hair and patience early on in the game.

That’s when the MBA brochures start looking enticing. All those air-brushed, high resolution images of attractive smiling students give you hope. It could be you on that brochure in a year’s time. Away from all the crap you’ve had to deal with back home.

And you say to yourself, ‘Ah, nice. I want to be in that happy place too!
 

5. Your choice of MBA programs is wrong

There are full-time / part-time / 1 year / 2 year / Online / Correspondence / Distance / Executive MBA programs designed for professionals with various career trajectories. A mind boggling array to choose from.

When you target programs that have very little street credibility, the MBA will not be worth much. If you are hoping to give a major twist to your career, stick to full-time MBA programs.

You could also get the country wrong. You might have a free MBA offer in Papua New Guinea, but it won’t get you management consulting jobs in USA.

International MBA programs can’t place you ‘internationally’. Your best options would be to get a job in the country of graduation or return to India.
 

6. You are happy to embrace mediocrity

The cost of an MBA in USA, India, UK etc includes not just the degree you’ll get in the end. It’s also about who else was there in your class. When you get into a program that has mediocre classmates, the world outside will think you are mediocre as well.

That’s the reason why an Indian student who has graduated from Harvard MBA or Stanford on a full-scholarship is viewed differently by hiring companies from those who’ve just paid their way through an unheard-of MBA college in an unheard-of country.
 

7. Your post MBA goals are too ambitious

Nothing stops you from assuming that an MBA will help you launch your million-dollar venture. Your fertile imagination may also convince you that all this will happen immediately after you graduate because your new idea (which you will think about during MBA marketing lectures) will be impressive enough to attract seed capital from the student-run venture capital fund in the university campus.

Sorry to burst the bubble. But, when all that an MBA student has done pre-MBA is software programming, it’ll be tough like hell to get a front-office Mergers & Acquisitions job in a bulge bracket investment bank.

If you attach the entire worth of your MBA degree to such dreams, you’ve already made it worthless.
 
Is an MBA worth it When the premium you are paying for the brand doesn’t justify the value (subjective term, I know) you get from it, an MBA won’t be worth its cost.

Just like those late night adverts that come on Cable, the before and after images conjured by the marketing wizards are too tempting. But after ordering the product, the buyer’s remorse is high when the product fails to deliver on its promises.

The bottomline is this.

If all you have is a headache, don’t sign up for plastic surgery.
-Baba Sameeranand

If you’ve read Beyond The MBA Hype, you’d know that this post is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other aspects that you need to be aware of before deciding whether an MBA is right for you at this stage of your career.

Still unsure? Share your Why MBA rationale (as as comment below) and we’ll help you with some ideas on whether an MBA is worth it or worthless for you.
 
Read these related articles:
Is a Master’s Degree abroad worth it?
6 Benefits of getting an international MBA degree
Is an Executive MBA (EMBA) worth it or not?


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Sameer Kamat
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21 Comments

  1. Rakshith Venkatesh says:

    “If all you have is a headache, don’t sign up for plastic surgery”.
    Wow! Succinctly put!

  2. Oracle says:

    “If all you have is a headache, don’t sign up for plastic surgery.”

    Sameer Baba-Ji ko mera pranam. You just summed it up Baba-Ji.

  3. ayush says:

    hello Sameer ,
    I completed my btech in July 2016 and right now confused between doing ms in cse or an mba, as want to see myself workin in IT field in future, how will mba help me with that also what type of jobs will i get with combination of btech and mba. also if i have a desire to start a software company in future will mba help me for that or ms would be better option ?

  4. Sumit Gupta says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Thank you for this article. Just came across this article randomly and thought that you could be of some help to me.

    I am a B.Tech in Mechanical with 5 years of experience. Have always been a part of manufacturing industry. Started my career with sales and slowly shifted to marketing then strategies and now working in a consulting role with a reputed global company; helping the group companies to come and setup into Indian market. My job includes, market research, launching new businesses and products, corporate strategies, brand establishments etc.
    I do understand that I am in core management role but however I lack the MBA vocabulary and associated social circle.

    I am planning to go for a weekend MBA program to get more deep into my career and gain more knowledge/vocabulary on marketing and management.

    I would like to be in hardcore marketing roles in future.

    Do you think that weekend MBA will serve my purpose? I gave GMAT last year and got 570. Now, getting back again to GMAT should be my last option.

    Awaiting your reply.
    Thank you.

  5. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Ayush: We wrote about tackling the MS vs MBA dilemma here:
    https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2015/06/01/mba-or-ms-after-btech-be-engineering/

    Here are some career options for techies after an MBA
    https://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2015/11/26/career-change-options-after-mba-for-software-engineers/

    @Sumit: Quite a decent career growth curve you’ve managed for yourself. Good work, buddy!

    If you took the GMAT, I assume you were originally targetting a full-time program and now settling for a weekend option since the score is low. If that’s true, I’d suggest re-taking the GMAT and going back to your Plan A. Weekend programs don’t pack as much punch as a full-time MBA does. And with your 5 years experience, the timing would be right too.

    But if it’s only the MBA vocabulary that attracts you, then sure, a part-time / weekend / evening MBA should be fine too.

  6. Debadatta Dash says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I have 6+ years of experience of IT consulting in Indian MNC. I am handling a small team of around 10 people from past year or so. I am aiming for a one year MBA from an Indian top B school.

    Acads: 10th-86%, 12th-66%, BTech-7.4 GPA

  7. Rahul Rana says:

    Hello Sameer,

    I am BHM Graduate having around 5 years of total experience. I was always an Average student. (10th- 74%, 12th- 64% and Graduation- 64%). I started my career from Hotel Industry but left it within 5 months and then i Joined retail industry as an Assistant Manager in Mc Donalds. I left that too in 15 months. Now from past 3.5 years i am working in a US Staffing industry where i have performed the various Roles like Recruitment, Hiring, Talent and Client Acquisition. The main problem here is that its a night job as well as not that much Secured Job. Although the Salary Package is good but still i am not totally convinced with this Job even though i love to do this work but still the job is not secured.
    I really want to upgrade my education and need a promising role in my career. I was planning for a GMAT but when i saw the fees i got scared as i belong to a middle class family where i am the only earning member in my family but however i can manage to spend 1-2 years without job but still investing so much money (offcourse through loan) is a better option for me or not. I am just scared whether i will get the better ROI or not.

    And if GMAT is the good option here for me then also let me know which course is best 2 year or 1 year.
    Please advice…I really need your help.

    Thanks
    Rahul

  8. Ram says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I am 27 years old and have like 2 years of experience in the field of Public Relations & Media Communication. Surely my career is not at all at a good stage compared to my age at present. I don’t see much of salary hike & growth in the same line when i see the amount of work pressure compared to the pay cheque. Lately i am thinking to do MBA in marketing and have gained interest in Integrated Marketing Communications. My interest lies in making brands deliver their message through forms of communication. Therefore need to understand the concepts and working of Integrated Marketing Communication. But i am really confused about going for MBA. Is it actually worth leaving your job at the present and spending 18-20 lakhs for doing MBA from a B-school ? Will it fetch me a handsome pay cheque and the type of job i really want and fill the gap which is currently existing? Do MBA passouts actually get 1 to 2 lakhs Rs paycheque ?

  9. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Debadatta: It would’ve helped to have an idea about what dilemma you’re facing, where I could help with some inputs.

    @Rahul: Your career trajectory has be quite unusual considering the typical GMAT applicants. Even if you do manage to gather the funds, there’s likely to be a lot of uncertainty about the kind of jobs where you’d fit well. Instead of assuming that an MBA will set things right, it might be better to search for more ‘mainstream’ jobs that’ll get you the skills and the salary you want.

    @Ram: Let’s tackle your last question first. Yes, many MBA grads do get that kind of a salary, and in some cases even better. But there are also a lot who get significantly lower that that. Which is why the average salary statitics published by bschools don’t give the complete picture. If your current financial status doesn’t permit you to take that kind of a risk, then it would be prudent not to let go of the bird in hand, in the hope of what’s in the bush.

  10. Ravi K Jha says:

    Hi Sameer, i am a CA (ICAI) based out of Dubai have 6 years of work experience ( 5 in treasury transactions in dubai 1 in when i was in india) my rationale is that since i have to do distance learning mba why not do it from IIM.i am contemplating an online mba from IIM.i can’t leave my job as i have a family. Frankly, i’m bored of my profile and look forward to broaden my knowledge so that i’m prepared to some extent to apply for a CFO orAVP or VP finance position.
    I read your article but it didnt help me because i am in the third category. I am a CA living out of India who intends to live here for another 3 years.i can’t decide between iim online or symbiosis online. Does the former really has any market valuet? Considering the staggering fees of 2.50 lakhs for a year. Hope you response helps me decide.thanks.

  11. Sheik says:

    Hello ,
    I am 2008 passout in B.E, have been working in a Gas terminal at Chennai since then. I started as graduate trainee later worked as operation engineer for 3 years then got promoted as assistant manager and continue in that role for another 3 years.
    Now I have been looking after maintenance and procurement for past 3 years, I feel like I have learned more in these last 2 years of management skills required during crisis, extracting work from mediocre team, balancing between technically sound and mediocre subordinates, as well as being politically right with unyeilding personnel/managers.

    I aspire to land up in corporate circles of oil and gas industry in India or middle East. I am yet to appear for GMAT, I am 31 year old.

    Should I go for Ex-PGP programs of IIM an ISB of is it ok to settle for Ex-MBAs from IITs.
    I am having aCTC of around 8lac now. I wonder would it be better to invest around half a Core in these programs, or should it be better if I venture in to developing service oriented business in oil n gas industry.

  12. Shyam says:

    Hello Samir,
    I am an Army Officer having 14 years of work experience in Indian Army’s premier communication wing. I have worked extensively throughout India and have gained valuable working knowledge in human resource management, resource management, inventory control, operational communication, facility management and logistics. I am due for my retirement next year.
    I am looking for a second career where my work experience counts so that I am able to contribute and add value. Now, the issue is, I do not have any corporate experience. I have done my B.Tech in the year 2001.
    My organization is giving me an opportunity to do a six months management programme called Armed Forces Program in IIM, Ahmedabad/Indore. Please advice me the pros and cons of doing this program Vs doing an one year executive MBA through GMAT.

  13. Onkar says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I am a software developer and working in an MNC for last 4 years. From last year , I am planning to pursue MBA somewhere in Asia or Europe. My main motive behind pursuing MBA is that I want to make a “Career shift”. I want to work in consulting or strategic development, but before that, I have to study. My basic assumption is that after getting an MBA from any premiere business school such as ISB , NUS Singapore, NTU Sigapore, HKU Hong Kong, INSEAD, my chances of making a career shift will increase. I know that getting into these BSchools will be very much tough, I have attempted GMAT once and got 670. Now I will attempt again next month and my preparations are on peak. But I just came across this article of yours and my mind is full of doubts now. I have many questions in mind now, such as is my approach correct ? Will a MBA degree worth my investment?. For an average earning guy like me financing my MBA abroad is also a mammoth task. Can you please suggest whether I should proceed with MBA?

  14. Snehal says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I am chartered accountant with 4 years of experience in Risk Advisory role. In past and in my current role I have worked with likes of big 4 organizations (Deloitte, KPMG etc.) I would like to change my profile from risk advisory to more of finance oriented role. I am contemplating doing an MBA. I read your post. Its quite insightful but I am still confused. Would like to seek your advise on whether I should pursue an MBA.

  15. Chandra Kant Mundra says:

    Hi Sameer

    Nice article. Thank you for sharing such valuable information.

    I am Chandra Kant, a Chartered Accountant having 6 years PQE. Out of 6 years, I have worked 3 years in Accounts & Finance and last 3 years I am working in operations. I am based in Nigeria. It’s a transport company where I am working.

    I am looking for MBA and started preparing for GMAT. Purposes of doing MBA are getting out of Nigeria and securing almost same level of savings job and getting growth in terms of profile. Means I don’t want to be working as Finance guy, instead want head a business or want to play an important role in orgeniztion. Ultimate I want to settle preferably in UAE or Middle East. India can be option only If I m getting very good job.

    Please guide me if my purpose stands good for doing MBA. I can share more info if required.

  16. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Ravi: I see an expectation mismatch. An online / distance MBA won’t prepare you for a CFO or any senior level job.

    @Sheik: The last option sounds more practical, in contrast to spending half a crore when your current income doesn’t support it.

    @Shyam: We’ve had several army officers approaching us and mentioning about the Armed Forces Programs at IIM-A. But we don’t know much about it since we don’t focus on that program. Most who work with us target full-time mainstream 1 year MBA programs.

    @Onkar: Your assumption and approach are both correct. But you’ll have to be sure about whether the financial risk is worth it or not. Don’t stretch your resources too thin, if you aren’t ready for it.

    @Snehal: Your experience and career goals are well-aligned for a full-time MBA.

    @Chandra: Before you spend a lot of money on an MBA, why not try to get a job change and move to the Middle East? Being in your target region will give you better access to the local opportunities, rather than going for an MBA and (incorrectly) assuming it’ll open up the doors in every country.

  17. Anish Thakur says:

    Dear Sameer,

    I have left Navy after 12 years of work experience in Logistics department. Work exposure in Logistics dept covers areas such as procurement, provisioning, working knowledge in human resource management, inventory control, facility management etc. I do not have any corporate experience. I have done BCA (2003) and Msc IT (2005) before joining Navy.
    Please advice me the ROI from one year executive MBA from ISB or IIM Ahmedabad.

    Regards,
    Anish

  18. Mitesh says:

    Hii Sameer, I just recently graduated from college and completing a B-TECH Degree in ECE. I have got placed in a company that develops the current business processes by digitalizing them BTW the company’s name is Pegasystems Inc. It is a well reputed company and has elite clientele like Accenture, CTS, EY, ATOS, American express, JP Morgan etc. I have secured a job in the company as a consultant for developing softwares for above clientele. I want to pursue an MBA after gaining 2 years of work experience in Pegasystems. The reason for opting an MBA is I truly believe that I have more potential and that I can reach higher positions. I came across your article now and I have a lot of doubts man. My work experience would be releated to improving business processes and automating stuff to some extent. I want to know if my work experience combined with an MBA can help me achieve my goals. I still haven’t joined in the company yet, but they told me that my base salary would be 5.5 lpa with a 1.5 lakh one time bonus. I also want to know how to financially plan for my MBA from the start of my career. I kindly request you to help me.

  19. Rebecca Liu says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I have around 2 years of consulting experience at a small international boutique business and technology consulting firm. I am a young female and come from Canada. Your posts seem to focus on Indian students, however, I still wanted to reach out and get your expert opinion on my situation. The main reason behind my desire to pursue an MBA boils down to the opportunities that I find to be lacking in my current position and firm. My current firm is transitioning from the traditional strategy engagements to long-term implementation projects. I do not see myself working in this capacity and have tried a few short-term engagements at my firm. However, these opportunities will come less and less as time goes on. I see the MBA as an opportunity to advance in position, change to a larger firm (MBB, ATK, LEK etc.), and move to the US in the next 5 years.

    Right now, I have submitted my application and have received a few positive responses from top 15 MBA programs in the US. My question is whether, given my career goal, it is worth it to attend? Specifically, should I attend right now or hold off 3+ years. I do know that consulting firms prefer to hire younger individuals and this is why I am inclined to attend immediately. However, the cost of the MBA is really high for a recent grad like myself and my family doesn’t have the financial standing to pay for this hefty investment. Please let me know your perspective on my situation. I look forward to hearing back from you.

  20. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Anish: The RoI from a 1-year Indian MBA program (such as ISB and IIMs) can be quite high. But only if you can convince your post-MBA recruiter of the value you can add, despite not having worked in the corporate world earlier. Given your experinece, you’ll fit better in the IIMA PGPX program than at ISB.

    @Mitesh: That’s a pretty good salary for a fresh grad. The work profile you’ll have after 2-3 years would put you in the hyper-competitive Indian tech pool. So focus on building an overall profile rather than just focusing on work. Most international applicants fund their MBA using savings, loans and scholarships. Try to maximise the last one.

    @Rebecca: Most female applicants who work with us have the same amount of experience as you do. And many have gone on to work for the elite consulting firms after graduating from the top bschools. If you get into a good program and manage to get a significant amount of scholarship, go for it.

  21. Akshara says:

    Hello Sir,

    I completed my Btech in ECE in 2014.I was placed with a private IT company as a tester, worked there for around 1 year.Post that i started working with India’s top Public sector bank as Assistant Manager (Systems). I now have 4.5 years of work experience with decent salary and perks. The problem is I am not satisfied with my job , neither with the work culture nor with the growth opportunities available, and even i do not like the nature of the job duties , want to move from technical to management and from public to private sector.
    I have just made my mind of starting GMAT preparation to get an MBA from top B school, but after going through this post , I am a bit confused , can you please help.

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