As a college student choosing a major, if I had a nickel for every time someone told me that a business school degree was the practical choice—the degree "you can do anything with"—I might have been able to pay my tuition without a college loan. It's one of those often repeated beliefs that, in my opinion, raise some serious doubts about the so-called wisdom of crowds.
Not that a business school degree isn't worth something… but would I call it the Holy Grail of all degrees? No. Like most educational opportunities, it is what you make it. Degrees open doors, there's no question about it. So going to business school is worthwhile on that basis alone.
Sorting Hype from Fact
If you're going to come out of business school with a degree that really means something, you need to be realistic. Consider the following reasons not to buy into the business school hype:
- All business degrees are not created equal. A general business degree may not take you as far as you think—whether it's a bachelor's or an MBA. You'll have an understanding of a wide array of business-related issues/disciplines—but no specific skills to set you apart from the other 10,000 people with a general business degree applying for the same job. By specializing in a certain area of business, you'll have a higher level of expertise to bring to a job, which can be very appealing to future employers.
- There's a thin line between being under-qualified and over-qualified. Business school degrees not only open doors to career opportunities, but they open doors to higher salaries. In a shaky job-market, this can be a blessing or a curse. If you have a general business degree and no experience, you may qualify for entry-level jobs—but you'll likely still need on-the-job training. If an employer can hire a similar job candidate for a lower salary because they don't have a business school degree, that can be an attractive option.
- Everybody earns an MBA. It's basic supply and demand: if the market is flooded with job candidates with MBA degrees, you can't rely on your MBA alone to open doors. You have to be an all-around good job candidate. One remedy for this is to specialize your degree. Additionally, you can get some useful job experience—even if you have to volunteer your time. Learn the art of interviewing. Learn another language. Your business school degree is just a piece of paper if you don't have more to offer.
- Know your objective. Any business-person worth their salt knows that you should aim to get the best return on your investment. Are you already employed and looking to move up the job ladder? Are you planning to start your own business? Maybe you can achieve your goals by taking a few classes, or earning a graduate certificate rather that an MBA. Research your options. Don't just go to business school as a way to fix everything. Be strategic about it.
Use School as a Stepping Stone
Despite the common wisdom that a business degree will secure your financial future, business school may not be a great catchall for undecided majors. But if you're ambitious, determined and passionate about what you'll study, a business degree can put the exclamation point on your résumé. Business school is just one step on your path to success in a business career—like the first mile of a marathon. Keep that in mind, and make the most of your business school experience.