Should You Go to Business School?

By Josh Kaufman, Founder of Personal MBA, Author and Business Teacher

There is a difference between (A) what an MBA does to help you prove your abilities to others and (B) what getting an MBA actually does to improve your abilities. They are two different things. — Scott Berkun, author of Making Things Happen and The Myths of Innovation

Every year, millions of individuals determined to make a name for themselves have the following thought: “I want to become a successful businessperson. Where should I get my MBA?” Since you’re flipping through this book, you’ve probably wondered the same thing at some point in your life.

Here’s the answer: five simple words that will save you years of effort and hundreds of thousands of dollars:

Skip business school. Educate yourself.

Three Big Problems with Business Schools

College: two hundred people reading the same book. An obvious mistake. Two hundred people can read two hundred books. - John Cage, Self-Taught Writer and Composer

I have nothing against people who work in business schools: by and large, business school professors and administrators are lovely people who try their best and want to see their students succeed. Unfortunately, MBA programs around the world have three major systemic issues:

1. MBA programs have become so expensive you must effectively mortgage your life to pay the price of admission. “Return on Investment” is always directly related to how much you spend, and after decades of tuition increases, MBA programs are increasingly a burden to their students instead of a benefit. The primary question is not whether attending a university is a positive experience: it’s whether or not the experience is worth the cost.

2. MBA programs teach many worthless, outdated, even outright damaging concepts and practices—assuming your goal is to actually build a successful business and increase your net worth. Many of my MBA holding readers and clients come to me after spending tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars learning the ins and outs of complex financial formulas and statistical models, only to realize that their MBA program didn’t teach them how to start or improve a real, operating business. That’s a problem — graduating from business school does not guarantee having a useful working knowledge of business when you’re done, which is what you actually need to be successful.

3. MBA programs won’t guarantee you a high-paying job, let alone make you a skilled manager or leader with a shot at the executive suite. Developing skills such as decision making, management, and leadership takes real practice and experience, which business schools can’t provide in the classroom, regardless of how prestigious the program is.
Instead of spending huge sums of money to learn marginally useful information, you can spend your time and resources learning things that actually matter. If you’re ready and able to invest in improving your skills and abilities, you can learn everything you need to know about business on your own, without mortgaging your life for the privilege.

This is an extract from The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman (Portfolio Penguin, 2011). To order now, view The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume for the paperback, for the Kindle edition, view The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume [Kindle Edition] and for the iPad edition, view The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education in a Single Volume [iPad Edition].