The MBA degree and a purpose-driven career

MBA degree candidates discussing at a whiteboard

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The MBA degree and a Purpose-Driven Career

A year ago, I remember there was no shortage of gloomy articles being written about the future of graduate degrees. Many focused on the cost of tuition, confinement of student debt, and how that money could be used elsewhere.

When I was finishing college, I remember the feeling of both triumph and urgency to get into the “real world” after spending most of my life in school. Then nearly a year later, I reflect on how much I wanted to quit my first real job to go back to school.

In hindsight, those five years between completing undergrad and entering business school part-time, is time that I now wouldn’t trade for the world. Things I learned about, in which school played no part: work, the world, life, relationships, myself.

Humans need to learn and grow

Learning and self-improvement are innate and important human needs, like eating, breathing, or sleeping. The success of brands like Masterclass proves that people love to learn, and we’re seeking new ways to do so. We won’t likely know until later this year how total MBA applications fared during COVID-19. So far the signs are clear: now is the ideal time for self-investment while the market sorts itself out.

When I was hired by my current employer, I remember meeting a leader who I looked up to; this man had landed some big name clients, he was well-known across the company, and had attended a top ten MBA program. When I asked him his advice about going back to business school, he said, “For our parents, high school degrees were table stakes, and college degrees made you stand out.” He continued, “for our generation, the college degree is the baseline, but doesn’t offer that same standout factor that a graduate degree can.”

While that point puzzled me at first, I have since learned and seen firsthand the opportunities the alumni from my MBA program have had been able to access. Opportunities not available to people who attended a traditional four-year undergraduate program.

In the same breath, it is important to note it is absolutely not clear that the MBA degree is worth the money in every situation; nor is same degree from every school treated equally. A six figure education is not a blanket solution for everyone. Especially not when in the middle of the program, you could decide you’d rather use that money to start a nonprofit, create a new business, or pursue a more creative career.

My advice for those wanting to know whether to pursue an MBA?

Don’t confuse continuing education as a time to find your sense of purpose. Graduate career centers (and admissions offices) have a harder time understanding how to coach you, if you don’t have a general direction for where you want your career to go. That doesn’t mean you have to know your dream company up front, or the right position that will fulfill you; but starting with the end in mind will offer a more direct path to start chasing your career goals.  

If you don’t know what you want to do in life, grad school may not get you there any faster than a first job or having the right mentor. Meeting people of all backgrounds, networking at business and social events (and even on LinkedIn) and hearing authentic stories can help clarify your path—as it has for me, time and again. Great coaches and mentors along the way will provide thoughtful, useful feedback; and even more if you have something to give back.

While we hope that by this summer, avoiding social gatherings and neglecting normal life will be a memory; there will inevitably be more disruptions throughout our lives. The future is uncertain. There is no time like the present to get started in your search for passion and purpose. In doing the leg work now, perhaps you’ll find an MBA or another advanced degree will accelerate your career; or perhaps there’s something else getting in the way of your ideal future. Whatever that “thing” is, spend the time trying to figure it out now, and your future self will thank you.

Students in an MBA degree program
The MBA degree and a Purpose-Driven Career

Looking for more advice on deciding to pursue your MBA? Not sure how involved the application process is? Read about how to decide and understand what applying looks like.

Interested in contributing to MBAchic? Come share your advice and experiences with our community!

Images by PxHere, MBAchic and Chris Hamrick

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  1. So good – business school won’t give you your “purpose” the way college might. Really enjoyed this piece and it’s the perfect lead-in to our Clubhouse chat on Tuesday!

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