Lots of people may tell you that you should get an MBA education, but the reality is that an MBA is not for everyone. I wish to share my own recent experience as an example of why I decided not to attend business school this year.

This Fall I was supposed enroll in a top business school as a full-time MBA student.  When I received my letter of acceptance in the Spring, it was a sweet realization of a dream that I had since graduating from college: to one day attend business school.  In college I thought that an MBA would be my ticket to a satisfying career and to becoming rich.


And I still believe that an MBA can have a lot of value for your career.  In a 2005 publication, two researchers compared the average salaries of MBAs versus college-educated non-MBAs over a 30-year career (Antony Davies and Thomas Cline, The ROI on the MBA, BizEd, January/February 2005)

Their results appear compelling.  At the prime of their careers, MBA-educated workers on average earn roughly twice the salary of non-MBA, college-educated workers.  The researchers go on to state that getting a plain-vanilla MBA today is like receiving a tax-free, cash award of more than a half million dollars.

While the prospects for post-MBA wealth are appealing to me, I've come to conclude that business school is not for me, at least for now.  Here are my reasons:

  1. 1.      I like what I'm doing right now.  If I were to graduate from an MBA program, I would wish go back to what I'm doing now.  I'm not interested in becoming a banker or consultant.  I am a Silicon Valley nerd and I enjoy being poor while developing new businesses from scratch.  At the moment, I think that the experiential learning gained from running my businesses would do more for me than putting these projects on hold to go back to school.
  2. 2.      I've made life changes recently that may conflict with business school.  In late June I married my college sweetheart.  While she is an incredible woman and highly supportive, I believe that the first year of any marriage is generally a difficult transition.  Coupling this with the demands of business school could have an adverse effect on the health of my marriage.  Not to say that it couldn't be done, but I'm just not sure I have the intestinal fortitude.
  3. 3.      I have a small window for taking risks in my career.  Related to getting married, at some point in the next three years, I want to have a child with my wife.  And when I have that child, I know that my risk profile is going to change dramatically, where I will likely want a steady job, steady pay, and great family benefits.  The next three years is my time to take some big risks as an entrepreneur.  Thus, two years at school right now presents a major opportunity cost.

I think that too many people apply to business school without fully understanding what they will get out of an MBA.  Here are three things to think about for all prospective applicants:

  1. 1.      Know that you'll be fine if you don't get an MBA.  Some industries like consulting or finance may have glass ceilings for folks who don't have MBA degrees.  But in general, if you're smart, work hard, and perform in your job, then you'll have a great career.  Also, take salary statistics with a grain of salt-if you are amazing, then you will be compensated amazingly.
  2. 2.      Honestly assess how an MBA will benefit you.  Surprisingly, not many people have good answers about what an MBA will specifically do to help their career.  There are many good reasons to go (education, network, career advancement, career change, etc.) but don't apply simply because you're bored at work or feel peer pressure.  Be clear about what you want to gain from your MBA experience.
  3. 3.      Make sure your family and significant other are on your side.  The life of a business school student is ridiculously hectic.  Especially in the first year, don't expect any work-life balance.  Your decision to attend business school should be made by you, your significant other, and your kids together.

Don't get me wrong-I am still a big proponent of MBA education (obviously, as a guy who helps people get into MBA programs) and I still think that business school can be a transformative experience, both professionally and personally.   However, I also recognize that it's not always a prudent choice for some.

Despite the fact that I will not be attending business school this Fall, one silver lining is that the masochistic application process taught me a lot about myself and my values.  Applying gave me an opportunity to really understand my goals, which ultimately led to the heart-wrenching decision not to attend.  In a few years though, I may decide to reapply.

About the Author:

Eric Bahn is the founder of Beat The GMAT, one of the world's most comprehensive resources for GMAT prep and MBA admissions.  Visitors to Beat The GMAT can enjoy free expert articles, forum discussions, prep material, and more.