Normally I’ve taken the position that an MBA can be well worth the money. Even my arguments that many employers overvalue MBA candidates suggests that the degree may be a very profitable career decision. My article Never Hire an MBA got a lot of attention. I was surprised at the number of people who missed the point of the article, thought I was saying that no one should get an MBA and tried to defend the degree. While there were some well thought out arguments, there were quite a few that were—well lets just say, less well reasoned. Take a look at them for yourself and you’ll see what I mean. Also keep in mind that I moderated quite a few of the really bad ones.
This kind of surprised me. Not that I didn’t expect anyone to disagree, I just figured a disagreement with a bunch of MBA grads would occur on a different level than what I was seeing in the comments. One particular MBA grad called me an idiot, I responded by clarifying my position and asking about his experience, his response was to find a picture of me and called me several other names. While it isn’t uncommon for me to have disagreements with people, this style of argument was something foreign.
Still I had to delete quite a few comments–not because they disagreed with me, not because they called me an idiot, but because they contained language that I didn’t want on my website and didn’t have any discernible point of view once the language was removed. I realize it isn’t fair or accurate to lump every business student into the same group based on the responses of a few individuals, but it did make me start looking into some research regarding the value of business degrees. My results were startling. For example, during the first two years of college, undergraduates who study business show the least improvement in their writing and reasoning skills of any major. If the same thing holds true for graduate business students, it might explain some of the comments I was seeing.
While we are on the subject of undergraduate degrees, I ran into another surprising statistic. The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is typically the test you have to take to get into an MBA program. Lets say you are trying to choose an undergraduate degree based on what will best prepare you for taking the GMAT. Wouldn’t you be interested in avoiding the degree that produces the lowest average scores on the GMAT. For example, if English or History majors got the lowest scores on the GMAT, you might want to study something else. You’d think that studying business would be a safe bet. It’s not. In fact, of all the different degrees, business majors get the lowest scores on the GMAT.
Let that sink in for a moment. What if pre-med students did the worse on medical school admission exams? What if pre-law students were the least qualified to get into law school?
So if the GMAT is a good indication of how well you’ll do in an MBA program and going through an MBA program is a good way to do well in business, then studying business as an undergraduate is the worst possible choice you can make.
Those seem like reasonable assumptions don’t they. Doing well in an MBA program should somewhat correlate with doing well in business right? One would think, but the book Personal MBA pointed me to some research that shows the opposite.
Jeffrey Pfeffer from Stanford and Christina Fong from University of Washington looked at 40 years worth of data to see:
- If possessing an MBA correlated with career success, increased salary, etc.
- If doing well in an MBA was useful in predicting how well one would do in business.
Their idea was that if an MBA degree was valuable, then people with an MBA should have more successful careers than people without one. And, if the skills taught in an MBA program were important to business, then people who had high grades should do better in business than their classmates who had lower grades.