Why I Didn’t Go to a Top Tier MBA Program

by Kevin on June 5, 2009

Yesterday I gave you some tips on how to pick an MBA program. I feel somewhat qualified to give advice in this area because I just went through it.

I graduate in August and hope not to set foot back into a classroom (at least one that I’m paying to be in!) for quite some time.

Today I’ll share with you why I picked the school I ended up going to for my MBA.

The Cost of Attending a Top Tier Graduate School

These were the things we considered as we tried to select a graduate school for me:

  • We didn’t want to move. I had been in my new job for a year and my wife had just landed her first teaching job. We could have moved, but really didn’t want to.
  • We were looking to buy a house. Again, we could do this in another town so we needed to make a decision on my MBA program before we made any commitments on a home.
  • We didn’t want to go into debt. Here’s a big shocker! This personal finance blogger didn’t want to carry the $100,000 in debt that would be required to go to a top school.
  • We didn’t want to lose my income. Living off of a teacher’s salary while moving to a new city with new (potentially higher) living costs was not a thing we were openly embracing.

Full-time programs (typically those at the top are full-time) require you to take 2 years off from work. Your studying is your work. The benefit of all this hard work is you’re pretty much guaranteed a great job somewhere in a huge megacorporation. Many of those MBA programs were funneling students into Wall Street before the financial crisis.

Compared to part-time programs that still finished in the same period of time we felt there wasn’t much of a benefit to the top-tier schools.

The Upside to Small or Part-Time Graduate Programs

The upsides to smaller or part-time schools mirror the costs of a top tier school:

  • We wouldn’t have to move
  • We could continue to live in our current city
  • We wouldn’t have to go into 6 figures worth of debt
  • We wouldn’t lose my income

Win, win, win, and win. We technically went into debt, but my employer is going to end up paying for about 2/3rds of the overall cost — another benefit of keeping my job.

My program is small… about 100-130 students. Many of them are paid for by employers and thus are taking their time and spreading the costs over multiple years. I’m knocking my studies out in two years, then I’ll owe one additional year to my employer. (If I left before then I would have to pay back some of the money they gave me, which is fair.)

I’ve been able to keep working and growing with my current employer and will get a heavily discounted education because of it. It’s a great deal.

The only downside is my school doesn’t have the same “name brand” as Harvard or Duke. Yet in our area the name does mean something. I’m not planning to move too far away any time soon, so hopefully potential future employers will know my school’s name.

It’s been an interesting ride. One I’m ready to finish! Woohoo!

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June 15, 2009 at 8:25 am


Corporate Barbarian June 8, 2009 at 12:08 pm

First, congratulations on getting your MBA! It’s something to be proud of. I didn’t go to a “top tier” school, either. My company paid for my tuition. I continued to work full-time, and went to school at night. I couldn’t afford not to work, either. The only things that I paid for were books and college fees. A few years later, at another job, I worked with a guy that got his MBA from Notre Dame. He went full-time, had to quit his current job, and paid for tuition through student loans. So, we basically held the same job, yet he owed student loans, while I was free of any education debt. A more expensive MBA from a top tier school isn’t always the answer.

brooklynchick June 8, 2009 at 1:12 pm

I couldn’t agree more. I went to a local, public university at night – year-round for three years, and I got an MBA for about $3,000 from me and about $15,000 from my employer (Santa even bought some of my textbooks).

I have no school debt, I have an MBA, and I am making six figures!

Kevin June 11, 2009 at 8:55 pm

@Corporate Barbarian: Thanks! That’s pretty much what I did. Mine was 2 nights per week, 4 hours per night when I first started. Then switched to one night per week, 2 hours per night, but a longer term. I’ve not only kept my job, but I’ve made more money (not a ton more, but more) while getting my education.

@brooklynchick: Your number are really close to mine once I factor in books and things like that. I honestly — and this is bad — don’t know how much exactly I have in loans because I’ve got the money just sitting aside in a bank account ready to pay it off when needed.

scott August 16, 2009 at 4:44 pm

I agree. I am planning on starting my MBA program in a few weeks. I’ve been researching the benefit of an MBA and everyone talks about the opportunity costs vs the outcome. My company will reimburse for successful semesters. I’m thinking if you can have your cake and eat it too, why not? I’m planning on doing the program in 3 years to allow my company to pay for it.
I also fee that it may be something i will need in the future and if I can knock it out before kids and a midlife crisis, I might as well. Am I off on this?

Josh October 24, 2009 at 10:34 pm

The difference will be noticeable when you move to a top tier firm, and you’re competing for promotions with people from some of the top tier schools. Even if you have slightly to moderate better job performance, the Ivy grad will get first dibs on promotions. There is a certain prestige in identifying where your MBA came from. In many cases we study, the manager’s MBA school is listed shortly after their name. Just my two cents.

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