Considering an MBA? Read this.

Discovering why an MBA might be right for you, and how to choose a Business School.

Choosing to do an MBA or not is a tough call to make. The decision is made even harder by the fact that they are offered by most universities, can be hugely expensive and have the potential to change your life. MBA Notes is about using the insights from my journey to help you make an informed decision about whether or not an MBA is for you.

This article is the beginning, part one. It’s the context of my choice, it’s the reasons why. We all have our own story tell, with our own personal answers, and our own sources of motivation but there’s some common questions we can ask ourselves to try and find a pathway through.

As a curious person by nature I’ve become a true generalist by design. In my lifelong quest to understand the world around me and to figure out the how and why of it all, I’ve unconsciouly plotted a route into becoming a professional problem solver. I did an undergraduate degree in business and developed a keen interest and focus in economics. Now fast approaching the big 30th birthday and panicking about where I’m at in my career I decided I wanted, needed a challenge. I wanted to learn more and I wanted to earn more.

I figured it’s time to kick my career up a gear, or start looking for projects, community initiatives or consulting work to be apart of — either way it was time to do more. Currently working for a global investment bank I found myself trying to decide whether I become a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), a Chartered Accountant (CA), do a Master of Economics or complete a Master of Business Administration (MBA). A very tough call, and one that thousands of people find themselves in. The decision on what to study was becoming increasingly more difficult as post graduate degrees are becoming more common and in a bizarre way less valuable but more important to have.

Why an MBA?

After months of thinking, talking to people, agonizing and wondering what to do, I decided to take the plunge. I applied to do an MBA at the University of Sydney, Australia. I’d reached a point where I needed to make a decision. I’d been reflecting and planning what I’d like to do and achieve over the next 2–5 years. Working back from 35 I realised I’d probably want to have started a family, I’d possibly want to live overseas and if I wanted to complete a 2 year course then I’d better get started ASAP. Studying, working and starting a family sounded like a terrifying and sleepless prospect, so I made the leap.

It wasn’t just a sense of urgency that drove my decision but a process of discovery where I found what I didn’t want to do. As funny as it sounds, finding out what you don’t want to do is almost as important as figuring out what you want. This process of discovery started by looking inwards. I figured I had to understand who I was and where I wanted to go to know which program was best for me to do.

  • What is my personality type and my personal strengths/weaknesses?
    I did the Myers Briggs quiz here and also did some critical self reflection
  • What skills do I want to develop and what skills do I need?
    Do I want to develop new skills, build on skills and/or what skills do I need for the roles I want in the future.
  • What do I want to do and where do I want to go?
    Do I want to be a leader/manager or do I want to be a technical specialist?

After a little bit of self discovery I was still pretty much clueless. However, I did realise that I didn’t want to do a CFA or CA. They were too technical and led to roles that were specialising in pure finance or accounting. The specialist path way didn’t play to my strengths of problem solving, big picture thinking, communicating and my broad experience. So I’d narrowed it down to two courses, the MBA and the Masters of Economics. But a random third option began to appear.

I could study individual units online for content knowledge and expertise, and attend conferences to build my networking. This would be practical and far cheaper than any of the alternatives which made it pretty appealing. So I spoke to a few more people to gather some information and I attended a couple of the course ‘taster’ sessions and open days. I was starting to form an answer.

The Univerisity & The Course

Now, I have to make a confession here. I didn’t exactly go to the best school to get my undergraduate degree. I got good marks but it wasn’t a school anyone out of Melbourne, Australia would really know. I wasn’t going to make that mistake with post graduate study. I figured if I was going to study I had to study at the best school I could get into. It needed to make an impact.

Months had passed by where I had been trawling the internet for information on MBA’s and Economics degrees. I’d looked at courses in the U.S., U.K., Europe, Singapore, Australia and China. I was heavily leaning towards the LSE or Chicago Booth to do Economics or possibly Economic History. I also had Oxford Said, Harvard Business and Harvard Kennedy Schools bouncing around in my head.

I knocked out the Master of Economics because I didn’t want to be confined to being a ‘policy wonk’, academic or purely theoretical. I love the world around us, the human aspect and understanding how we come together. There are very practical parts of economics but I also knew I could commercialise or leverage my economic knowledge into other use and secretly, I still think I could potentially end up doing a PhD in the field. So I’d narrowed it down to doing an MBA. I wanted to be leader, I wanted to work with diverse teams, solve problems, innovate, create, and make a difference. I wanted to be a professional generalist, a professional problem solver but I had no clue what that meant. How do you become a professional problem solver? How do you become a leader or innovator? How do you build a personal brand that enables you to work on great projects?

Well an MBA should teach me that.

Choosing a university became surprisingly easy. It had to be internationally recognised and there’s a tonne of information available on MBA courses. The course had to have a good reputation and good feedback from Alumni. There’s a few rankings to look at:

  • AACSB Accreditation
  • AMBA Accreditation
  • EQUIS Accreditation
  • Financial Times (FT) Rankings
  • Bloomberg Rankings
  • The Economist Rankings
  • The Australian Financial Review Rankings

After looking at all the rankings I had developed a wish list and it was now time to narrow it down. So I asked myself a few questions.

Where do I want to live/where is my partner and family?
Can I afford the tuition and associated fees?
Is this a course for me?

After answering these quick questions I quickly found out that I either had to study in Australia or do an international course that was broken into intensive blocks. One of the important things when choosing a course was being able to still work and being able to build a good network.

Some of these MBA programs have hundreds of students which can make it difficult to build meaningful relationships with fellow students. A smaller more intimate program seemed to have more opportunity to build close relationships that would create real value. Full Time, Part-Time or Intensive?

I chose to study part time because I couldn’t afford the risk of a year out of work and purely studying. I wanted to hedge my bets and continue to build my network and body of work at my employer. The intensives were quite appealing but incredibly expensive so that ruled them out for me.

I ended applying and getting into the University of Sydney Part Time MBA program. A triple accredited, high ranking university and supported by a faculty who had transitioned from an FT and Economist Top 20 program two years ago to University of Sydney to run the course. The part time course when I applied was/is limited to 50 students which meant I’d be able to build meaningful connections. It was also focused on experiential learning.

My ultimate decision

Teaching styles I’d discovered were really important. You could find programs that were content driven and involved lectures and exams, or immersive experiential courses, online courses, or practical case study led courses. It’s important to understand the delivery and teaching style of the program to know if it suits your learning style and the outcome that you want.

If you want to just get the MBA done as quickly as possible then online courses may be the go. Understanding whether they deliver night classes, weekends or during the day is important if you’re trying to assess work-life-study balance.

Starting the Course

Starting the course and paying for the course are some pretty big challenges in their own right. I’d suggest you look into a few options and apply for what you can as you don’t know if you don’t try.

  • Personal funding (savings)
  • Government funding
  • Employer funding
  • Scholarships (university, business councils, local organisations e.g Rotary)

I found a way to fund my course and it’s a combination of options. Having started the course I know it’s money well spent and it feels like the right place to be.

The course is intense and hard work. It takes a big time investment but you know what, I’m really enjoying it. I’ve met some intelligent, friendly, and great people, I’ve already learnt a bit about myself, about leadership and business, and I can see how a good MBA program can really change your life.

It’s the network, it’s the knowledge and it’s the skills.

But you don’t get any of those if you don’t get involved, if you don’t put yourself out there, and work hard. I hope MBA Notes: Part One has been helpful and I look forward to putting together Part Two where I’ll start to explore life as an MBA student. What it’s like to work full time and study an MBA.

If you have any questions then please feel free to comment, and if there is anything you’d like to see analysis on or read about in the future then let me know.

Also, please note that this article does not represent financial advice or the views of any organization; it is only the opinion and analysis of the writer.

Thank you for reading.

Chris Leeson

Bringing finance and economics to you with a focus on in-depth analysis and everyday life.

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