Does Anyone Regret NOT getting a top MBA?

I am quite curious to hear from folks in their early/mid-30s here if folks regret turning down an M7 MBA to continue on in PE/GE/VC (or even a corporate/startup path)

I feel like it's very stylish now to assume it's not necessary, but I've come across stories of career stagnation as well that are interesting. I see two examples

a) Career Stagnation: e.g. MM Growth Equity Principal - realizes he's not getting the material carry he deserves only after turning down Wharton and spending years working at his firm. Struggling to lateral at the moment.

b) "I would have been successful anyways": e.g. VP Strategy at unicorn startup - turned down HBS to work on a great startup. Finds the startup has done well but folks who went to school are getting more looks for large, decacorn startup exec opportunities. Financially well off but realizes he could have taken a 2 year vacation, made friends, and done well regardless. Not a 'regret' necessarily, but more of a realization later in their career that he could have taken the detour and wonders what could have happened.

Not that these folks really 'regret' their paths, but career stagnation can happen and those stories don't really get told a lot - I'm curious what folks have seen at their firms and in their industry. Usually, conversations on regret are personal and folks rarely talk about that even with close friends, but still - think this is an interesting way to frame the age-old question of whether an MBA is worth it.

Comments (63)

  • Associate 1 in PE - Other
Jan 5, 2022 - 2:37pm

Following

To play devil's advocate, how did these folks know that the lack of MBA was the driving reason of their 'stagnation'? i.e. if they had gone to W, it's possible to think that their lateral opps in venture / growth would be greater if they had gone to the GSB? Maybe folks who went to school aren't getting more looks for exec roles due to HBS, but because many HBS folks have worked at MBB and MBB experience at some level is valued in startup ops? 

Totally fair points you bring up and would love to hear from folks who've gone / foregone the MBA, just wanted to spark some conversation

  • VP in PE - Growth
Jan 5, 2022 - 7:56pm

Yeah so of course it's impossible to know, I do feel like if you got into these schools, forewent the opportunity, and reflected on it even a while later you'd either be

a) Happy you didn't go ("I got promoted and am way ahead")

b) Ambivalent ("meh, probably worked out")

c) Have some twinge of regret or at least have reflected on it. ("I

More of a question on if there are any folks in Bucjet C. Impossible to attribute the success directly MBA/not MBA to your point.

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Jan 5, 2022 - 5:09pm

Not in my 30s but have decided to forgo the MBA - think it can cut both ways.  One of my colleagues is a Wharton grad, is sitting across from me as a senior associate (despite having PE experience), and we're on track for similar promotion timeline. Have another former co-worker from HBS in a similar position.  You could make the argument he got the two year vacation+network advantage, but how much is that worth if you're in the same seat as someone who got there without the MBA price tag/opportunity cost?

Even though it's more competitive now than ever, I don't know if the non-HBS pedigree is worth it but maybe I'm just self-rationalizing. 

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jan 5, 2022 - 5:48pm

I think same cuts true with VC/Growth and GSB, or Entrepreneurship in GSB (e.g., think about fundraising as a 2yr post-GSB entrepreneur who made lots of friends in school... you have at least 30+ meetings guaranteed). Or think about a VC investor who spent their time at GSB hanging around the halls of the CS building and now some CS students or professors wanting to commercialize their research need to call someone. You may well be among their first handful of calls.

  • Managing Director in IB-M&A
Jan 5, 2022 - 8:26pm

Honestly, I see the opposite trend now.

There seem to be a lot of guys who get the Principal promote - even at Megafunds - without an MBA.

A guy from my analyst class (GS/MS) is now a Principal at a Megafund, and he never got an MBA. His undergrad was from a CUNY/SUNY.

There's another guy who did his undergrad at Iowa State University who made Principal at KKR recently, without ever getting an MBA.

I have seen several others from a non-prestigious undergrad become Principal at Megafunds without an MBA.

Having said that, if you truly feel this worried about it, then just go for an MBA.

Jan 7, 2022 - 12:18am
BoutiqueBaboon, what's your opinion? Comment below:

No views on the main topic, but I think I know who you're talking about and that kid was an absolute understated rockstar.

If you're reading this, shout out to freshmen year last row art history

2020 Update: recounting my experiences in PE and sharing thoughts on recent deals at https://leverup.substack.com
  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Jan 7, 2022 - 8:10pm

This has to be one of the most obscure connection and most idiosyncratic situation I've ever seen on this website lol

Funniest
  • Associate 3 in IB - Gen
Jan 10, 2022 - 11:07pm

Sup man. I miss holding hands. Thank you for helping me realize I'm not straight. I was always so ashamed of being gay but ever since meeting you in that ridiculous class I am not afraid to show it. I'm very happy with how things are going for you and your future looks really bright. Keep on working hard.

Jan 29, 2022 - 7:11am
TheBuellerBanker, what's your opinion? Comment below:

It's really not that uncommon anymore. For the past few years, tons of funds have been okay with promoting without an MBA. An exception which comes to mind is Blackstone as far as I know but definitely APO/KKR etc are making direct promotes to VP/Principal for their rockstars - who let's be honest should have been promoted anyway. From a PE professional standpoint, an MBA certainly has diminishing value

  • 1
Feb 8, 2022 - 10:59am
Pulisic69, what's your opinion? Comment below:

manz went from Iowa State -> Barclays (got VP around time COVID began) -> and got into principal role.  I thought vast majority of MF principals are promoted internally?  Or maybe this one of those super rare cases. 

Jan 5, 2022 - 10:22pm
zeroebitda, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Only 3 reasons to get an MBA 1. to rest and reset 2. to rebrand and broaden network 3. to pivot to a new career. If you don't see yourself needing 1 or more of these there is no need to waste your money. Like others have said, plenty of people nowadays make it to Partner/MD without it. 

Jan 6, 2022 - 12:23pm
jarstar1, what's your opinion? Comment below:

These are my thoughts, too. I didn't go to an M7, but a T15 and it was absolutely essential to getting to where I am now. I've seen so many people in construction try to make it over to development and simply can't because they don't have the finance knowledge. Every single one I know who did got a masters of some sort. 

Jan 5, 2022 - 11:03pm
SaaSChimp, what's your opinion? Comment below:

My 2c - this is an incredibly individual-specific question. I doubt someone is being passed over for a promotion specifically because they don't have an MBA (i.e., once already hired, this isn't a "I'd prefer XYZ bio on my website question"); however, by comparison, a peer with an MBA might be viewed by the firm as more well-rounded or actually higher performing at the job given the skills acquired (2 years of additional maturity, broader network from MBA that helps with deal sourcing/banker relationships/inter-firm network, soft skills from leadership training and personal development, etc.). Similarly, the anecdotal individuals who excel without an MBA may inherently index high on stereotypically MBA-learned skills and therefore not need the degree, but it's hard to argue that the relevant skills/learnable traits are altogether optional in this job.

Jan 6, 2022 - 2:00am
tech_monkey, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I don't regret it. It's a big decision. I was stuck in a role at a company I didn't like and felt like the rebranding and pivoting could be beneficial and it was. 

Jan 6, 2022 - 4:16am
JoeCamel, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Was really indifferent when it came to opportunity cost. With current life expectancy trends, most of us will live till 100 and work till our 70s...

Did ivy undergrad, but still went for the M7 MBA. Wanted time to reassess what I wanted in life, take a break, etc. Lot of people go to find a spouse also if they didn't meet their significant other in undergrad.

Having an MBA helps to raise money too, although not necessary. Have a lot of friends from my ivy league undergrad going specifically to an MBA program to incubate some sort of idea or venture. 

Array

  • 3
  • Prospect in IB - ECM
Jan 6, 2022 - 6:08am

are you people really still meeting with long-term sigificant other in undergrad, or is the period of time you are referring to a decade ago?

Jan 6, 2022 - 6:38am
JoeCamel, what's your opinion? Comment below:

are you people really still meeting with long-term sigificant other in undergrad, or is the period of time you are referring to a decade ago?

I graduated recently. Standard work experience before the mba.

Most of my friends met their significant other in undergrad and are getting married now (or soon) 

Array

  • 1
Jan 6, 2022 - 6:38am
JoeCamel, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Double post

Array

  • Analyst 1 in S&T - Comm
Jan 6, 2022 - 8:16am

Im a trader at a top BB looking to lateral into the macro space or a trading house - I'd be very surprised if an MBA made even the slightest difference to my life.

Most Helpful
Jan 6, 2022 - 8:50am
throaway92, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I turned down (well deferred) HBS two years ago during COVID and while I don't regret my decision I have some mixed thoughts:

a) Lots of my pre-MBA friends went and made a lot of cool new friends during the time there (even during COVID). I have a great social circle of undergrad + local friends but our priorities have changed and often times your friends can change a lot in your late 20s - grad school, in general, gives you a new batch of similarly valued, interesting people to meet. 

b) I'm in tech (VC). The MBA still has signaling value, but it isn't essential. There are still doors HBS opens to larger funds (Sequoia, Kleiner, etc.) but the majority of folks at those firms don't have MBAs and were usually strong undergrads ---> stellar career or worked like crazy/had a few lucky breaks at a startup operator.

c) The value of the MBA has really declined in the past 5-7 years. Just as many folks who don't have an MBA in startup world or even at Amazon/MSFT/Google, etc. will judge you for having put up $200k+ to go party (their perception, not mine). The whole anti-MBA thing is probably a combination of the tech bull market + I think a lot of these top programs are trying to construct diverse candidates who pursue entrepreneurship 

d) If you are going to a top MBA program and you don't need it, you're going to either make friends, to de-risk yourself or for prestige. Most I think are in the latter two camps. I could potentially have a point in life where I take a big pay cut and leave venture, but I'm not sure HBS would have de-risked me anymore besides giving me a few more places to interview potentially. 

On the flip side - I think a lot of folks don't/can't regret their MBA because it's like regretting going to undergrad in some sense - it's such an ingrained part of your life.

I think once you take prestige out of the equation (so instead of saying 'Top MBA', say 'grad school'), it makes you think a lot clearer about these choices IMHO

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Jan 6, 2022 - 12:25pm

How many years out of undergrad did you apply? Also in VC/GE and thinking about when it makes sense to apply

Jan 6, 2022 - 12:29pm
chihayafull, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I can't point to a single person who has regretted skipping the MBA based on lack of career progression, nor can I think of a single person who regretted getting an MBA from a reputable program. This is coming from people who have been coming from IB / PE - honestly, I've seen some people go from IB -> B School -> back into IB. Furthermore, you still see a massive amount of people returning into the Sr. Assoc / VP role 2 years later than their peers because they wanted to go to B School, oftentimes at funds that are not "better" than the one that they are coming from. Candidly, I'm only going to B School because I'm just burnt from the industry and need the time, but am unwilling to just travel for 2 years with nothing to show for it.

The only aspects that people regret about not getting their MBA is having 2 free years to explore, make friends, and take a break from finance. Not a material impact on career opportunity unless they're pivoting. They realized that in terms of lifetime earnings and long-term career, 2 years of lost income isn't actually a whole lot, and it's really difficult to just randomly take 2 years off to "explore" when you're in your mid-thirties (not saying I haven't seen it done).

  • Prospect in S&T - Other
Jan 6, 2022 - 8:01pm

What are the benefits of getting an MBA?

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Jan 6, 2022 - 9:28pm

Curious to hear other's thoughts specifically around the network - for those who skipped the MBA, have you found yourself in situations where you regretted not having the network? How irreplaceable is the MBA network vs what you build on your own during your time in PE? Assuming the shop you're at is giving you the direct promote option.

I feel like at the end of the day, people self rationalize whatever decision they make, and I'm sure it generally works out okay.

Jan 6, 2022 - 11:31pm
earthwalker7, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I can tell you I regret going to a sub-7 MBA.  I went to a school ranked #10 at the time, and which has bounced between #12 and #9 slots in recent years. I don't get the credit for the degree to the same extent as my undergrad, which was a top tier school. It's a tough thing to sit out and re-apply, but it's worth it. Never settle. Keep an eye on the prize and don't settle. Don't ever settle. You only get one shot at an MBA.

Jan 7, 2022 - 1:12am
JoeCamel, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Man, really? Do you think your life would have been different if you went to an M7 or H/S? Bill Hwang went to tepper and did just fine.

Went to a top target also and "settled" for an M7. You create your own destiny in life... school you go to doesn't mean anything. Was thinking of taking another year off to apply to H/S, but decided not to... got sick of my job and wanted to keep moving on with my life. 

Array

Jan 8, 2022 - 12:56am
earthwalker7, what's your opinion? Comment below:

That's not what I'm saying. I did just fine getting into IB and then PE.  However I don't think my MBA made much of a difference.  I went to b-school at 24. I was waitlisted at M7s but an extra year of pre-MBA REPE work would have helped. My point is that holding out for an extra year can be worth it, especially if you want the MBA to be meaningful. I don't think an MBA has the same value if it's outside of the M7; it's then just a handful of classes and a grad degree. The network and prestige of a non-M7 MBA is just not greatly worth it. 

Mar 27, 2022 - 12:46pm
Fingerling Potatoes, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This advice wouldn't make sense to me until I experienced it first hand. At a T10 school currently, wish I aimed higher and applied to lower M7's tbh. The general alumni response rate (low), variety and quality of in-semester internships and lack of support for entrepreneurship are pretty disheartening.

Jan 7, 2022 - 11:59am
NPV123, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I got a low tier state school MBA to meet the educational hour requirement to receive my CPA license. This was before I knew anything about the importance of elite programs. I'm the first person in my family to ever get a masters degree. My dad was the first in his family to ever get a bachelors degree.

Ever since I joined this forum, I've sort of regretted my prestige-less MBA. In hindsight I would've just picked up a few extra courses to receive my hours then attempted to get an M7 MBA later on.

Mar 27, 2022 - 11:27am
NPV123, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This comment was before I broke into PE. Could care less about an MBA now haha

Jan 8, 2022 - 5:45am
Pizz, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I wholly regret pursuing the CFA instead of the MBA (I only passed the first two levels, and failed the third once, and gave up). If I had to re do it again, I would've done an MBA because it would've been a nice (albeit expensive) vacation, and my social life probably would've been waaayy better. Also probably a lot more high-value pussy.  Anyways, if anyone knows how to travel back in time, DM me. 

Jan 20, 2022 - 4:02pm
BedfordStreet, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Following. I applied and was accepted to HSW in 2020, but I deferred due to personal circumstances. I've since made VP (BB bank) and have been agonizing lately over whether to attend this coming year. My original MBA plan was to: 1) network and make friends; 2) explore other career paths; 3) take a break from work. With the promotion and the various exit ops I've been looking at recently, the opportunity cost just seems too astronomical. There's also the point that if I do go and get an MBA, I'll probably end up in a role and with a title no better than what I could probably find right now. I feel like I've worked hard to make VP at my age, and don't really want to give up the lead, if you will. I don't want to turn down this MBA as all the above rationale still apply, but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to justify going. 

Are you in a similar position?

Jan 20, 2022 - 8:31pm
chihayafull, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Are you able to "secure" a VP offer post-MBA at the bank? I've seen it happen at boutiques when someone goes Associate 2/3 --> B School --> VP (prior arrangement). If possible, it could some good insurance or a middle ground, as you'll be "ahead" of your MBA peers while only slightly behind those that started as Analyst. I see finance people do MBA and then pivot to a finance/strategy role in Tech, so I would imagine that's what many people do. Like you said, your reasonings for doing an MBA aren't explicitly career-oriented, so it feels like you still get the same value from an MBA which appears mostly related to personal well-being.

Jan 21, 2022 - 11:24am
JBanksohn, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I have given thought to this for quite some time.

A few years ago, I was in the position of preparing to apply to an MBA program while navigating the job search market. My plan was to get situated with a job and then apply for an MBA in round 2 of the following year. Those plans kinda went to the wayside when I found a few post-MBA roles.

At this point, it would be nonsensical for me to apply for an MBA for a variety of reasons (an executive MBA would probably make more sense in a few years), but I still think about it from time to time but not regretfully given where I am in my career and life today.

Authored by: Certified Corporate Development Professional - Director
  • 2
  • VP in PE - LBOs
Jan 24, 2022 - 1:14pm

Mixed feelings to be honest. I do regret it at the moment. Quite a bit lately. Primary regrets are loss of prestige (just being honest) and that I'm currently in a spot that I no longer think is right for me - so it's really easy to fantasize and say things would have been better had I taken the other route. Which isn't a knowable thing (it could have been better, worse, or the same) and it certainly isn't a rational belief. But despite knowing that, that's the honest answer about how I feel currently. Hopefully my feelings on it change over time once I get to a better spot, and I do think that they will.

  • Principal in PE - Other
Jan 24, 2022 - 6:27pm

Everyone knows life is meaningless without a Top MBA.

I did an executive MBA at an M7 which provided a nice mix of getting the school experience / accelerating the learning curve / and networking. For me the cost of full time both hard dollars and opportunity cost was just too outrageous and this was a nice middle ground without having to give up my seat. The one thing you don't get is the break, it's exactly the opposite and the program is super taxing especially if you're already in IB/PE. While the program is tailored for experienced professionals trying to move up within their organization, I was very surprised by the number of students that ended up pivoting during the program. That said I had employer support and probably wouldn't have done it at all if I had to pay full boat 

  • Principal in PE - Other
Mar 6, 2022 - 8:26pm

Average age in my program was about 32 with most students between 30 and 34. Plenty of older and younger candidates though. I think VP is a good time to go probably right before principal promote using the MBA to further accelerate the "soft" skills and extend your network,  No hard and fast rule though. 

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Jan 28, 2022 - 12:12am

Really find it puzzling how people decide NOT to pursue further education based on the prospect of being 2 years behind. What's 2 years in the context of a career? I for one got an MBA (HSW) and can say that it not only helped expand my network substantially, but most importantly I made a lot of friends with very diverse backgrounds. It doesn't even compare to undergrad. If you don't want an MBA because of the outright costs and the hustle of applying I get it, but fear of being behind is really ridiculous.

Jan 29, 2022 - 7:16am
TheBuellerBanker, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I've faced this mental dilemma recently. I went to a very non-target school, got into IB and then MF PE and am now working my dream role but it always crosses my mind that if I were to get let go or something, would not having a brand name school hurt my resume despite my work exp? 

Jan 30, 2022 - 9:59am
chromium73, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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  • Incoming Analyst in PE - Growth
Mar 7, 2022 - 5:04pm

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