Kellogg/Booth MBA vs. Harvard JD for PE Career?

Hey guys have a bit of a unique situation I'd like some insight on.

I'm a PE associate nearing the end of my program and have been offered a senior associate / VP position at my firm post graduate school. I applied to a lot of different schools but was unfortunately dinged at HBS, GSB and Wharton for b-school but was accepted to Kellogg and Booth. I also applied to a few law schools (I considered a JD/MBA) and was accepted to Harvard. My fund is willing to foot the bill for tuition at either.

My initial thought was to take Kellogg (or Booth) as it sounds much more relevant to my career goals, but a few people I've spoken to (both at my firm and elsewhere) have recommended going to Harvard Law instead. Their reasoning was that the MBA is essentially a box to check for LPs and fundraising but doesn't add much value in the way of actual education, and the quality of the network falls off after the top 3 schools (the VPs and directors at my fund are almost all Harvard/Stanford MBAs). They say that there's a "halo" around the Harvard/Stanford name that's much more valuable than the tangible benefits of an MBA in an industry as competitive and prestige-obsessed at PE.

I'm still leaning toward the MBA for lifestyle and opportunity cost reasons, but what are your thoughts on this prestige angle? It seems like having a H/S degree is almost a requirement to reach partnership at a lot of funds and maybe the Harvard degree is worth it from that angle?

Comments (15)

May 31,2017

I don't get why people believe you don't learn anything in business school. With that said, brand trumps all in education so I think they're right

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Best Response
May 31,2017
<span itemprop=name>Predilection</span>:

I don't get why people believe you don't learn anything in business school.

Two reasons: 1) no pre-requisites, and 2) no exit exam.

The range of what people get out of business school depends incredibly on what experience they bring and what they're looking for. There are no academic pre-requisites for an MBA program, so at most programs, that's what you do for the entire first year-- very very basic accounting, economics, finance, statistics, strategy, marketing, etc. It's designed for getting career-switchers (your military guys and Teach For America grads) to catch up to where they can contribute during the second year. Because that's the target level, someone who comes in with a business background is light-years ahead and can sleepwalk through the core courses.

Granted, that's only academically, which is one of many facets of business school. All the others-- leadership training through club positions, teamwork, social network, all the "soft" skills, are entirely up to the individual. Some students take advantage of that opportunity, and some do not.

Keep in mind that academics in business school are not challenging relative to other graduate programs. Also keep in mind that the academic standards for those academics are not stringent. Also keep in mind that most top programs have grade nondisclosure policies. The result is that you can have a student who comes to class, hangs out with classmates, gets involved with clubs, does their homework, and participates in the program, sitting next to someone who takes off for four months to go to Ibiza, and they'll both graduate. There's nothing on the back end of school that serves as a bar to see what you've learned, which is unique-- engineers have the PE exam or a thesis, medicine has a thousand sets of boards, law literally has "the bar," and while all of those are flawed measures of capability, their existence at least motivates some minimum standard of learning. Business school has no equivalent.

tl;dr: People say you don't learn anything in business school because you don't have to. You can, as there are plenty of opportunities to do so, but there's no requirement--so some people learn a ton, and others learn nothing.

May 31,2017

Given that you already have your post-MBA job lined up, I'd lean towards law school, but I can see both sides. That extra year is real. I think the decision comes down to network/lifestyle reasons (MBA) versus tangible knowledge / skills (JD).

The lifestyle aspect could be the deciding factor. Do you have a family or kids? Have you gotten to travel much in the past? I feel like MBA offers a lot of flexibility (due to less rigorous nature and 2 years instead of 3) which might make it a better choice in the context of your life, even if it isn't a decisively better career move.

Another consideration I would have is if you plan on being in PE for a long time. If so, having a JD is great, you could add a ton of value on structuring and papering transactions. However, outside of transactions / law firms, I think a JD would start to lose it's value. For example, if you wanted to move over to industry an MBA would probably be better (so you're labeled as a business guy rather than a legal guy).

tl;dr: I think the JD is *narrowly * a better career decision, but MBA could be better depending choice for you depending on long-term career goals and lifestyle considerations.

May 31,2017

if your fund is footing the bill I would go with whatever they suggest

May 31,2017

Because you've already got great career credentials and are essentially "on track" at your firm, I don't see any downside to pursuing the JD for the name/network in this case, especially with your employer cutting the check. You won't have to deal w/ that big subset of employers who shun JDs at interviews for non-legal positions, you won't have the same stresses (i.e. grades) as other students who actually want to be lawyers and are gunning for prestigious firms or federal clerkships, and HLS have proven to be a bit more portable outside of law and into finance, though of course the B-school network would still be more practical, if not preferable. Are you up for giving up an extra year, though? And do you think you'd like law school? Many, many people do not.

May 31,2017

Agree with most. Go to Harvard Law - no question.

May 31,2017

Law school sucks bro. B school is (relatively) fun bro. Do you want to take 2 years off work or 3? Do you want to enjoy your last time where you don't work a full-time job until retirement or do you want to be pulling all-nighters parsing through legal books in the library? You decide.

May 31,2017

agreed, I wouldn't even be willing to take the opportunity cost of an extra year in school

May 31,2017

@BobTheBaker tough philosophical questions posed here.

May 31,2017

@PEGradSchool11092 I have a multivariable decision making tree on this one, but I would recommend going to HLS and applying for the JDMBA program once you are enrolled. The school tends to look favorably on re-applicants, and a demonstrated track record of success at HLS, along with a PE background, would distinguish you from the other HLS applicants.

  1. Is your PE Fund in NYC or SF? If so, I would go to HLS and apply for the JDMBA. If you are in Chicago, I would go for the local option.
  2. If you want to go back to your prior fund, and plan to stay there long-term, then I would go straight for an MBA.

In reality, the odds you stay at your fund from cradle to grave is small. If you are in the bi-coastal markets of SF and NYC, there are a plethora of HBS and GSB grads. You're network and pedigree is crucial if you will eventually move to another fund. Having a joint degree will provide you with greater flexibility and differentiate you from your peers; I would also recommend looking into Kellogg's JDMBA, a three year program.

As an experienced PE professional, you know the value of understanding the legal nuances of everything from employment agreements, SPAs/APAs, credit agreements, etc. As a VP/Principal, you should be on the front line negotiating all of these things. The value of having a law degree in-house would be viewed very favorably at smaller funds, that can leverage your expertise on deals.

Overall, the decision depends upon a number of factors, including age, undergrad university, location, and your desire to pursue PE as a long-term career.

I'm enrolling at HBS in the fall, so more than happy to talk offline if you want to PM me.

Best of luck and keep us posted!

Father to Junior EightAceTres, the projected top summer analyst in Gleacher's 2034 Investment Banking program.

May 31,2017

I'd go with Booth here. HLS has the better parent name but I don't think much of what you'll learn at HLS will be relevant, not to mention that you'll spend an extra year at school. I don't think law school makes much sense for anyone who doesn't plan on practicing law. As others have mentioned, law school will be pretty miserable while an MBA will be a great lifestyle. Also agreed with the previous poster who stated that you can definitely learn a lot in an MBA program if you want to (and can also coast and learn nothing if you want to given GND).

May 31,2017

Hmm this is a tricky one, on one hand HLS has the brand name and honestly, probably even more of a cache than HBS as law tends to be slightly more respected than business(but that is a subjective opinion). You'd also learn a new skillset in law school and having the degree will be useful in both deal work and just for brand recognition among PE peers. Also as a PE associate, you probably already gotten a pretty good business education through on the job work. So those are my big pros for HLS, better brand recognition, new skillset, opportunity to go to one of the most prestigious schools in the world(not just Harvard, but Harvard law).

Other the other hand, with a spot waiting for you in PE on partner track, you don't really need the pedigree quite as much as while having some legal background is nice, you could easily pick some of that up without grinding for 3 years at HLS. Business school would be way more fun, easier, and you'd pickup a more relevant network than in HLS. Also, a law degree, while nice to have, really won't do a ton for you, especially if you already have a good reputation within the firm. Sure, maybe you will understand some of the legal aspects a little bit better, but at the end of the day you're always going to have legal counsel to do all the heavy lifting, so is three years of your life worth being able to chat with lawyers a little more intelligently?

Overall, it depends on what type of person you are and what you think you want to do down the line. Are you a grinder that has some interest in law? If so, you might actually enjoy law school, especially as you won't have quite as much pressure to keep your grades up.

If you're less passionate about law and think you are ready to settle into your PE firm for a while, take the two years to go to B-School, have a good time, and then roll back into the PE firm. Name brand of your B-School won't matter as much as you're likely not going to switch firms anytime soon and if you've already have a good reputation at the firm, it's not like being marginally better at deal structuring is going to make you that much of a standout. You're always going to have counsel representing you anyways.

Lastly, are you married, single, kids? Do you like to travel, any adventures you'd like to have before going back to work? That could also influence your decision if you've been itching to go on a long trip or something like that.

Best of luck with the decision.

May 31,2017

HLS. If you really find the need for an mba down the road, which I doubt you will, HLS only helps you for executive programs at the schools you were dinged. Like others said, try to get into JD/MBA once you're there.

Jun 30,2017
May 31,2017