MBA Costs $500,000 -- Worth It?

That seems to be the cost -- each year of MBA costs roughly $100,000, when you throw in room and board... so two years of that equals 200k, and then you've got the opportunity cost of losing out on let's say $150,000 per year in salary for years 3-4 after graduating college (seems like a fairly conservative estimate for IB)... this
300k in lost salary brings the total cost of an MBA to $500,000.

For those of you who have gone on to get an MBA... do you feel it was worth it?

Comments (117)

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 12:20pm

That is not the cost for everybody. Some people take offers with scholarship and I would argue more than half, probably 3/4ths, of applicants aren't making 150k.

I'm going to go from making 80k per year to hopefully (probably 75%+ odds) 250k+ all in and with full scholarship... pays off pretty quick. Even if I didn't have any scholarship, 3x'ing my income makes going worth it regardless.

That being said I agree its not for everyone.

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 2:36pm

Can I ask what tier school your heading to? M7, T15, etc.

Progress is impossible without change...
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Apr 6, 2020 - 12:53pm

There have been numerous posts about what an MBA costs, and a lot of them overestimate these numbers. Doing your budget pre, during and post-mba would give someone a better view on what they spent in total.

The truth is you are not losing 150k a year in salary (that would be pre-tax anyway). But let's say you make 150k salary + 100-150k bonus a year (then you would have 150k net). Still, what you're really losing is the amount of money you save for two years. Because you still have to pay for food, rent, and trips when you're employed.

For me, the total cost was somewhere in the range of 150-200k (I went to school in Europe and my pre-mba salary was not great - Big4 Advisory). I took me 2.5 years after MBA to pay all my debts and get back to my pre-mba savings. But I am left now with a job I really like, a great network and a strong brand on my CV.

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 1:10pm

Yes, forgot about the summer job you'd have to offset costs. And good to hear that you think MBA was worth it both financially, and professionally.

But regarding comment above, about having to pay for food, rent, staples when you're working... you would still have to pay for these during MBA, which means a lot of people would have to go even further into debt (credit card debt, on top of student loans) to pay for these things that you can't finance with a regular salary.

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 1:50pm

Yeah but your math is still wrong in that you say a year of MBA costs $100k (probably correct all-in cost) and then you compare it to a year of $150k income (pre-tax and has no expenses incorporated). The more correct comparison would be $100k net expense for MBA vs. what we net savings you would expect in a year at a $150k salary.

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 1:42pm

Doesn't seem worth it to me, but everybody's situation is different

Money can purchase freedom, if you have the guts to buy it

 
Most Helpful
  • Associate 1 in IB - Ind
Apr 6, 2020 - 1:45pm

Depends on the MBA program and what your objectives are. I think most people make the mistake of assuming an MBA is only to advance your career. While that is a large part of it, the types of people who enroll in business school are also seeking a bigger network, exposure to different types of industries, enhanced knowledge and hands on experiences (such as global experiences).

If your sole purpose is to go from Salary A to Salary B, I'd advise you to just network your butt off rather than whine about opportunity costs.

If you're seeking a nuanced life experience where you make new friends and gain exposure to different things that make you a well rounded person, then definitely think about an MBA.

There are few people who actually whine about the cost of their MBA when their enrolled, especially when you embrace the experience fully. This is a huge life decision and you'll hear stories of people who met their spouse, started businesses, etc. when they had that 2 year time away from the traditional work environment to discover themselves.

My base salary pre and post MBA was only about $30K different ($120 to $150K) which is still significant and doesn't include bonus, but I went to business school because I was stuck in a career I didn't enjoy despite the salary and wanted to open my mind to other possibilities- I started a business, made incredible life long friends, won competitions, traveled a bunch and recruited for a challenging new industry all in 2 years!

So 10 for 10 would do it again even considering fact I have to pay back debt.

Life is about so much more than money (and rankings) folks.

As the saying goes, nobody is ever on their death bed wishing they spent more time at work- they wish they spent more time with family, friends and exploring.

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 3:05pm

Or, if you can balance it, you can do a part-time/executive MBA program and not have to worry about losing out on salary (and also use your income to pay for room and board).

Array

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Apr 11, 2020 - 3:52pm

I'm curious what you've seen people go on to do with an eMBA. I've been considering one, but have been hesitant to do so because I'm already partially on track for what I want (CFO of a pre-IPO company). The main reasons why I was looking at eMBAs were:

  1. Prove I'm not just a CPA, but also understand the bigger picture. Somehow, even though I'm in advisory and have plenty of non-IB M&A experience, people try to bucket me purely into financial reporting because I have a CPA by my name.

  2. I DO want to learn some operations management/supply chain, so there's some knowledge gain to be had still.

  3. My salary upon promotion next year (hopefully!) won't be materially different from what I get in corp fin post_MBA. $200K for a FT MBA just to not be branded a CPA is pretty steep, so an eMBA would offset that.

I've been hesitant because people claim they're not taken as seriously as a FT MBA, but mostly because it's harder to make lifelong connections, since you're not with your cohort all the time like in a FT program. From what you've seen people accomplish, do you think my reasons for getting one may outweigh my concerns?

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 3:06pm

Don't get wrapped up in the opportunity cost, that's simply putting way too much pressure on the situation and you are looking at it as a long-run opportunity. Like, 30 years worth long run. There are factors involved that you cannot put a price tag on, and if you had to find a way to make some $$ during the 2 years, you would.

An MBA is worth it for a career pivot. For that which you cannot get to without the reset. Because that's what it is. A reset.

If you plan to (or now start to) network, maybe you can choose a program that costs less. You have to network anyhow, you need the grades to match the degree, and there are no guarantees even if you come from a top school. I think companies are becoming more and more open to interviewing students from a range of schools. So maybe you have some latitude on the cost.

Bottom line: you really are paying mainly for the opportunity to look at opportunities you cannot get without the MBA. This is worth more than just $$ amount. This is your long-term goals, dreams, interests. If you're going to never get the opportunity to chase the positions you always wanted to go for, if there's no way to lateral in over years and jobs and persistence, worry less about the cost and more about the cost of "what if?" Because that is a very expensive thing.

I went to NYU Stern BS & MBA about 100 years ago. Yes, was far less expensive and back in the day, they had a 4 + 1 program that I availed myself of, but that finance MBA STILL gets attention and still opens doors. Had I not gotten the MBA I would never have been able to change careers or open many doors that I did.

It's not foolproof, but there are some risks worth taking, That's for you to determine.
It was definitely worth it, because regret costs a fortune.

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 3:16pm

This is 100% true. There are certain doors that to me right now are 99% closed. I could dig through this cite and find the 1 example of someone who networked from BO -> BB/EB IB or I could apply to a range of top schools that place at those banks and make that door 100% open. People on this forum are pretty young on average and do not understand career stagnation.

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 3:55pm

FP&A is a nice opportunity to show off your accounting knowledge, which is the basis of fin. analysis and modeling. I have a BS accounting (I wish I remembered more of it!) and CPA. It's looked upon favorably. I think especially if you well prepare for IB interviews and focus on 3 statements/accounting (your background with be a magnet for those questions), you will do well.

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 4:07pm

Wow, sounds like sage advice, Shaynepunim, thanks so much! A few follow up questions, if you don't mind...

(1) If one doesn't want to switch careers, but instead, wants to switch "tiers"... from respected MM/mid-EB bank to top BB or EB (or give him/herself better shot at bigger PE firm)... would you still think it's worth pursuing MBA at top 15 school? (And I know this is somewhat of a hotly debated issue on WSO -- the quest for the "prestige" bank, and whether such a quest has any merit... but assuming this is important to a candidate, would love to hear your opinion).

(2) Some have argued that a part-time/executive program at a top 15 MBA school is materially inferior to a full time program, with respect to both perception and the absence of networking opportunities... would you agree?

(3) How important are grades in an MBA program? For example, if one graduated from target undergrad school, did 2 years at MM/mid-EB,, then did MBA at Stern/Ross/Duke and got 3.2--3.5 GPA... would this "mediocre/pretty good" MBA GPA devalue a portion of the value of getting a top 15 MBA? Again, I'm not implying that it would, as I am not familiar with MBA recruiting or perception of things in MBA world... but just looking for opinions from people who have experience in this world.

(4) Finally, love the screen name! Takes me back to the days of my Bubbe...

Thanks in advance for your insight, appreciate it!

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 4:57pm

Networking and recruiting for a PT MBA is totally different. You may be able to get a look depending on what industry you are looking at but the majority of recruiting is targeted to the full time students. There are success stories of PT students make the move, but they seem to be few and far between. Keep in mind that IB and MBB consulting (the most coveted jobs) hire from the their internship class, with a few exceptions.

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 5:25pm

These are good questions, maybe better answered by others here since I'm not at a top BB or EB, I don't want to speculate. The one person I know who moved from BO-BB after a PT MBA from a great school to FO-Commercial Banking, not sure how he transitioned. I know a lot of firms sponsor these PT MBAs as kind of a perk to employees, so I guess it can be discounted, but a Wharton MBA is a Wharton MBA down the road. That's an excellent factor for you to investigate from the school you're considering - what their placement rate is, to which firms, etc.

I think you could definitely switch tiers with an MBA and some solid experience. Again, it's like a restart. Sure it's still competitive to be hired, but at least you're at the starting gate - it's giving you the access. Going for a prestige bank is a personal decision, no one here is living your life or paying your bills - do what's in your gut.

I would definitely say you want excellent grades to put you in play for the best firms, simply because of competition. If you're going to bother going to a top school to shoot for a top firm, get a 3.5+ and try to do some sort of leadership.

Again, I hope others here opine, because I haven't recruited for a BB! And there are a lot of naysayers/wiseguys here (love you all!). Yet so much is also in your attitude and expectation - if you're determined, it almost doesn't matter the "rules."

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 5:48pm

A few adjustments. Don't count room and board because you'd be paying that whether you work or go to school. Its just tuition plus lost income, after taxes. So I'd say more like 400k. Still a big investment, but for someone on the fence its worth getting the number right.

Short answer is, its worth it if you have a concrete idea of how an MBA will advance your career. So for example, PE has a pretty homogenous career track that often involves getting an MBA. Not always but usually. So for someone in PE, they can clearly point to the MBA pushing them up a rung and the 400k being paid off in higher earnings after school.

For someone who wants to switch to IB, and is really sure of that, the return on investment can be pretty clear there too.

Just a couple examples, there are many other career tracks (marketing, consulting, corporate strategy etc) where there's a well-worn path and the MBA has easily discernable value.

For people without a clear box that the MBA checks for them, ROI can be a lot tougher. More often than not, I think entrepreneurial types regret the MBA. Most of them, in my experience, wish they'd spent those two years focusing on their startup instead.

One thing you can use as a benchmark. Tim Ferriss did the "DIY MBA" where he took the same amount of money b-school would cost, and he invested it over time in different startups and learned a lot about business from doing diligence on those companies. I can tell you first hand, from doing some dedicated angel investing work, that it can be an extremely valuable learning experience; probably learned more doing that than I did at my M7.

 
Apr 6, 2020 - 6:05pm

But what about for those already in IB, who are just trying to expand their options within IB or PE?

Also, regarding your industry... if one determines HF is buyside way they wanna go, how does one bolster his chances (coming from M&A) for job in that industry? Aside from the obvious networking, is progress towards CFA beneficial? Or is it more demonstrating your passion for investing in the public markets, your valuation prowess and generating and supporting your own investment ideas?

 
  • Associate 1 in IB - Ind
Apr 16, 2020 - 12:18am

fair points I'll admit...

And the DIY MBA sounds great! Let's say I'm a prospective candidate strongly considering going to a T7 program, maybe already a have a few admission letters in hand. On average, I have 30-50k savings, might rely a bit on my folks but likely face some loans. The rates aren't phenomenal but at least they're feasible (even moreso with the advent of pooled loan startups, but still non-negligible).

Would you recommend I instead take my savings and go angel investing? Maybe ask my folks to make up to $300K gap... they'll get it, after all I'll definitely learn more this way right... Or shall I go to a bank, let the loan officer know my grand plan to borrow their money to invest in the riskiest of all asset classes, "It's really to substitute an MBA, there should be no doubt in your mind that I'll have strong positive cashflows in the very near term to pay down this loan"...All to say, I''m positively shocked you even mentioned that you did an MBA at an M7 in your comment.

Do you honestly think you would've had the opportunity to undertake a $400K learning experience had you not done so? And by the same token, do you truly think your DIY experience would have been as fruitful had you not completed an MBA program prior to the endeavor?

I've found your comments very helpful in the past, and for that I commend and thank you, but this one sir, was as disappointing as a COVID-related tee time cancellation on a beautiful april morning.

Wish you the best all the same!

 
Apr 8, 2020 - 1:57am

I got my MBA many years ago, pursued a decidedly non-traditional path, and do feel my MBA was worth it, although it cost a whole lot less when I did it.

However, I think more relevant than my personal experience a long time ago is an analysis I did of when an MBA is (and isn't) worth it: https://blog.accepted.com/when-is-the-mba-worth-the-time-and-money-epis… .

Also in calculating the cost of an MBA, don't include living costs that you would have whether you did the MBA or not. They're not part of the MBA's cost; they are a cost of living and will inaccurately inflate the cost of the MBA.

Linda Abraham President, Accepted | Contact Me | Admissions Consulting
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Apr 8, 2020 - 3:26am

Every case is different. Some people do a part time MBA. Some people weren't earning that much pre MBA and this gives them a boost. Some people got scholarships.

My case, I fell thru the cracks pre MBA despite going to a target undergraduate. I made final rounds at McKinsey, BCG, Monitor, and Accenture but just couldn't clinch it. I switched tracks and interviewed at GS and a few other i banks but just couldn't clinch it.

So I ended up working as an analyst for a REPE shop in CA, but they were so stingy that they only paid $36k per year. After tax, it was barely enough to cover basic expenses. Fortunately I didn't have to pay room and board, because my mom was nice and let me move back home. It wasn't ideal sleeping on moms couch but it's not about pride when you know you're worth more and you're on the grind to go get it.

I ended up getting an MBA at a top tier public school, top 10 in most rankings. I got financial aid at a 2.5% interest rate. My bill was $30k per year tuition at the time. I left MBA to go to investment banking and then PE. So for me the math is very different than what you posted and certainly worth it given how stuck I was.

I made some mistakes along the way, and I may not be doing as well as many monkeys here, but I did manage to scrape together a decent enough nest egg so we will not starve in our future. We have a few properties in real estate as well.

Other classmates of mine went on to also do IBD, PE, become CFOs of public companies, or start tech companies. I think most would say their MBA was worth it as well just by judging where they ended up in life. Though of course I think each would have been successful regardless of the degree itself.

We had a fair number of military officer veterans in our class. They took their leadership experience and used the MBA to transition to the civilian world. As you can expect they kicked ass and each one ended up in senior management / leadership / starting successful businesses. I bet they would say that MBA was worth it, esp with military scholarships/ grants.

 
Apr 8, 2020 - 3:01pm

Everything was shut for me pre-MBA. Consulting, IBD, etc. Market was bad (2002-2003) but still. It was just a desert of suckiness.

Also I don't think I'm particularly good at job hunting TBH. I don't seem to hear of the good opportunities, and those I hear of, I can't clinch. I think I'm just a bit of a weirdo, or something must be just a little bit off, so that I can get the interviews but not the job. Or maybe it's just a volume game and I'm not getting volume / not doing job hunting in the right way.

It seems employers only want to hire you for what you were doing last, which for me pre-MBA was working as a financial analyst for developers or real estate PE shops for very little money.

The MBA changed that to a certain degree. But if I was to do the MBA again I'd take a different approach. I would come in far better prepared for the coursework so that I could put more time into recruitment and fun, I would do internships before MBA started and possibly do a school-year internship as well. By not having as much of the fundamentals down before I hit campus I was a fair few steps behind my peers and struggled in classes. Those struggles meant that I had less time to job search, and far less time to party, which is a lifelong pity.

 
Apr 8, 2020 - 2:56pm

Simple: I'm just not very bright.

Actually I wanted to be in Asia and have the adventure of seeing rapid business growth and macroeconomic growth, coupled with a wide range of different and interesting cultures.

I also wanted to invest my own money in real estate in China's rapidly growing economy. That has largely panned out well for us.

I could have played it better. My first job in Asia was at an ibank that was rotating us thru all parts of the bank, including private equity, which was an emerging area for the bank. Rather than stick it out I jumped over to a China PE shop which was rapidly becoming the country leader. However that was a miscalculation whose impact I still pay for today. It's a fit issue, and I wasn't cut out to go into a local PE shop. And the lesson I learned is that one must be grateful and humble always. Don't mindfuck yourself. If you have it good somewhere (money, doing good deals, a platform that's solid) don't gamble it away on the theoretical cash and prizes.

 
  • Analyst 1 in PE - LBOs
Apr 8, 2020 - 3:43am

I feel like people talk about increasing salary but the fact that those extra earnings are taxed makes the decision more questionable. I like the fact that it's kind of a vacation in a sense or break from the grind / habits, but don't see that it's really favorable if it can be avoided. Pre MBA PE to post MBA PE? is that is the kind of best outcomes that are seen then I don't think it's very useful. plus I don't think you learn anything in school curriculum, it will be more about making connections and getting access to people you wouldn't otherwise connect with. it's a hard decision though, personally I'm going to avoid an MBA unless I get scholarships.

 
  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
Apr 8, 2020 - 2:08pm

Ya - EB signing bonus after tax was enough to pay off ~40k in loans (had a scholarship). Salary went from ~120 all in in lower tier consulting to ~300 (last year average was 350 but discounting for COVID).

It's a career pivot move, you gain access to people and opportunities you never would have otherwise. If you're already in PE, maybe not worth it, but 2 years in Bschool have been the more fun than I could have ever imagined. It's not real life. Traveling like crazy, partying all over the world and no real responsibilities (go to a school with Grade Non-DIsclosure) after you land a job.

 
Apr 8, 2020 - 3:28pm

Grade Non-Disclosure? What is that?

And you got EB job post-MBA? Nice. Did you attend top 10 school? Top 15? Top 25?

And do you need to secure "great" grades in order to get interviews at these banks?

 
  • Associate 1 in IB-M&A
Apr 8, 2020 - 4:25pm

Schools with GND (so most of the Top 15 except like Sloan and a few others) will not disclose your grades to employers and actually have policies where you are not technically allowed to put your GPA on your resume/ In practice what this means is you can still go to classes but not worry about getting valedictorian or your ranking in your class (unlike law school). Most people shoot for the equivalent of a B (you are paying for classes after all). The banks generally feel out someone's finance and accounting ability by looking at prior jobs and technical interview questions.

I went to one of the four big finance MBAs: Wharton/Booth/CBS/Stern. About 40% of our recruits end up at EBs.

No - you don't need grades at all (because of GND). Banking recruiting, especially at M7+Stern/Tuck/Yale is all about connecting with bankers. They are looking to hire future-MDs, so they screen for more than just the ability to crank models.

 
Apr 8, 2020 - 3:24pm

The MBA isn't for everyone. It does different things for people depending on so many factors. It matters on the applicant's circumstance in before they get to the school, it matters how much you pay, it matters how good the brand is, it matters what your school specializes in. It's a complex multi-variate decision. The simplicity of "an MBA costs $x is it worth it?" is just a confusing and over-simplified argument made by people who aren't putting it in a real world context. An MBA not an "all-fix-it" panacea, and it's not a guarantee for a better life. Hell, it's not even really a clear set of professional skills the way a medical degree or engineering degree imparts. It's a bunch of people getting together and taking business classes, and walking out with a brand on their forehead. In some circumstances that can be a game-changer, in other cases it's a 2-year distraction.

I was previously an informational interviewer for prospective MBAs applicants to my school. I talked 50% of the people out of going. It all depends. For example I had multiple prospects call and ask if they should go to b-school or get an MRED degree. If they were 100% dedicated to real estate and couldn't possibly see themselves working in another industry, then I said MRED all the way, no question about it. My wife for instance is only interested in real estate, and has zero interest in tech, PE, etc. I made the mistake of encouraging her to go to b-school. In hindsight, sending her to Columbia or MIT for MRED (she got in) would have been a MUCH better idea.

One of my buddies finished his 2 year analyst stint and immediately went to MBA, as a youngster. He got a school-year internship at a decent local PE shop which he continued in his second year. He interned somewhere else in the summer, but both academic years he was at the PE shop. He joined them after b-school, and during the financial crisis he and his manager spun out, and my buddy was made a managing partner of their new fund platform. They have raised several tens of billions since, and are now a megafund and category leader and this guy is a 40-year-old multi-multi-millionaire. I'd say the MBA was well worth it for him. After all, it got him the internships in PE and led to him eventually running his own fund by his early 30s.

I've mentioned the military vets who went to our b-school. One went from marine captain to CFO of a strong local real estate developer, immediately after b-school. Another went from marine captain to leading teams at a commercial bank, and then took that experience and transferred to one of the giant tech companies, quickly rising to head of sales in a category, then head of all sales in US. The MBA was well worth it for them.

Two of my classmates who met in bschool decided to forego the usual path, and instead launched a company immediately after b-school. They sold their business less than 5 years after b-school for several hundred million dollars. Each is now CEO of his own company, with multiple exits each. Another buddy did strategy consulting post b-school, then got laid off in the financial crisis and went on to built a tech company and sell it for tons of money. I don't think any of these guys regret their MBA decision.

 
Feb 16, 2021 - 1:16pm

This is amazing.  You kind of allude to it below, but I wonder if you have a few anecdotes with this level of specificity for people who regretted it?

 

I will say you don't tend to hear from those people a lot - whatever that means.

 
Apr 9, 2020 - 9:51am

earthwalker7:

if you guys want, maybe Patrick will let us do an AMA and podcast between someone who is reasonably satisfied with MBA (me), someone who hated the MBA experience, and someone who loved it.

Let's make this happen please.

 
Apr 10, 2020 - 10:19pm

Two problems with your calculation: 1) you add room & board to the MBA cost but don't subtract it from the non-MBA alternative, and 2) you use pre-tax salary. The better way to think about it is the b-school loans plus the lost after-tax savings that you would have otherwise had. Making those adjustments would result in an all-in cost closer to $300K.

For the question of whether it's worth it, the key variable is how much higher your salary will be post-MBA vs the alternative of not going. From that you can just calculate an NPV. If you assume you will make $50K more in after-tax salary, use a 10% discount rate, and assume you work for 20 years post MBA, it would result in a PV of $425K. For some it won't be worth it while for many it will be.

 
Apr 10, 2020 - 11:45pm

My costs were just under $60k all in, for a top 10 MBA. It was covered by loans that I took out at just over 2%. I've consolidated those, and will be slowly paying them off over the next 30 years. My monthly payments are negligible. I stayed at my mom's house so room and board was covered. My pre-MBA income was negligible so my opportunity cost was low. I went on from MBA to get an ibanking and PE job.

I don't regret this decision but I was a little disappointed at how the technical skills were a bit light. I was from an engineering background so I like to see us get as technical as possible. In terms of technical skill delivery, I felt there was a high variance between different professors. No surprise there - the teacher makes a big difference.

 
Apr 14, 2020 - 1:06pm

Agree with many comments above that says the payoff is different for different people. For many, if you are making $200k per year post-MBA package, then of course it will make sense just purely from a numbers ROI, all the qualitative stuff notwithstanding.

For me, I was already close to / over the post-MBA salary before going and I went with a different purpose to expand my network, get a better brand name on my resume and open my eyes to opportunities beyond consulting, banking, corp. dev etc. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you can find something completely out of the ordinary simply because the people at M7 schools are so great.

Example, I joined the founding team of a SaaS start-up midway through my MBA. Guess who was my classmate and seatmate for 6 months? The 25-yr old heir to a multi-billion family business in the industry for my start-up. Invaluable opportunity, and one of many that resulted from going to that school.

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