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July 28, 2010

Should an Entrepreneur pursue an MBA?

 The following is my response to Chad Troutwine's editorial, "Why You Should Pursue an M.B.A." that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on July 27th.  It is a slightly modified version of my comment attached to that editorial.

As an MBA (I don't follow the Wall Street style manual)  admissions consultant since 2001,  I am personally embarrassed by  Chad Troutwine's editorial.  Given Troutwine's business interests,  It is transparently self serving.  There are both pros and cons to any entrepreneur pursuing an MBA.  Anyone who begins with the statement "Why You Should Pursue an M.B.A." has already made a critical error by not asking, "Should you pursue an MBA?"

Two years, the typical length of an American full-time MBA program, of time away from an income and full-time focus on one's entrepreneurial activities can be a real risk. Troutwine suggests an MBA "is a low-risk, high-reward proposition." Certainly for some people, that is the case, but for others the two years (plus much of an additional year spent applying to top programs) might result in a someone making a very bad decision. Timing is, often enough,  everything and if one actually has a great entrepreneurial idea, getting an MBA might not be the best decision.  I think a serious admissions consultant is not someone who begins with the assumption that an MBA is actually necessary for a particular person, but rather that it is that person's responsibility to think critically about why they need an MBA.   Going into significant debt for degree is a huge decision for many people.  I suppose if you have gone to the right undergraduate school, come from a comfortable background, and  don't view the prospects of lost income and/or time as serious, very little risk is involved.

In my experience, I have worked with clients who certainly were making a very low risk choice by pursuing an MBA, but I have worked with many who making a huge life decision by doing so.    I need my clients to know why they need an MBA so that they can make the best possible argument both in their admissions essays and interviews. To do so, they can't merely assume the necessity of MBA, they must be able to demonstrate it.

To his credit, Troutwine does point out a number of great entrepreneurial options that MBA programs have available.  MBA programs are certainly catering to and trying to cultivate entrepreneurs.  I have seen how my former clients have successfully launched businesses both during and immediately after attending HBS and Stanford.  In addition, I have worked with  a number of clients with substantial entrepreneurial experience who pursued an MBA because they realized that their approach to entrepreneurship was not sufficient.  In the last year alone, I worked with two clients who have successful companies, but saw a gap between their own skill sets and the need to grow their businesses.  They view the MBA as way to address this gap.  On the other hand, every year I work with a couple of clients who go through a process of seriously reflecting on their professional goals and the ROI of MBA and make the decision that the ROI is not there. From my viewpoint, if I help someone reach the right decision for themselves,  I have acted professionally responsible.

Finally, MBA programs don't need admissions consultants, test prep entrepreneurs, or the editors of The Wall Street Journal, to advocate for them.  Good MBA programs are having no difficulty finding highly qualified applicants, especially in the present economy.

-Adam Markus
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Questions? Contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. If you are looking for a highly experienced admissions consultant who is passionate about helping his clients succeed, please feel free to contact me at adammarkus@gmail.com to arrange an initial consultation. To learn more about my services, see here. Initial consultations are conducted by Skype or telephone. For clients in Tokyo, a free face-to-face consultation is possible after an initial Skype or telephone consultation. I only work with a limited number of clients per year and believe that an initial consultation is the best way to determine whether there is a good fit. Whether you use my service or another, I suggest making certain that the fit feels right to you.

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