We have assembled insights from experienced MBA graduates Colleen Paulson, Phil Stazzulla, and Laura Jimenez to help. Each of these professionals can shed light on how MBA stereotypes clash with reality.
One of the worst misconceptions you can have about an MBA is that it is an easy graduate business degree. However, an MBA is still a master's degree intended to challenge you. This applies to online MBA programs, too.
I thought an MBA would be an easy program to get through. But an MBA is very much different from any technical study. I knew that I would be stretched to the limit, but that was nothing compared to the reality where you are constantly sleep-deprived and are always racing against time to finish something or the other. — Laura Jimenez
An accredited MBA is never a "fluff" degree. If you enroll in an MBA program, rest assured that you are committing to a rigorous graduate degree involving difficult projects, tight deadlines, and very likely a required MBA internship.
An MBA makes you a business expert
An MBA curriculum provides a limited amount of time to study business's many aspects. If you get an MBA thinking that it will make you a business expert, you may be disappointed by the reality.
An MBA degree gives you an understanding of the basics of the business world, so you learn a little bit about many areas (accounting, finance, marketing, strategy, IT, etc).
It's a great way to quickly come up to speed on how business works, but an MBA alone won't make you a business expert. If you're an engineer (like I was), you won't automatically become a marketing expert by earning your MBA. — Colleen Paulson
Most MBA programs offer around a dozen concentrations for a reason: You cannot learn all there is to know about business in two to three years.
While you will learn business essentials from varied career paths, your studies will mostly focus on your degree concentration.
An MBA is a way to leave your previous career behind
Some learners enter into an MBA program thinking they can leave their old career in the dust. However, the truth is more nuanced. Many graduates compromise between old and new.
My undergrad degree is in mechanical engineering, and part of my intention in getting my MBA was to leave the technical world and not look back. I didn't realize that a successful career change involves integrating your past experiences and skills into a new role.
When I pivoted into my analyst role with FedEx, I definitely used the problem-solving and analytical skills that I gained as an engineer and production manager at P&G. — Colleen Paulson
Your career post-MBA will likely involve a mixture of your new and existing skills. It's hard to start completely from scratch — you need a foundation. An MBA simply gives you new tools to use to your advantage.
If you believe that you'll leave your MBA program as a fully-formed entrepreneur, you may be disappointed by the reality. While some MBA programs feature an entrepreneurship concentration, the skills involved in entrepreneurship are hard to teach in a classroom.
It was my assumption that after earning an MBA, I could run my own business. An MBA, at most times, teaches nothing or very little about entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is about passionately believing in something, having an unflinching risk-appetite and unimaginable patience to live it all. How can this be imaginably taught in class? — Laura Jimenez
While you can earn an MBA with a concentration in entrepreneurship, a big part of becoming an entrepreneur comes from motivation, self-discipline, and passion.
Just like professional experience, none of these qualities come from a classroom. They have to come from you.
Getting an MBA guarantees you a job after graduation
Is an MBA worth it? An MBA is a valuable degree to hold in the job market because it equips you with useful, widely-applicable business skills. However, no degree guarantees you a job, especially in difficult job markets resulting from economic recession or depression.
I graduated from MBA school in 2002, and the job market was difficult since the US was recovering from the 9/11 attacks. Before attending MBA school, I was naive and thought that having an MBA would make it easy to find a job, no matter the job market conditions.
As my classmates and I found out, looking for a job during an economic downturn isn't easy, even if you have an MBA. — Colleen Paulson
Set realistic expectations for yourself, and don't get discouraged if your MBA doesn't automatically land you a job.
Some job markets make it difficult for even those with the most popular degrees to find work. Some situations are out of your control.
An MBA program is all about networking
If you enter your MBA program expecting to spend most of your time networking with the right people, you will get a rude awakening.
Networking is just one aspect of the learning experience.
I honestly assumed that we wouldn't learn a ton in the classroom and that the networking aspects of the experience would be the most impactful for me. This wasn't the case at all. I'd studied business in undergrad, but still learned a ton from the case method and my classmates. — Phil Strazzulla
While it's good to review networking tips before joining an MBA program, networking is not the sole purpose of the degree.
An MBA is not just about "making connections," but about all the diverse ways you can learn from your classmates.
Networking in an MBA program is all about professional relationships
Some learners come to their MBA believing that the goal is to create as many professional relationships as possible. They try to meet people with professional goals in mind.
But don't waste your opportunities to form personal relationships, too.
I met my husband in MBA school and also made many lifelong friends. Networking is such a hot topic today, and while the term can mean different things to different people, MBA school is a great way to meet like-minded people.
I was part of an 11-month, full-time MBA program with students from across the world. The formal instruction was great, but learning from my classmates was just as big a part of the experience. — Colleen Paulson
I was shocked by how much I loved talking to my classmates about their previous lives. I'd never met a fighter pilot before, someone who'd lived through multiple coups d'état, or someone who'd won a national championship in debate (there were two in my section). — Phil Strazzulla
It would be a mistake to see your MBA as centered only on creating professional relationships. If you approach the learning experience with this attitude, you can miss out on opportunities to form long-lasting friendships with interesting people from all backgrounds.
When you graduate with an MBA, you're ready to be a manager
An MBA does not automatically qualify you upon graduation to work as a manager. While what you learn in your MBA program provides a foundation for assuming the role, it is up to you to combine that knowledge with practical experience.
Many think that by following the MBA stream, they straightaway become managers. It is a false assumption, as it takes lots of experience. On-the-job learning from experienced managers is needed to shape one's career. The MBA degree is a stepping stone for the long journey toward becoming an effective manager. — Laura Jimenez
An MBA gives you theoretical know-how that you have to learn to put into practice. Excelling as a manager requires real-life practice.
An MBA can help change your career trajectory, lead to rewarding relationships, and deepen your knowledge base. But remember that it represents an individualized journey.
Let us leave you with some final words from our MBA graduates on where your MBA can fit into your journey as a professional and a person.
An MBA is not a "golden ticket" to your dream role. You will have to use your past experience and transferable skills in whatever role comes next. Yes, you can make a successful career change — I've done it and many of my friends and clients have, too. But you can't leave your past work experience behind completely in making the move. — Colleen Paulson
An MBA is a great opportunity to learn, network, and pivot your career. However, you need to make sure you take time for yourself to reflect on what's important in your life and where you want to go from here, before starting the next leg of the journey. — Phil Strazzulla
One of my takeaways from my unique MBA experience is to do things that scare you. The things that I was most nervous about were among my greatest experiences that helped me a lot in giving me confidence and energy. — Laura Jimenez
Colleen's global leadership experience with Fortune 50 companies Procter & Gamble and FedEx is the basis for her solutions for job seekers and top executives. She has made several successful career changes and consistently uses her industry insight to help clients thrive in their careers.
Colleen has also worked in MBA school admissions, evaluating applications and interviewing candidates across six continents for a top-20 MBA program. She connected mid-market CEOs with board seats as board connection director for CEO Connection and has been cited as an industry expert by major news organizations, including Yahoo Finance, MSN, Bloomberg Business, and LinkedIn News.
Phil Strazzulla is the founder of SelectSoftware Reviews, a website dedicated to helping HR teams to find and buy the right software for their organizations.
Phil started his career in venture capital at Bessemer Venture Partners before getting his MBA at Harvard Business School.
He's a self-taught programmer, struggling golfer, and overall business nerd.
Laura Jimenez is the owner of Ishine365. She is passionate about learning and growing as a person. She loves to travel and see different cultures and foods.
In her spare time, Laura enjoys reading about philosophy and world religions. Marketing is one of her passions. She aims to use marketing to communicate better with the customer.
This article was reviewed by Alexandra Tapia, MBA
Alexandra is a driven, high-spirited, unapologetically energetic, and optimistic person. She prides herself on her devotion to becoming a better business leader and overall human. She has an insatiable hunger for knowledge, asks a million questions, and thrives on making change.
She has reached many populations throughout her career. She's studied recidivism, helped prior criminal offenders reintegrate into society, and built trusting relationships while working at a homeless shelter.
Her passion for education also shines through in her work. She taught younger children for many years but has since turned her focus to higher education. She loves collaborating with others to be a disruptor in the education industry, creating and delivering programs that are unlike others — all while building a better future for her clients and students.
When she's not working, you can find her in and around Washington, D.C.
Tapia is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.