The alternatives to an MBA

Alternatives to an MBA

Getting an MBA has for many years been the gold standard for individuals who want to become business management experts. However, the cost of studying for an MBA, including accommodation, has in recent years gone up astronomically. In the US getting an MBA at one of the top universities will cost more than $200,000 (including accommodation). In the UK it’s fast approaching 100,000 GBP. Plus you will not be able to work for the best part of two years. The opportunity cost of that alone can double the final cost of your MBA.

In the end, you have to ask yourself whether it’s really worth it, and whether there are cheaper alternatives that might actually be better suited to your specific needs and long-term career goals. Particularly in the current economic climate, it is unlikely that you will be able to get your dream job solely on the basis of having an MBA. Employers know an MBA graduate is going to cost them more than someone with an alternative, but equally useful, business background. To make an informed decision you’ve got to have the facts. Below we look at a couple of alternatives to an MBA and weigh their pros and cons.

A mini MBA

This option has been steadily gaining popularity in recent years. Not only do they cost a fraction of what a conventional MBA will cost you, but you also have to invest a lot less time to get one. A solid mini MBA program such as the Business Intensive starts at a meagre $1,500. A traditional MBA, on the other hand, can cost up to a hundred times as much or even more. Plus in the case of a mini MBA, it will only be a few weeks or months before you can hang the certificate on your wall.

This means you will be able to continue with your career much sooner, and if you want to refresh your business skills a few years down the line, you can do another mini MBA that has been updated with all the latest course material. It’s difficult to see any cons associated with this option. Of course, the Harvard or Oxford MBA crowd might pull up their noses, but they will fall silent when you show them your pay check and casually mention that you won’t be paying off student debt for the next 20 years.

Attend business conferences

Some of the world’s best business conferences offer virtually unequalled opportunities to make sure you are familiar with all the groundbreaking trends in your industry. They also provide an opportunity to make business connections that could prove of great value later in your career. A good example is the Forbes Under 30 Global Women’s Summit.

Depending on the association that hosts the event, the cost can vary from a couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand. When compared to the cost of an MBA you can attend a lifetime’s worth of business conferences and professional events and still have cash to spare.

Look for an entrepreneur in residence job

Another option is to look for a company that will give you the necessary mentorship and training. The main benefits of this approach are that you will learn from industry leaders, gain a lot of practical experience, and actually get a chance to implement what you have learned while being guided by an expert.

Many large companies offer this type of on-the-job training for prospective business leaders, including Google, Marriott, and Amazon.

Work as a venture capital associate

Venture capital companies often employ people who don’t yet have an MBA as associates. This job will provide you with many excellent opportunities to learn more about the business world. As a venture capital associate your job will include:

Sourcing fresh deals – Venture capital associates are, among others, responsible for finding new potential deals and then screen them. For this job you need ambition and the ability to work with people because you will often have to cold-call entrepreneurs and companies to try and set up meetings where you will then present the prospective deal.

Supporting current deals – You will also have to support existing deals by carrying out due diligence, run statistical models and produce the initial analytics to help the top brass decide whether they should accept or reject a deal.

You will get the opportunity to work with people of all levels of seniority, including CEOs, accountants, engineers, and more.

This is an excellent opportunity to learn what makes a business successful and acquire knowledge and skills that you can use throughout your career.

Work at a start-up studio

Working for a start-up studio is another potential alternative to following an MBA course. Start-up studios (often also referred to as start-up factories or venture builders) search for new businesses that a unique idea. They then help them to develop this idea into a strong, viable business.

These studios do not have cohorts as is the case with incubators. They also do not run programs like accelerators normally do. Their secret is the way they take startup ideas and turn them into real businesses.

Working for a startup studio will expose you to a world of new business ideas. You will be involved in the whole process of turning these ideas into viable businesses and work side by side with business owners, technical experts, and financial gurus.

Set up a business and learn as you go

Let’s face it, following an MBA course will equip you with a lot of theoretical knowledge and skills that will be very useful in just about any type of business. There is no better teacher than real life though. If you can overcome the hurdle of finding the necessary amount of capital to start your own small business in a field that you really find exciting, you will eventually learn everything they teach in an MBA course, plus quite a few other tricks of the trade that you will never learn from textbooks.

Starting a small business is also still much cheaper than following an MBA course. Even if you fail the first, or second time, you will still have enough money left to start again.

Gain expertise to build your dream business

If you are fresh from school you might find starting up your own business just too intimidating. An alternative is to first get a job in a field where you would one day like to own a business.

A few years of experience in any particular field can be worth more than any amount of purely theoretical training. You will acquire all the necessary technical skills and learn about the factors that are critical for being successful in that field.

Afterwards, you will be well equipped to proceed to a more senior position or to start your own business. This option will also allow you, to save for the capital you need for a new business.

Get a specialized masters degree in a field that interests and excites you

Although the typical MBA course covers a wide variety of managerial and business topics, a specialized master’s degree in a particular field of business will ensure you don’t end up as a jack of all trades and a master of none. You can, for example, follow a master’s in wealth management, strategic marketing, business analytics, or finance.

This alternative is typically much cheaper than your average MBA program. It is also the best choice if you are interested in a research-based career in a particular field.

Entrepreneurship Development Programs

If you are dreaming of owning your own business but you feel you need more guidance before making the jump, consider an Entrepreneurship Development Program. At less than 10% of the cost of an MBA, they are still not cheap – but they’re nevertheless still much cheaper than what you will have to pay for an MBA.

Generally speaking these programs last around a week. In that period they cover just about every topic you need to be familiar with when starting your own business.

Find yourself a mentor

Just like running a business, business education is also about building relationships. Finding yourself a mentor in an industry you would love to become involved in and building a long-term relationship with him or her could end up being a much better investment than following an MBA course.

If you can find somebody who has both theoretical knowledge and practical skills, who genuinely cares about your career path, and who is willing to guide you during times when you have to make hard business decisions, you are already halfway to success.

The right mentor will force you to look at old opportunities in new ways and will teach you how to survive tough times. His or her experience can also help you to avoid making costly mistakes.

Follow an MiM course

If you are looking for a degree in business other than an MBA, one option you should consider is the MBA’s biggest competitor, the MiM or Masters in Management. A MiM typically focuses on leadership and business management skills.

The average MiM student is a lot younger than his MBA counterpart. He or she also does not have the same amount of professional experience. If you have been working for around a year and you want to learn more about the business world, this is a good alternative to the (much more expensive) Master of Business Administration.

A huge plus is that MiM degrees are available throughout the world.

Independent (non-degree) study

You don’t necessarily have to follow a degree course to learn everything you need to know about the industry you are interested in. The bulk of the knowledge that you will acquire during the average MBA course is already available online and in libraries. Nothing stops you from making the effort and spending the time needed to dig up this information and making it your own.

In this regard, we also want to mention MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses. These are created by some of the best universities and businesses. They are either free or if you need certification, for a small fee. An example is the Wharton Foundation Series offered by the University of Pennsylvania in partnership with Coursera. These online courses are totally free unless you want official credit, in which case you have to pay a modest fee.

The series covers core MBA subjects such as Operations Management, Financial Accounting, Corporate Finance, and Marketing. It takes from six to ten weeks to complete one course.

If you feel you don’t have enough time to study there are some ways around such constraints. For example, you can better utilize your daily drive time to work by listening to audiobooks. Audiobooks and podcasts cover all the topics taught at business school, and there are thousands of free instructors. This low-cost or free option will not get you a certificate to hang on your wall. However, you will be able to use the information and skills you learn for a job or your own business.

Gain accreditation or certification

An MBA is an excellent qualification for those who want to pursue a career in business administration. There are, however, certain careers where an MBA is not what you need. If you, for example, want to become a Public Accountant, you will have to follow the prescribed curriculum and get CPA (Certified Public Accountant) certification. The same applies to management accountants, where the CMA (Certified Management Accountant) qualification is the gold standard. Similar qualifications include Chartered Accountant (CA) and Certified Merger and Acquisition Advisor (CMA).

Wrap up

As we’ve seen above, there are many alternatives to getting an MBA. Most of these are significantly cheaper and require less time without being able to work. The payback period for most of them will therefore be significantly shorter than is the case with an MBA.