These days you don’t have to look far to find someone questioning the value of an MBA.  It seems like every week brings another article on rising costs and evolving employers.  Even if you don’t believe the naysayers, does anyone actually enjoy taking the GMAT?  The decision to apply is, of course, a personal one but allow me to share one person’s journey. 

The start of 2013 was a critical turning point for me.  I was three years out of NYU Stern undergrad and asking myself that familiar question, “what do I want to do with my life?”  After two packed years learning the ways of strategy at Monitor Group, I moved on to Corporate Strategy at PepsiCo to pursue my interest in consumer goods.  I loved the job.  I worked with inspiring, intelligent people on big issues driving the company.  The job also afforded me time to spend with family and friends.  What else could I want?

Eventually I came to conclusion that what defined me was my intellectual curiosity.  I decided that my journey would take me down a path toward thought leadership – and driving change to improve products, people, and processes.  This path could have been trodden within PepsiCo, or maybe not.  I came to believe that pursuing an MBA would best equip me to embark on this journey.

In 2013, after careful introspection, I decided to leave a job I greatly enjoyed to earn my MBA and improve my abilities, gain access to key resources, and accelerate my career going forward.

ABILITIES: Perhaps the most controversial element of an MBA is whether you learn true, hard skills.  How can you teach accounting and finance through the case method?  A mentor of mine put it best when he said “HBS will teach you how to think about accounting as a CEO.”  Don’t worry, there are plenty of textbooks and online resources to teach the basics as well.  Given my undergrad business program and consulting experience, I felt comfortable enough.  I was more looking forward to tackling these topics from a different angle. 

ACCESS: If I learned anything in my four years after college, it was that relationships drive many things.  There are pros and cons to that reality, but we can be sure it won’t change any time soon.  An MBA from HBS would grant me unparalleled access and open doors for anything I want to pursue in the business world, and often beyond.  Aspiring to be a thought leader of the future, I knew the credibility and network that would come with an HBS MBA would be invaluable.

AWARENESS: Perhaps the most valuable thing HBS offered was tuning my social awareness.  Classes on leadership and accountability force students to have conversations about ethical dilemmas we will likely face during our careers.  HBS has done an admirable job seamlessly integrating this kind of content into the curriculum.  I’m a firm believer that sessions like this today will pay great dividends in the future as my classmates and I navigate this growingly complex world.  Having these kinds of discussions in the safety of a classroom seems much more effective than learning on the job.

I’m very thankful to have made it to HBS.  Now that I’m here, my friends and colleagues often ask if the MBA is worth it. As Dean Nohria once put it, the MBA is a lifetime investment that can be best evaluated after a similar timeline. That said, I can take a shot anyway.

Upon graduating from HBS, I will join BCG in New York as a consultant.  That’s technically a role that I could have secured without an MBA.  Saying an MBA is unnecessary on those grounds is akin to calling the degree a mere certification.  After all, it’s not a vocational degree.  

The HBS experience has helped me develop a lens to inform my view of the world for the rest of my life.  And I think that more than justifies the investment.