“I hope it pays off for you.”
That is the answer I usually get when people find out I’m getting my MBA. It’s usually followed by a look of bewilderment and awe, with a little bit of pity thrown in. I hear this after I tell people that I rot in traffic for an hour after working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to sit in a classroom for three hours two days a week. I hear this after I tell people that I have no time to be social because I spend my weekends doing homework.
In 2009, when the economy was at its lowest, I had an undergraduate degree and was lucky enough to have a job. But it wasn’t a good one, so I decided to go back to school. My parents and their friends encouraged my decision, but my coworkers and boss looked at me like I was the main event at a freak show when I talked about taking classes at night to get my MBA.
“Why would you want to do that?” they’d ask. “Good for you for having that motivation,” they’d say sarcastically.
I work in the hotel industry, where it’s not a requirement to have a graduate degree. It’s possible to get a promotion by just showing up every day. Most general managers at hotels don’t have graduate school on their resume, which may be why I’m getting constant pushback from my office. If I were in finance or accounting in another industry, I’m sure it would be much more common to have an MBA.
But as the economy is still sputtering, and tuition rises, I find that I’m getting more questions about the importance of an MBA. These are good questions, but the reality is that an undergraduate business degree doesn’t guarantee you a job that lets you afford standard living costs. I have a co-worker who works three cubes down from me who fed me the motivation to write this piece. He made me resent the reactions I’ve received in the last year while in school.
He peered up at me, and said smugly, “Well I’m sure you will be better off than the rest of us peons, especially since an MBA will automatically get you better pay.”
Ouch. After that, I hid in my cubicle and tried not to mention tests, homework, or what I was doing that weekend (studying) while I was at work.
Once I graduate, I probably will move on from this Office of Unhappiness, but even if I didn’t, I won’t regret getting my degree. I already have a job—I’m just looking for something better. Even with the debt I’m going to have, I have gained some valuable skills that I’ll be able to sell to future employers:
1. You will never scare me with the workload you throw at me.
I dare you to try. Because I remember working for 10 hours at a job, learning countless new programs and procedures, and then sitting in class at night for three hours. I’ll have experienced working 50 hours a week, then going home Friday evening and studying until midnight, and meeting on weekends to complete group projects. Did I mention I had absolutely no vacation time the first year? I know what it means to work hard, and I dare you to try and intimidate me with overtime and special projects.
2. My self-confidence has skyrocketed
I have complete confidence that I can figure out pretty much anything that arises at work. Now, I’m not talking about rocket science, but if I can figure out cost accounting at 2 a.m. wired on three cups of coffee, I’m pretty sure I can handle any managerial problem in the office, or a complicated Excel sheet (since I’ve discovered that most of my bosses can’t figure out Excel’s sum function). I’m not saying I will know every answer right away, or have the experience of 15 years on the job. But I have confidence in myself to come up with a logical solution that won’t peg me as a complete moron.
3. I am more comfortable with numbers than I have ever been
MBA classes are all about the numbers game, whether it’s accounting, finance, economics, or statistics. While I may not remember how to ace an advanced calculus class a year from now, I won’t go run for the hills when my boss emails me a financial report.
4. I will be able to speak in front of a crowd, and be able to bullshit what I don’t know.
Anyone who is in a graduate program knows that by the time they hold their degree, they’ll be able to give a 20-minute presentation to 50 people and bullshit half of it. It’s not because they don’t know the information, but because in the beginning of the MBA program, you get so nervous you forget half of what you were supposed to say. By the end of the program, you’re a wiz with a laser pointer and can answer any ridiculous question thrown my way from a witty student or cocky boss. I’m confident that I can stand in front of a crowd (or a board) and be comfortable enough not to pee my pantsuit.
MBA students, realize what you’re doing is worth it. You may not automatically get more money, but it will come. You may have given up your social life and many happy hours, but you’ll get them back when you’re done, and be able to eventually afford the steak sliders (even if it’s only because you took finance and know how to budget). In the future, you may get promoted, laid off, or fired, but no one will be able to take your degree away from you. While a job title is not forever, and your executive status may fade, the accomplishment of making it through your MBA program and knowing that it’ll open a few doors more doors for you will be worth it.
KJ Brooke lives in Southern California, and is in her last year of of business school where she is focusing on international business. She has been working in the hospitality industry for the last nine years, and will let you know when her MBA lands her a better job.