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October 27, 2009


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I received an MBA from Ellis College while working full time. Ellis is not a top tier university and it was distance education but it is a credit school and had a partnership with my current employer Thomson Reuters. I had 80% of my degree paid for and yes it took me a while (4 years) for what would be 2 years full-time but it was worth it. I was going to a local school for a while before switching but continuing with them was much harder in terms of time commitment and would have extended my schooling to 5-6 years instead of 4.

I am now moving on towards another degree, this time an associates that my work is paying for. This degree will help me in my current job and also change fields/jobs if needed in the future.

I disagree with the notion that if you don't go to a top 10 or top 20 school ( or what ever you consider a "good" school) that you've wasted your time. In reality you've made a decision to become more educated and use that for personal, career and financial enrichment Education is never wasted.

One good place to look is at the University itself. If you have a skill that the school can use you can leverage that skill for a full time staff position. You won't find a better environment for working full time and taking classes part time.

The only other thing I would add is to look at schools in larger cities. The bigger the city the more job and internship opportunities.

I've allowed work to pay for all my current designations, as well as my MBA I'm working on. I believe the tier of school depends on what industry you are in. It does matter in mine, so I really only had 2, maybe 3 colleges that are considered quality in my local industry. They all were accredited, but for some reason only a few are considered tough engouh. I surveyed several managers opinions before I signed up.

I have a wife and 2 kids, so I only take one class at a time to help with the work-school-life balance. I'm 3.5 yrs in, and have 1.5 to go. This works for me, but I am envious of the people that plow through in 2-3 years.

I view it as additional compensation. I generally take advantage of all company perks that make sense for me. I'm even sneaking in a few entrepeneur electives to help me start a small business in the future.

How can a person acquire the knowledge content of an MBA without the formal education?

FMF, How do you draw the line between a degree that is good and one that is useless? For example, say I do want to go get an MBA, how would I decide which schools are going to be worth the time and which aren't going to be valued?

Terry...Read, read, read. An MBA gives you an expanded knowledge of accounting (financial & managerial), economics, finance, organizational behavior, marketing, etc. Aside from that look for opportunities at work to expand your knowledge and experience. Challenge yourself with projects and assignments that no one wants to do and do it better than they would have. While I gained a lot of book knowledge from my MBA I think I gained more from learning it and applying it since I was working at the same time which is what you should do as you learn.

Right now I'm in my 2nd semester of my MBA program. I work with two guys who graduated in May from the same school with their MBA. It's a good school in Philadelphia, well-known and rated. However, they haven't seen any recognition from our employer and have been overlooked by someone fresh out of undergrad with less than 1 year experience for a supervisory job. It can be a great tool, it just depends on how you use it and where you are. I'm just hoping it works out better for me.

Terry, have you heard of The Personal MBA? (check out: )

Jim, I would say to ask people where you work where they got their MBAs, if it applies. Also ask your manager (boss) and other managers/higher level people, if you can, where they got theirs. Also, do some research on your own into what is valued in your industry... if it's just the designation, or if the school also counts. Also it wouldn't hurt to browse through the lists of business schools (broken down by category) on BusinessWeek (check out: )

Hope that helps!

I am currently seeking my masters in Information Systems here in the Virginia area. It has taken me a LONG time but I am almost done (one more semester). The great thing is I have not paid a dime and yet I am learning a lot. I am not sure what tier you would consider my program (George Mason University - Fairfax, VA) but I hope that by putting in this time, I will get something from it as I have a lot to show for it. My thought is if you want a good higher education then you have to be willing to put in the time and effort. Most of the higher ed programs require you to study the subject beyond what the teacher goes over; If you're willing to learn beyond what is 'taught' then you have a lot to bring to the table. If your satisfied with 'getting by' then you might not bring as much. I have to say though, theory based classes are pointless and a waist of time! Many will disagree and I can see their point, but for me I have to see it's practical implication before I can invest time and energy expanding my knowledge about the subject.

@D (edit)

Not only doing school, but working full time, trying to have a social life and planning a wedding :) ONE MORE SEMESTER, ONE MORE SEMESTER!!

I work for a university and was able to get my degree completely free, books included. The comment, "you need to make sure it's a valued degree by many employers" is not unequivocally true. The university I work for is small and relatively unknown; however, the people I connected with in the program and the fact that the this university is one of the only in this part of the US to have this specific degree made it very worth while. If you can get ANY kind of educational funds from your employer, find a way to use them. Also, be very thoughtful about online programs and, as I had to do, understand that an MBA is one of several worthwhile advanced degrees. I got an M.S. in Organizational Development and employers have looked on it as something that distinguishes me from all the MBAs they see. If you choose an MBA, more power to you, and find ways to make yourself unique in your program, i.e. do a special research project as an assignment or group classes together into a "focus area." Hope some find this helpful.

In some fields, the Masters degree is worse than useless.

For example in biology, the MS usually means "failed out of a PHD program and was given an MS as a consolation prize". Nevertheless, many universities offer technical staff the opportunity to obtain a biology MS. Don't do it. You'll just price yourself out of your job by becoming overqualified.

MC, great point. As a science major in college, I saw this first hand with some of my TAs. Life sciences are a great example of that.

@J in Fl and MC

Too bad, as a masters is usually a great thing to have... I guess except in your field. So the only route to go is PHD or nothing?

Yes, in the life sciences...if you only have a bachelor's degree you can often go far in your career as long as you work in industry--the MS does not help in industry/big pharma although and if you have a PhD you might get paid more.

But in academia if you don't have the PhD the good jobs are all closed to you. And if you have a masters it is likely that nobody will be able to afford to hire you.

(Hiring and pay in academia is usually determined by university HR depts, not who you actually work for or what you actually will do. I have been told many times by HR that if I hired so-and-so I would have to pay them $20K more because they had a higher degree even if they were going to do the same amount of work as someone who didn't. Guess who I hired?)

Jim --

To me it's a school that gets you hired in the job/industry/company you want to work in/for. That's why it's important to see what companies recruit at your school before you commit to go there.


I think there is more wiggle room in that. My wife has a Masters and PhD in Cell & Developmental Biology and I have a friend w/a Masters that used to work at Pfizer.

There are a lot of good jobs in academia w/out needing a PhD as long as you not wanting tenure. If you want tenure than year need a PhD and know publish or perish. However if you're not looking for tenure there are lots and lots of research jobs that don't require a PhD but a masters is helpful. On the flip side my friend from Pfizer had a large increase in pay and responsibility just by getting hi Masters. he may be an exception but my understanding is that a Masters will serve you well in industry.

Additionally there is the community college path that can provide good pay and great benefits w/ a masters degree.

It's great people are focused on the MBA degree now. Good timing and trend. I've got some good interest from our $1,000 giveaway for those who want to get an MBA, so thanks for promoting the topic FMF!

It's great the community is becoming more aware of the degree and it's benefits.

Going part-time to a Top 10 university is probably the best way to go out of all the combinations.


I've went to both top tier schools and lower tier, and to be honest, I didn't notice too much difference. I think it is because I thrive more on opening a textbook and learning more than listening to a professor lecture ona a topic. For technical fields, the school doesn't really matter - the experience is more important in the first few years of your career.

J in FL:

OMG, thanks! The Personal MBA is pretty much just what I've been looking for.

Interesting post. I got a Masters in Engineering following my undergrad degree. I was actually on a PhD track but I saw that my advisor jerked around two different PhD candidates who put in 5 years each and then quit with a Terminal Masters out of frustration. Apparently the advisor would make endless changes on their theses to the point where there were 3 versions of the advisors comments; the candidates would submit version A, get it sent back, then version B, then C getting those sent back with comments that put them back to Version A. He started pulling this behavior with me after 18 months in the program so I made the decision to get out early with a Masters as I found him too abusive and frustrating to work for. This actually culminated because there was a miscommunication on a 1-on-1 meeting location and he got frustrated with me, screaming "You are the worst graduate student I've ever had!" to me in the hallway of a fairly public area. I decided to take a walk to cool down and come back to see him- this was the last day before Christmas / New Year break. When I came back he was gone and there was a note on my desk that said 'Happy New Year', from my advisor- at that point I made up my mind to get out and finish my research and get a Masters. It was all paid for by scholarships so I didn't have to take on any debt.

Within 5 months from that point I got my degree. Best move I could have made in hindsight though at that time I felt like a quitter and really thought I should have tried to tough it out. Actually it was a great life lesson, don't throw good money (or time in this case) after bad.

I started working and became a Manager and then a Director within 5 years of joining the work force. I really wanted to get an MBA but wanted a top school name for the networking and job placement factor. Applied to Stanford and U Penn and got waitlisted and ultimately turned down in spite of having a 730 GMAT score.

Following this I kept taking on more responsibility to the point where it didn't make financial sense to get an MBA (full time, never considered part time due to the intense level of time and energy committment) as I'd be earning less after getting the MBA, never mind the lost income.

So now it really seems there is no chance I'd be getting an MBA at this point. Unless there is something out there that I'm not aware of. To stay current I read a lot of case studies and follow what is happening in several industries. I'm also always looking for new techiques in developing people. In my current job as CEO I've been extremely exposed to all financial & accounting aspects of a business, from the P&L to the cash balance and collections. I really think there is nothing better than hands on experience to really learn the concepts, especially if it's your butt standing up in front of the Board explaining what is happening and what is forecasted! It's easy to remember the concepts after fielding many questions about the business you are running.

For people getting a company paid MBA right now, keep in mind there may be a small job security effect as the company views your education as a sunk cost, many companies require you stay on with them for a period of time after getting the degree or you have to pay the money back... Otherwise I think there is a glut of talented people with degrees right now in the marketplace and it would take some time before unemployment comes back down below 6%.



That is a great story!! Like FMF's, there are definitely hardships but in the end it all works out for the better as long as you dont give up!

They don't ask a lot of questions when you come from the right university but I think that is just unfair. Real life skills matter, regardless of where you learned it. Then again, if you already know a lot of stuff, chances are you won't be afraid to venture out on your own.

One more factor is if your single or have a family. As a single person it is much easier to commit to a advanced degree while working. But once you factor in family considerations, it because a tough act to perform. Nice article and good insight.

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