MBAs, Are We the Worst?

Jason Arican, Class of 2015

Jason Arican, Class of 2015

By Jason Arican ' 15

The perception of M.B.A. students isn't particularly great. The undergrads think our classes are too easy (rude), and our graduate school peers stereotype us as insufferable. There are others with advanced degrees who don't value "business" as a discipline and who find our pursuit to be purely self-serving. A simple Google search for "M.B.A. useless" returns a collection of articles that suggest our programs graduate people who are full of ideas but short on practical experience. As one Forbes contributor wrote, "I know way too many MBAs who can’t manage or lead their way out of a paper bag." Also rude.

So that raises the question: Are we actually egotistical and greedy with little value-add to the firms that hire us?

Are M.B.A. students the worst?

If we are being honest with ourselves, there is probably some truth to this. At times we can be overly critical and, at others, hopelessly impatient. We express opinions anonymously but shame publicly. Machismo is abundant, and our conversations with regard to women are far too often narrow and misguided.

And, well... it is hard to make a case for the social utility of management consulting or investment banking.

That said, good programs bring together people from diverse backgrounds and foster an environment for important discussions on a broad range of topics. Students are insightful, norms are challenged, and personal development can far outweigh academic expertise. The formal education is great, but understanding how to derive the CAPM formula can only get you so far. In many cases, the most valuable takeaways are found through conversation; hearing about someone's experience teaching in public schools in Hawaii, flying drones in the Army, or working to make hospitals more efficient. M.B.A. programs are not as homogeneous as the stereotypes suggest and there is a significant amount of learning through osmosis.

So which is it? What are we? Like most things, the answer certainly lies somewhere in between.

As an example, we can be quick to act as if academics are beneath us. We trot out the existence of grade non-disclosure as if it is a badge of honor and criticize classes that skew towards theory at the expense of practicality. But for every finance bro who is too cool for Investments, there are others with non-traditional backgrounds who use the M.B.A. as a springboard into a successful, sustainable career that was otherwise not accessible. And while jobs in the tech industry are hot right now, there is a lot of buzz on M.B.A. campuses around social impact and international development. In fact, several programs offer joint-degree programs that give students the ability to also pursue Master's degrees in Public Policy or International Studies. I’m not here to argue that getting an M.B.A. is some supreme exercise in altruism, but the idea of "the soulless M.B.A. student" is surely over-hyped.

Admittedly, some of the things above are just a function of putting together a large group of high-performers. Ultimately though, I think we can do better. We shouldn't ask to be paid for helping each other out, but we shouldn't make someone feel like crap for doing it either. These things can both be true. Perhaps we aren't the worst (looking in your direction, law school student), but perhaps we all stand to benefit from taking ourselves a little less seriously.