"Is Business School Worth It?"

The short answer is: absolutely, yes.

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“Is business school worth it?”

It’s a question that I’ve received more times than I can count over the last two years from friends, friends of friends, and internet strangers alike. Now that I’m a month out from my business school graduation, I would like to provide a definitive answer to this question:

Absolutely.* Some thoughts:

The American undergraduate experience is, for many people, the best four years of their lives. You’re young, you have minimal responsibilities, you get your first taste of real freedom, you have a near-infinite supply of potential friends, dating opportunities, and alcohol, and your metabolism is through the roof. It’s a 20-year-old’s dream. And the best part? “College” is practically mandatory to scale the US socioeconomic ladder.

What an incredible setup.

The one downside to the undergraduate experience is that most of us have no idea who we are, what we want, or what we value when we’re 19. We are incomplete, insecure adolescents stuck somewhere between childhood and adulthood, being hazed in humid basements for the privilege of wearing Comfort Color t-shirts adorned with an exclusive set of Greek letters.

Now imagine, after working for five years, that you get a chance to redo two years of your college experience. Two years to rewrite your career, make new friends, better leverage your university’s resources, explore the world, pursue new hobbies, and, if you’re lucky, fall in love. Except for this time, you’re a young adult with a fully-formed (or, at least near-fully-formed) frontal lobe, deeper pockets, and a lot more self-confidence. Your grades don’t matter, companies will pay you $200,000+ after you graduate, and you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of other ambitious young adults because the admissions committee does an excellent job of filtering out lethargy.

Assuming that you can hit a 730 on the GMAT and know how to spin a compelling personal narrative, all of this can be yours. Hello, business school.

Let’s talk about career stuff:

MBAs from top schools still get paid. 2023 graduates from Columbia across tech, finance, and consulting (industries that accounted for 83% of the class’s jobs) were paid roughly ~$200,000 or more after graduating, and that’s just year one comp.

Business school provides students who went to non-target schools for undergrad, or students who simply want a career change, an opportunity to recruit with dozens of the world’s most prestigious firms, and many of these firms have intern and associate seats they need to fill each year. For the non-traditional folks, such as any of you who, say, spent their time building a blog, writing a daily financial newsletter, and helping a few venture capital firms expand their editorial products instead of pursuing something a bit more structured, business school provides a two-year environment to try a bunch of different things, will some well-paid fallback options if your entrepreneurial endeavors don’t pan out.

Compared to medical or law school, you will have similar compensation outcomes (the median Columbia law grad made $215,000, for example) while spending less time in school, and academic competition is far less cutthroat because of grade nondisclosure policies.

Yes, in law school, class rank helps determine which summer associates get hired by which firms, but most top business schools have a grade nondisclosure policy that prevents employers from seeing your grades. Less studying, more networking.

And now for everyone’s favorite two business school topics: travel and social lives.

Yes, business school is filled with travel, both international and domestic. At some point early in your first semester, you’ll hear whispers around campus, “So, what are you doing for fall break?” By the end of the day, you’ll be in a groupchat with 200 people, 75 of whom you know by name, all headed to the same Caribbean Island in October. You’ll book an Airbnb with 15 of them, you might have an armed guard or two, and you and your new classmates will spend four nights in your tropical fortress, with different houses hosting parties each night of the trip.

You might, under the influence of a post-exam IPA or three, begin discussing spring break plans. Dublin for St. Paddy’s sounds fun, until you realize Ireland on that holiday would be a tourist trap from hell. As you stare at a map, someone might say, “Um, maybe Japan?” And three months later, you’re sitting cross-legged on a 5 ft by 5 ft platform eating a Japanese Big Mac, screaming for a large man in a black diaper to push an even larger man in a white diaper out of a circle at a sumo tournament Osaka, trying your best to learn the local chants.

You could decide that, because so many of your international friends haven’t seen some of America’s most beautiful features, instead of traveling abroad for year two’s fall break, you take your favorite Latinos on a tour of the Mountain West, renting a 9-man RV for 6 days, living off the land (read: RV parks with consistent warm showers).

And of course, you’ll ski. You’ll ski in the Alps. You’ll ski in the rockies. You’ll ski in rundown Appalachian ski towns in the Northeast. You’ll ski more than you’ve skied in your entire life.

Your social calendar will be driven by FOMO, and FOMO alone for the first few months. You’ll have cluster happy hours with the 70 students from your class. Then comes the birthday parties, with a new Partiful invite hitting your phone every other day. After you join 7, 8, or 12 different clubs, you’ll have overlapping events every night of the week, and, of course, this doesn’t include all of the nights out with friends outside of the scheduled events.

You will probably decide, after perusing the club day tables, that joining the football (soccer, for us Americans) or rugby club would be fun, and a few days later, you’re doing tackling drills with other 30-year-olds, learning how to “ruck” in preparation for a tournament against other MBA programs, whose first years are doing the same drills, learning the same thing. It won’t really make sense, playing a full-contact sport in your late 20s, but you have a blast anyway.

You will, in all likelihood, drink far more than any self-respecting 27-year-old should, knowing, in the back of your head, that this two-year mirage won’t last forever, and you should live it up while you’re here. And that’s fine. You’re in college.

You are going to spend more money than you could have conceived, and you’ll rationalize that decision by thinking of your future earnings power and the fear of missing out on something that could have been an incredible memory. By year two, each Partiful invite will cause an acute nervous reaction as you skim to see if the description came with an embedded Venmo. (Hint: they always do.)

You will also form incredible friendships with folks who, on the outside, have nothing in common with you, and many of these friendships will begin at a Happy Hour, when your respective inebriations were perfectly calibrated.

You will develop a slew of inside jokes and nicknames, as your new friend dynamics begin to resemble those from undergrad, though this time with a few more receding hairlines in the mix. And your best friends will, quite literally, come from all corners of the earth (A few of mine are from India, Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, and Nigeria, among other places).

On your travels abroad, you may spend a few nights with the family of one of these friends at their home in Guatemala before setting off to explore the ruins of Tikal. You could be invited to an asado at one of the Colombian’s homes a week later, where you’ll try, miserably, to speak your best Spanish, before they casually respond in English.

You could, if your undergraduate relationship has long since self-destructed, develop chemistry with a fellow classmate, as the MBA social scene provides more compatibility context than any number of Hinge dates. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to experience a few of those trips with them too.

You will have access to individuals, for free, that the rest of the world would pay thousands of dollars to listen to from the nosebleeds of a crowded auditorium. Many of your professors will be the best of the best in their respective fields, from hedge fund managers to marketing moguls, and they’ll occasionally bring their friends to class to hang out with you too. Perhaps a retired trader worth more than a few developing nations will help evaluate (and criticize) your stock pitch. Oh, and you can audit any classes you wish after graduation free of charge, for life.

And the best part? The rest of the world is going to respect you even more for spending two years completing all of the above.

I don’t think I can fully articulate just how valuable business school is through text, but to sum the whole thing up in a few words:

You spend two years having the most fun experience of your life with some of the most charismatic folks that you’ll ever meet, and your payout is a well-compensated job at a respectable firm post-graduation. I mean, can you imagine a better deal?

You can consider this essay an endorsement of business school, and more specifically, Columbia.

*Everything in the piece relies on three assumptions: 1) that you’re going to an excellent (thinking top 10, maybe 15) school, 2) you will be a full-time student, and 3) you can afford school, either through an employer, family support, or loans with a clear path to payback after graduation.

- Jack

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Jack's Picks

  • Beehiiv CEO Tyler Denk published an excellent behind the scenes look at his life running a startup.

  • Nick Maggiulli’s latest blog on where and when to allocate your money is a great read.

  • This Bloomberg piece on how Hertz completely screwed up their big bet on Tesla is wild.

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