Do you need to get an MBA? My dad didn’t, and neither do you

get an mba

College education has been called the largest scam in US history. The cost of one year of college tuition in the US has risen by 160% in the last 10 years and looks set to increase 5% year on year.

Despite the huge price hikes, doesn’t having a college education make you a vastly more attractive candidate?

Not really.

A 2014 survey of nearly 3,000 job seekers and HR professionals found that 64% of hiring managers said they would “consider a candidate who hadn’t gone to a day of college”. In fact, business jobs like sales manager and operations manager don’t need a degree at all, despite paying an average salary of over $90,000.

Experience is more important than education

While degrees do still matter to 46% of hiring managers, one of the most important factors when choosing a candidate is experience. A few decades back when the corporate structure might have been a little more loose, executive positions were widely available to low-level employees.

My dad started out working in the factory for a coffee corporation in the early 1980s. Over the years, he climbed the ranks towards becoming the top salesman in the region up to what would now be called the customer success manager.

Did he have a college degree? No, actually. He left school at 16, joined the Air Force and lived in Cyprus throughout the 1970s. This example is probably a case of being in the right place at the right time, and nowadays it’s rare to be promoted from the factory to the golf course with clients, especially in a big company. However, the same thing can happen now, just not in the corporate space…

Startups make MBAs redundant

The dreams of most business graduates (before a world dominated by startups) was to get an MBA, join the ranks of C-level management, make a killing and retire at 40 on a tropical beach. In the corporate sphere, that’s a much slower process. By working for a startup and taking a gamble with your future, you’re in a better place to get promoted.

According to Monster, “[At a startup] you could work your way into an executive role in just a few years, rather than having to climb the corporate ladder at a business with a conventional hierarchy”. This is just one of the many brilliant ways the rise of the startup is shaking up the career world and providing young, inexperienced candidates opportunities that would otherwise be far-fetched.

Will a liberal arts degree do?

As an employee with the least business-orientated degree imaginable, I’m proud to have a startup job I truly love doing.

Plenty of entrepreneurs (recently Slack’s Steward Butterfield and historically Starbucks’ Howard Schultz) have liberal arts degrees. The fact that there are articles with titles like 21 Wildly Successful CEOs with Liberal Arts Degrees shows it’s not your typical path to success. Titles like The Top 10 CEOs with Business Degrees wouldn’t have quite the same appeal.

Thanks to the inter-disciplinary skills required by early employees of scrappy startups — design, copywriting, communications. etc.— liberal arts degrees are a viable way into a startup job. The unusual knowledge you learn through your studies will make you indispensable in the future and a good candidate to oversee a broad range of employees.

Is it better to not get an MBA?

In the past, college degrees set you apart from most candidates. They made you special. Over the years, academic inflation has made degrees a requirement, not a preference — a college education is the rule, not the exception.

Careers that used to need a bachelor’s now want a master’s, and while young job-seekers jump through an increasingly larger amount of hoops to get a foot on the ladder, startups snatch the most promising candidates away from haughty corporations.

Successful entrepreneur Tim Ferriss quit business school in 2005 and decided to save all the money he would have otherwise spent and become an angel investor. By saving $120,000 over two years, he was able to invest in several companies and learn his own, real-life “MBA” lessons.

In 2013, Ferriss reportedly saw a 3-5x return on investment with the initial companies in cash and millions on paper with companies like Evernote, Twitter and Uber.

It’s more about the individual, less about the degree

All the data that points to a college degree being a worthwhile investment could suffer from a fatal flaw. If someone bothers to go to college, they have a drive to succeed. In the current economic climate, a drive to succeed translates into a need for college because of the traditional job market and corporate structure. Since there’s no way to analyze who has and doesn’t have a drive to succeed, that’s the best data we’re getting for now.

In the past the looser corporate structure meant my father could go from factory worker to executive manager. You don’t need a college degree to be a C-level executive. In the startup world, you probably just need everything beside.

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