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I’ll begin this post with a disclaimer. The following is my opinion, and nothing more. It’s not the opinion of IBEAR Class 38, certainly not the program, nor is it the opinion of the Marshall School of Business; just me. I welcome, absolutely encourage, dissenting opinions, because what I will discuss here is a very personal topic.

The most common question I’ve received about the IBEAR MBA, or the MBA in general for that matter: Is it worth it? In my last post I talked about opportunity cost in general, and in this post I’ll discuss some specifics about the opportunity costs of the IBEAR MBA, where you benefit and where you must be careful.

As I’m sure you know by now, the IBEAR MBA is a one-year, accelerated program for mid-career professionals. The average age is typically about 34 and the average experience is typically about 10 years. Like the accelerated programs at Stanford, MIT Sloan and LSE, IBEAR’s earliest cohorts were comprised exclusively of “sponsored” students: employees of large international firms, like Korean Air, who were sent to USC to obtain a business degree before returning to their firms for advancement to C-level positions.

These programs have evolved in recent years and now admit self-sponsored students, like myself, who have left their jobs and will re-enter the workforce after completion of the program. Though within this demographic there are variations, I will focus on career “pivoters” and “switchers” during this post. If you fall into the category of a career “accelerator” (those who do not intend to switch industries or functions, but instead seek advancement in their current function and industry), help is on the way in future posts. Of course, you can feel free to reach out to someone in our class if you have immediate questions.

So, you’re looking for a change in your life. A few thoughts.

Foregone Salary

Every full-time MBA candidate has to deal with this. The immediate a trade-off to taking one or two years off of work to complete an MBA is your earnings potential during that time frame. Will it be worth it? There certainly are ways to determine this mathematically, but they’re largely based on each person’s unique situation, and a number of variables that are simply unknown until you graduate (the actual salary you will make after graduation, for example). The advantage that you gain at the IBEAR MBA is that it is just one year, the program runs from July to July with no breaks for summer, and no time is wasted. So if your current salary is $100k, do the math…this is the beginning cost of an MBA. Most mid-career professionals are earning an amount sufficient to give pause to the notion of taking two years off for a sabbatical.

Time for Reflection and Decision Making

Some people want to take a break from work and attend an MBA in order to re-evaluate their life, to take time to reflect. In terms of a one-year MBA like IBEAR, you should really give thought to how you will approach this. In an accelerated program you will walk a delicate balance between the following elements of your life:

  1. Academics: This is an advanced degree, and the academics are rigorous. You are literally doing the work of two years in one year. Most of the two-year full time students sit in a classroom for about a half a day, Monday-Thursday (this is a generalization, some time periods are more hectic than others). At IBEAR, you will be in class on most days from 9am to 4pm. You will also have a healthy dose of homework, case analysis, and group project work that will keep you busy –at all times.
  2. Networking/Social Life: Many people, myself included, believe that one of the primary benefits you will derive from an MBA
    Networking is important, and it doesn't happen through passive contact.

    Networking is important, and it doesn’t happen through passive contact.

    is that you will build a strong bond with a strong network of accomplished professionals. This, however, does not happen through passive contact, it happens by taking the time to get to know the amazing people with which you have connected.

  3. Family: I don’t think this requires a great deal of explanation, but rest assured, neglected families don’t tend to flourish. IBEAR provides a living stipend for all students that live at Park La Brea apartments, near West Hollywood; most of our class lives there. This creates a tight knit family community that can really help families, most of which have relocated from abroad, find a sense of community during the program. It also helps families understand that it’s not just their wife or husband that is studying until midnight.
  4. Job Hunt: Finding a job after IBEAR, or any MBA, is a tremendous undertaking. The competition is stiff, nothing is guaranteed. In many ways, your job search will be contingent on your ability to network, excel in academics, and represent yourself well— but make no mistake, job searching is an activity of its own and it requires a great deal of effort. IBEAR has a dedicated career advisor that handles the 40 self-sponsored students in the program, something that no other program at Marshall has. She will be the first to tell you—if you don’t start your job search early and dedicate yourself to developing and executing a good plan, you will struggle.
You'll get to know this classroom well

You’ll get to know this classroom well

So where does this leave you? If you are ready to jump in and commit immediately, and I mean immediately, to all of the above mentioned “buckets,” you are ready for IBEAR. Many candidates are not worried about immediate job searches, they are comfortable with focusing on networking, family and academics for most, if not all of their IBEAR tenure, with the plan of focusing exclusively on job searching after the program concludes. Some don’t have immediate families. If you show up ready to neglect your network or your academics, you should really consider another program (perhaps UCLA…).

Others want to maximize all four of the areas above. I would argue that it is possible to do so if you understand the program and do your research before arriving. For example, if you want to break into consulting, the 1st day of IBEAR would be a terrible day for you to discover the joys of the case interview. If you want to break into investment banking, you should probably have a better than average understanding of what that takes before you arrive. Rest assured, if you have a post MBA career plan in mind, there’s a pretty good chance that someone in IBEAR’s 38 years of history has done it. If you are focused and know what you want to do after IBEAR, the best way to answer this question is to start talking to people in the program and start to build your understanding of how you can do it, too.

The Opportunities

Recruiting at Marshall is intense, there are no shortage of opportunities or large firms in the mix. While I’m too early in the program to have realized it on a large scale, I have already seen the power of the IBEAR network in action. The strength of Marshall’s alumni network was recently ranked as the 6th strongest on the planet, and I would argue that IBEAR is a more tightly knit group than Marshall in general. IBEAR MBAs have gone on to be CEOs, entrepreneurs, investment bankers, consultants, operations managers, and probably just about every other thing you could imagine an MBA doing. Want to start a business? USC has the one of the top ranked entrepreneur programs in the country, you won’t find better or more abundant resources, anywhere. Being an MBA candidate opens up countless opportunities, never in my life have so many people been so interested in hearing my story and helping me achieve my goals.

The Bottom Line

So, is IBEAR right for you? It’s a highly personal question. Some are more suited to handling the challenges this environment than are others, and if you’re of sufficient age and experience to be eligible for IBEAR, you know if that’s you.