Is earning an MBA worth it? Each year, thousands of students ask this very question, yet find conflicting advice.
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Certainly, on paper, MBA graduates earn more. A recent study from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) showed that median starting salaries for MBA graduates are almost twice those of people with only bachelor’s degrees (though you have to figure in that the GMAC advocates for leading graduate business schools).
You also have to figure in the fact that graduate school can cost six figures or more before you get that degree. And that doesn’t even count the time you’ll spend out of the workforce pursuing it.
And, really, the counterpoint here is that you can pretty much create your own MBA program by taking an entirely different path — one that will cost as little as $100 per year. What path, you ask? Let’s talk about blogging.
Starting a blog vs. earning an MBA
First, I have to start with a disclaimer. I didn’t earn my MBA. In fact, I actually dropped out of an MBA program.
Instead, I earned a regular ol’ college degree, became a financial advisor and eventually acquired the certified financial planner designation. Then, instead of pursuing more college after starting my career, I jumped directly into entrepreneurship by starting my own blog, GoodFinancialCents.com.
While I never again sat in a classroom, I learned all about business the hard way — through trial and error. For example, blogging taught me how to:
Network, not in person, but online. Since networking in an online space is totally different from traditional networking, this one was hard. Eventually though, I learned how to reach out to other bloggers through cold emails to get guest posts and backlinks to my website.
Get my business (my website) where people could see it. Through trial and error, I learned to use social media to connect with journalists who would interview me and link back to my site. Because of these connections, I’ve been quoted in major media such as Fox Business, USA Today and CNBC.
Educate myself. Since I knew nothing at first about blogging, I had to figure out which resources could help me learn about search engine optimization (SEO), HTML, WordPress and other intricacies of blogging for profit.
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Learn to monetize. While I started my blog to serve as a resource for my customers, I wanted to earn money, too. Over time, I learned tons of ways to earn money and how to implement them myself.
Grow my reach. Financial websites are a dime a dozen, and you have to find a way to make yours stand out. I learned to expand my reach by creating movements people could get excited about, then getting other bloggers on board. With my Roth IRA movement, for example, I was able to get 140 bloggers to write about the value of the Roth IRA as a retirement vehicle, then link back to me.
Make my website presentable, and thus more profitable. Not only did I learn which type of headlines did and didn’t bring eyeballs, but I learned about testing colors, types of affiliate links, ad placements, and the various ad networks. In a lot of ways, blogging is like an art form; it takes the right combination of ingredients to make everything work well together.
Could I have earned all of this in a classroom? Of course. But, by not getting an MBA and building a business instead, I learned nearly everything I needed to know about business by doing. And now I have a blog that earns hundreds of thousands of dollars each year instead of hundreds of thousands of dollars of MBA debt.
Should you earn an MBA or start a blog?
While it’s true my situation isn’t exactly typical (not everyone makes a million dollars blogging), lots of bloggers earn a full-time income.
Take Jill Stanton from Screw the 9 to 5, for example. She and her husband Josh started a niche website in 2011, then turned blogging into their full-time careers. Now, the couple teaches others to do the same. But Stanton claims they learned the bulk of their skills through trial and error, not homework.
“No amount of traditional education can ever prepare you for what it is truly like to run your own business online,” Stanton said.
That’s because an MBA is not designed to teach you; you have to be a great businessperson, Omar Zenhom, the host of the $100 MBA podcast said. Instead, MBAs are “designed to prepare you for entry-level management.” While MBA programs can teach you plenty, they cannot possibly teach you how to be an effective leader, innovator or entrepreneur, Zenhom said.
On the flip side, starting a blog forces you to cultivate an opinion on your subject matter and back it up with research and experience. “We learn by doing,” said Zenhom. “A blog forces you to do, with a publishing schedule.”
Another key point from Zenhom was this: Don’t forget your blog is public. Running your business idea through some pretend scenarios in your MBA program is one thing, but your blog is much more than an experiment. “What you create on your blog is real and in the real world.” he said.
Blog or MBA? How to decide.
Of course, bloggers think blogging is amazing, and you already know I do. But to get to the core of this issue, I decided to talk to people who blog for a living but also have an MBA.
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner is one blogger who fits the bill; she earned an MBA in finance before finding work as a financial analyst. Along the way, she started Making Sense of Cents, a millennial-focused blog that brings in more than $100,000 per month. With those profits, she no longer works as a financial analyst, and just blogs instead.
Is this a feasible path for everyone? Schroeder-Gardner said no: “Some people think that starting a successful blog is easier than it really is,” she said. “There is a lot that goes into running a website, most of which you can’t really see unless you are behind the scenes.”
Schroeder-Gardner listed research, quality content, advertising and marketing as some of the tasks would-be bloggers need to master on their own. If you’re someone who needs a lot of hand-holding, blogging may not work for you.
Also important to note is that most MBA programs teach the background of business, along with business theory. These lessons played a huge role in Schroeder-Gardner’s business success, she told me.
Robert Farrington is another MBA graduate; he started a blog called The College Investor. He said he learned a lot from both his MBA program and blogging, but the reality of “doing” with blogging was much more profound.
“I don’t want to dismiss my MBA experience,” he said, “but learning something in a classroom or group versus going out and trying it is very different. My MBA program really tried to emphasize experiences, but the classroom just doesn’t compare to the real world.” Farrington suggested figuring out your ROI before pursuing an MBA. The program he was in rang in at $80,000 by the time he graduated; it costs more than six figures now.
“You need to know the cost of your MBA,” he said. “Can you get a scholarship? Do you get tuition reimbursement from your employer? Are you going to have to take out student loans?”
All of this is important if you want your MBA to be profitable, or at least justifiable.
H. Luke Landes, one of the bloggers behind Adulting.tv, has his MBA but has also started several successful and profitable blogs. Landes said he looks back on both his blogging beginnings and his MBA experience as positive, with different lessons learned from each. But in his MBA program, he said, he gained a better understanding of financial management and risk management — both lessons that aren’t necessarily easy to learn as a hands-on business owner.
Blogging, on the other hand, has been “a real-world application of organizational management theories and techniques” which he said he learned during his MBA studies.
Is an MBA worth pursuing? Landes said it depends on who is paying. “Find someone else to pay for it,” he advised “or just don’t do it.” He added that if you’re so concerned about the cost of your MBA, you might not be a good candidate anyway.
Final pro tip, and this is a good one: Don’t start a blog with the idea you’re going to get rich overnight. As Landes and others noted, the idea that blogging is some huge money-maker is popular these days. But it's not realistic.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams out there promising suckers they’ll get rich quick by starting a blog,” Landes said. The painful truth, he said, is that there are thousands of abandoned blogs whose owners gave up after their financial expectations weren’t met.
Related: 6 Strategies for Launching a Successful Blog
“And where do those expectations come from?” Landes said, answering his own question: “Seeing other people succeed without knowing the kind of work that goes into it — whether they’re selling people on the idea of making money blogging or not.”
Certainly, blogging can be rewarding, but it’s not the get-rich-quick scheme people make it out to be. MBAs pose a similar challenge; you can learn a lot for sure, but the investment might not pay off.
Whichever path you choose, place a bet on yourself . . . then go for it.