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The real reason to get an MBA

Preston Neal headshot

Preston Neal (MBA ’16)

When I left my job in New York City to enroll full-time in business school, several people cautioned me that it would be a waste of time and money that would derail my career. Articles in major newspapers and business magazines questioned whether an MBA degree was still worth the cost of time, tuition and lost income. Young, intelligent entrepreneurs were getting rich every day by leveraging their extended networks, free or inexpensive online business courses and a venture capital community looking for the next big investment opportunity. Thus, the argument can be made that an MBA is no longer the best way to increase your net worth.

On the other side of the coin, my “pro-MBA” friends and family emphasized that a graduate degree in business would make me more marketable to companies and lead to a much higher salary after graduating. In other words, the real reason to get an MBA is to get a good job and a sweet paycheck.

Both of these points-of-view have significant merit, but there is a more compelling reason to get an MBA that, at face value, has little to do with expected future income. At its best, business school is a two-year incubator for becoming an impactful leader.

A capella group Confidence Intervals (L-R: Javier de Santibanes, Tony Morash, Caspar Xu and Preston Neal)

A capella group Confidence Intervals (L-R: Javier de Santibanes, Tony Morash, Caspar Xu and Preston Neal)

What do I mean by that?

There are four primary aspects  of business school that students focus on: Academic, career, extracurricular and social. B-school students thrive when they are actively engaging in each of these areas. Obviously, there are important concepts to learn and we all need to find a job. But by far, my most significant growth has come from being active in campus clubs and pursuing leadership opportunities —including starting the first a cappella group at UNC Kenan-Flagler—and building my network by participating in social events with my classmates.

Balancing the demands and opportunities presented in these four areas requires a significant amount of intention. When I started my MBA program, I bought a white board, hung it on my bedroom wall and created four columns—one for each area. In each column, I wrote one or two goals for what I wanted to accomplish that quarter, semester and year. Seeing those specific, time-based goals on a daily basis has helped me evaluate how I allocate my time.Most importantly, it has given me the clarity of purpose to say no to the dozens of interesting opportunities that come my way that ultimately do not fit with my goals.

Preston Neal (MBA '16) performs at Legacy Cup Karaoke

Preston Neal (MBA ’16) performs at Legacy Cup Karaoke

This method may not work well for everyone, but I believe that it is important to have a system to help make decisions driven by your leadership development priorities rather than fear of missing out or reacting to what others around you are doing.

Business school is the only place I know of where you are actively encouraged to devote time to becoming the type of leader and professional that you want to be. True, many companies have incredible leadership development programs – some have built a culture that emphasizes feedback and mentorship. But the MBA experience is unparalleled for its immersive, rigorous program that, if utilized thoughtfully, can help you become a highly effective leader.

 By Preston Neal (MBA ’16)