What’s in a name? What’s in a degree?

I can’t believe it’s already March! I’ve had a little over two weeks to digest my acceptance at the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University but it feels so much longer than that!

By the way, I still quite haven’t nailed how I plan to address the school name. Is it Johnson? The Johnson School? S.C. Johnson? Johnson Cornell University? JGSM? Cornell MBA? Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University? My God, that’s a mouthful.

A part of me cannot help but to be lured by the simplicity of the “(blank) Business School” naming convention. As someone exploring the possibility of a career in brand management, it’s only natural for me to consider what goes in a name. I’ve connected with a few of the Johnson students on LinkedIn and here’s a sampling of the headlines under the PEOPLE ALSO VIEWED section:

“MBA Candidate 2013 at Cornell University – S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management”
“MBA 2013 Candidate, Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University”
“MBA Candidate and Roy H. Park Leadership Fellow at Cornell”
“MBA Candidate at the Johnson School of Business at Cornell”
“MBA at Cornell University-Johnson Business School”
“MBA Candidate at Johnson at Cornell University”
“Class of 2013 MBA Candidate, Johnson at Cornell”

So… it appears as if I am not alone in the indecisive naming capacity of Cornell’s business school. One student uses the preposition “at” twice (i.e. “at Johnson at Cornell” which sounds redundant… most students use a comma to address this). Another forgoes the name “Johnson” completely and opts to simply go with the Cornell brand. A few others decide to say the hell with it and rename it as they see fit. Few students appear to use the initials S.C.

Anywaaaayyyys, haha, sorry for the random rant. I reckon I’ll just use whatever damn wording comes to mind when I’m typing!

Moving on…

…things have been pretty good. I shared the good news with my line manager and recommenders at work, who congratulated me and were very happy for me. I’ve grown to be pretty close with my line manager over the years and so we have been very candid with each other lately. He’s happy for me and doesn’t blame me for moving on in order to take my career in a different direction – but he sure as heck isn’t looking forward to coming into work without me. My absence will make his job a lot tougher and he knows that he’ll be lucky to find a replacement with the right “fit” to the team. I’ve offered to train my replacement of course, but as I have not yet provided a formal exit date, the managers can’t exactly hire an additional full-time head on the spot. Budgets have dried up within this industry.

Speaking of budgets, I am thrilled to report that I received a small scholarship from Cornell! It isn’t a significant amount but it isn’t exactly spit-in-my-face type of money either. I’ll gladly accept the scholarship money thank you! But the good news did hit me with a dose of reality and made me take a closer look at the tuition numbers, the additional expenses, my bank statements, the rapidly growing number of e-mails from the school about outside sources of funding and federal loans and other scholarship avenues… and I may have started to sweat a little.

Now that I am on the other side of the glass, I realize it is not as easy as I once envisioned to stomach the idea of investing so much money into the degree, effectively wiping out my life’s savings in one fell swoop.

Here’s a recent article published by the Wall Street Journal recommending against pursuing an MBA at business school. To sum, here are a few of the reasons justifying the article’s premise:

– “If you want a business education, the odds aren’t with you […] professors are rewarded for publishing journal articles, not for being good teacher.”

– “Consider what you could do instead with that $174,000.”

– “You cannot buy a network.”

I won’t refute the notion that the incentives for research and publications are highly significant for business school faculty members. This however, does not imply that the professors aren’t “good teachers”. This article attempts to paint the picture of a professor knee-deep in his research, too busy to come up with a lesson plan, who simply mails it in in the classroom. Well, I’m here to say that I’ve sat in on a handful of b-school classes and this picture doesn’t even come close. If I want a “business education”, I think the odds soar pretty damn high that I’ll get one by attending a top 20 business school.

Yes, Coursera and Khan Academy and MIT’s OpenCourseWork are all great resources (in fact, I’m currently using two of them) but they simply cannot rival the in-classroom experience that includes interactivity with fellow peers and face-time with the professor. The classroom experience forces your engagement and encourages active participation. What happens when I use Coursera? I’m staring at a YouTube video, a one-way line of communication from the professor to the camera. Meanwhile, I have eight other tabs open on my Chrome browser just beckoning for my attention.

So what could I do with $174,000? I could fork over a size-able down payment on a house. I could go lay on a beach in Fiji for a significant amount of time. Yes, I could also seek to build “a profitable business over the course of two years” as the WSJ author suggests – as if it were that simple – but I could also fail miserably in doing so, as most start-ups do. Not every MBA student is an aspiring entrepreneur. Sure, when I’m in my 40’s the MBA degree probably won’t mean squat in terms of landing me a job if I’m SOL, but it will open more doors than I could ever accomplish on my own over the next 10 years.

Put yourself in the shoes of your future boss and imagine whom you would rather hire: the candidate (with extensive IT experience looking to transition into your industry) who built an unprofitable business over the course of two years, or the candidate with a relevant summer internship and an MBA degree from an Ivy League school?

The article’s third point regarding the network is oversimplifying things. Nobody believes in Me + $$$ = Instant Network. I understand that there is a great deal of effort on my part to actively build the network out. But this is why organizations exist. This is why fraternities, sororities, religious organizations, student associations, educational institutions, and LinkedIn groups thrive – its respective members share a common ideal or background.

Yes, if you are a superstar-in-the-making, who can “build an army of people” out of thin air, “become a master in your chosen field” irregardless of the fact that you may be transitioning into it for the first time, and build that “profitable business over the course of two years”, then yes, Dale Stephens has a point. You should skip the MBA.

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5 Responses to What’s in a name? What’s in a degree?

  1. highwyre237 says:

    Congrats on the $! I like simplistic names; MBA Candidate, Johnson at Cornell – Class of 2015. Hmmm, although… MBA Candidate, S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell – Class of 2015 sounds a bit more prestigious… or maybe just pretentious… Now you have me re-thinking everything!

  2. I think Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management sounds best. Go BIG RED!!

  3. bschoolgirl says:

    Congrats on your acceptance!! And great thoughts on the value of an MBA. With so much nay-saying in the media, it’s nice to be reminded why we went through so much hell to get here. But the best part is yet to come! Cheers!

  4. Cobra Kai says:

    – “Consider what you could do instead with that $174,000.”

    I could go on a weekend bender in Vegas, but I’m being responsible and going to B-school.

  5. Adrian says:

    Congrats! I will also be starting an MBA this year. I agree with most of your points. However, I believe some bosses would rather hire someone who spent two years building an unprofitable business over two years instead of someone who spent the last two years in school. People learn a lot when they fail.

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