Business School is a great opportunity to learn about various principles of management and financial analysis, as well as an opportunity to network and establish personal and professional relationships with classmates. As an entrepreneur, such skills, knowledge, and relationships can be very helpful when navigating the real world decisions that face a business owner every day.
Based on the premise that an MBA is a desirable experience, and taking into account the fact that many types of MBA programs exist this article will analyze which type of program is right for an entrepreneur turning 30 (which just happens to be my situation).
For this comparison I have decided to use Rice University. I have chosen them not because I live in Houston, TX (which is in some ways too bad since it is a really nice large city with a quite affordable cost of living) but because they offer three options for getting a Master of Business Administration. The other reason to choose the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management (the formal school name for the Rice MBA) is because of the academic reputation of Rice University. It also does not hurt that their campus is so beautiful.
Let's first take a look at the standard, or full-time Houston MBA. This program features full-time classes that meet during the daytime Monday through Thursday. Full-time MBA students need to dedicate the majority of the workweek to being in class. This option could work for a web-based entrepreneur since, in many cases, owning web-based business does allow for flexibility in scheduling and performing work. However, for someone running a business where contact with clients and customers is required, this daytime program might conflict with the normal flow of business.
Another factor to consider is what type of classmates will a person have in the Rice full-time MBA? According to the Rice site, the average full-time MBA student has 4 years work experience and is age 27, which is still somewhat in the peer group of a 30 year old entrepreneur. Rice touts the program's career focus as "career-change" oriented, and classmates in this program will have a different attitude toward their educational experience, looking to change jobs rather than advance in their current work. The other thing to consider is networking opportunities. Relationships with classmates in the full-time MBA program will be rewarding, but as far as business networking, these relationships may not bear fruit professionally for a number of years until classmates have the chance to establish themselves in their new career path. On the other hand, since the Full-time student body is dedicating two years to the MBA program they most likely have more time to form closer personal friendships.
Looking at cost, the full-time program is certainly the most affordable. Perhaps that factor would be persuasive for an entrepreneur who is focused on controlling costs.
Next, let's take a closer look at the PMBA program. At Rice, this Houston PMBA stands for Professional MBA or MBA for Professionals. In other circles, similar programs are called part-time MBA programs. Personally, I think that Rice has done a better job of giving a positive sounding name to the program. "Part-time" almost creates an association in my mind with hobbyists or amateurs. The word Professional explicitly states that it is intended for Professionals.
The Rice PMBA program is intended for Houston based working professionals who want to enhance their career opportunities without interrupting their career by taking time off to go to Business School. While the name "part-time" MBA does not have the same ring to it as MBA for Professionals, the fact remains that it is an accurate description of the class schedule. Classes are conducted a couple nights a week in the evenings.
The obvious benefit to this is that it leaves the daytime open for work. This is really helpful for a business owner who needs to be accessible during the day to clients and customers. Another up-side to pursing this option for an MBA degree is that for those concerned about grades, they will be competing for grades with classmates who are in a similar situation as far as time commitment, working full-time and taking classes. By contrast, classmates in the Full-time program might have a slight edge over an entrepreneur who is still running their business while taking classes, unless he chose to put the business on hold.
Another plus side for a 30 year-old entrepreneur is that classmates in the PMBA program are even closer in age and experience. Rice reports that their Houston PMBA program student demographic has an average of 6 years work experience and average age of 29. These students are in large parts already in companies or industries where they look to advance. This means that business networking can see faster return on investment. On the flip side, busy students who are also working full-time may not have the same time or interest in forming many new personal friendships. However, the professional networking in this group may be an even stronger impulse, especially in cases where the connection can be of mutual benefit for career advancement. This group might perhaps be the most interested in joint venture opportunities.
As far as the issue of cost, the PMBA is in the middle, being less expensive than the Executive MBA and more expensive than the daytime MBA.
Rice offers an MBA for Executives, which is also known as Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA). The schedule for this offers very extreme flexibility in that the class meets on alternate Fridays and Saturdays. That means the class sessions are concentrated within a couple days, so that leaves the chance to go on business trips or tend to other time intensive projects. At the same time, the sessions can be intense and tiring. For the motivated 30 year-old entrepreneur the time flexibility is worth the trade-off of long weekend class meetings every other week.
The type of student drawn to this program is older (average age 38) and more experienced (average age 38). In general these students are established in their respective field and as a resulted are much more connected than the other two student groups in the degree programs above. For this reason, high-level networking opportunities are the greatest in this group. For an entrepreneur at age 30, the group as a whole may seem older, but somebody has to bring the average age down for those people on the opposite side of the age span. Networking within this group may offer the best opportunity to develop ties with strategic partnerships with large companies and/or access to venture capital money to expand a business.
This group pays the highest tuition rates. For many of the people in the program, this is not an issue since their company is footing the bill. For the cost-conscious entrepreneur, this high tuition rate may seem excessive, but depending on the plans for business development and type of industry that he or she is in the extra cost may pay for itself in added high-level networking opportunities.
The 30 year-old Entrepreneur @ B-School
This is an interesting age to pick, and may not be a realistic age for most entrepreneurs to decide to go to Business School. The reason that I say that is because in a lot of cases people who are successful entrepreneurs at age 30 may not have finished their undergraduate degree, or even in some cases they may not have even started it. One famous example of the entrepreneur dropout is Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft. Thanks to the internet there seem to be more and more 30 year old entrepreneurs, some of whom get started in web-based business so young that they completely bypass college to focus on their business. For these people if their business survives until their 30th Birthday there is little incentive to go back to college.
For other 30-year old entrepreneurs their business may revolve around a tech project from their graduate or Ph.D. studies. These guys are not really looking to go back to business school either, since they already have an advanced degree.
There is still another set of 30 year-old entrepreneurs, those who finished college and worked for a couple years before starting on their own. For these people 30 may not feel like the right age for an MBA. In this case the business owner probably wants to spend a few more years to get their business to a more established point before heading back the business school.
So while the example in this article may not be the most common one, it has hopefully still been a useful thought exercise as to how to approach the decision to attend business school and which type of program to choose.
(As a closing note, the Jones School at Rice has a thriving entrepreneurship community.
by Cameron Hatch
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