MBA or Start My Business?

Question: I’m 35. I feel like I hit the rock bottom in my career path and I’m totally lost. Some people I know recommended getting an MBA. scales and booksOthers say it is a waste of time and money, since I am too OLD by the time I get the degree, and no one would hire me. Actually I know some unemployed MBAs around me. It is scary! So my question is, does MBA open a lot of doors? Or, should I just keep the money to start my own company?

That’s a tough one: MBA vs. start your own business.

If ever there were a good reason for business planning, this is it. Do that business plan first, to break your uncertainty down into more manageable pieces. Be honest about what you can sell, how much, and how much it will cost you. It’s not just generic start a business vs MBA, but rather, start this specific business, given this business plan, vs. MBA. That’s a huge difference. Are you hitting  the startup sweet spot or just dreaming?

If you come to me with some generalized idea of a new business, or looking for what kind of business to start, selecting from lists of interesting new businesses, then forget it. Do the MBA. Or don’t. But a vague general longing to start some business or other isn’t the same as wanting to start a specific business, based on your strengths and weaknesses and what you want to do, defined in a business plan that makes sense and indicates it is a viable business.

I suspect you emailed me because of my Read This Before You Get an MBA post on this blog earlier this month. And for your situation, I stick with some of the things I said in that post. Specifically:

  • Don’t do it for the money
  • Don’t do it if you hate school
  • Don’t do it if you can’t afford it

To your specific question, though, about an MBA opening a lot of doors: not necessarily. A lot of MBA programs include strong career resource programs that put a high priority on placing their graduates into good jobs; but some are better than others. Some times are better than others. I was 33 when I finished my MBA, and being that old was not a disadvantage at all. But times change. I had classmates at Stanford who were in their late 30s (a very few) and some thought their age was a recruiting disadvantage.

What worked for me, and might work in your case as well, was the MBA came at a time when I was bored and uninspired with the career I was in, and looking for a change.

But you also should realize that there are no guarantees. There are a lot of unemployed people with fancy degrees, and that includes MBAs. The degree is something you do for yourself, for your own personal growth, and not just to find a job. Or at least that’s what I think.

So do a business plan. Then ask yourself that question again.

(Illustration: Daria Filimonova/Shutterstock)


  • Unidentified says:

    Tim note: I took the name and email off of this one because it would seem awkward to to include it. The comment was: “I am also in dilemma that what should i do?? Can anyone please guide me, my problem is that i did my MBA 4rm IIPM and spend 10 lac rupees and i got job in [company name omitted] as marketing development executive and my salary is just 16k . so everyday i think that do i deserve these much only ?? i want to start up my own business but dont know how to do?? so please help me in getting the solution please.”

    In a follow-up email, I referred him to and

  • Isabel Charleton says:

    I had the same dilemma: should I finish my education goals or should I start a self employed business? Well, my financial situation had to do a lot on my decision. I decided to start an internet marketing business with a reputable coach. My life is changing.

    An internet business is like any other business, it takes time to build up but the rewards can be great.

    Visit my blog for more info

  • Richard says:

    Years ago I debated on the same issue. I decided to start my own business. Part of my reasoning is that with an MBA you are competing with everyone else who had nothing better to do but get an MBA and chase the ever shrinking employment pie. Obviously I’m biased but you could spend the time it takes to find a job, in this economy months 6 months +, and get a decent bplan together.

  • Erin Bury says:

    I like the 3 pieces of advice on whether to get an MBA or not. I think a lot of people who are bored in their careers and looking for that next step turn to an MBA because it’s logical, or because someone told them it’s the key to more money and a corner office. I would never do an MBA only because I have no desire to go back to school, and I’d rather spend the time and money involved on starting my own business. But I think your answer makes sense – it’s going to be different for every person, depending on their age, the business they want to start, and their motivation for doing an MBA.

  • John Crickett says:

    There is a third option – do both! Which is what I’m currently doing.

    Ideally get the business off the ground first and making enough money for you to live off. But once you’ve done that there’s no reason you can’t then do a MBA part-time.

  • Dennis Baker says:

    Tim makes a lot of great points above.

    From my perspective, the further you get away from school, the less “value” will be placed on education. At 35 your at least 10 years from your schooling. If I’m hiring, I will be looking at “what” have you done in the last 10 years, what are your accomplishments, how have you advanced in the organization, what were your responsibilities, etc.

    Unless your looking at a “primer” MBA – I don’t know that you will see the value 10 years out.

    Don’t do something just to do something. Take the time to truly soul search. Find your passion. If money were no object, what would you do? Work for yourself? Work for someone else? Big company? Small company? Begin to home in on those thoughts and them put an action plan in place to migrate towards that goal.

    Good luck

  • Chris Stevenson says:

    I’d also ask – what’s the business idea?

    You imply that by recommending they do a business plan, but the emailer wasn’t highly specific in your quoted portion of their email. So if they don’t have a specific business plan idea at all, then I’d be concerned with even considering this to be an option.

    I’d also add the part-time MBA route as an option. As you note in your linked to post, get the best named/reputation school you can get. But after a certain point your calculation is really “Does having MBA on my resume outweigh not having it?”

    I got my MBA part-time from a school with a decent full-time reputation (Smith School of Business at the University of MD). Did it in 2 calendar years, took extra off semester courses, everything I took was of near-term and long-term benefit to me, and it enabled me to network withing my classes. This is a bit of an outlier as Smith’s part-time program is a lot of government, military and government consultants. That’s my demographic, so it fit really well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *