Skip the MBA: 3 Reasons Why You Should Get Real-World Experience Instead

Bill Gates Reclining on Desk
Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, reclines on his desk in his office soon after the release of Windows 1.0. 1985 Bellevue, Washington, USA. Photo by Esparta.

By HootSuite CEO, Ryan Holmes

This post was originally published by HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes on the LinkedIn Influencer blog.

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In 1999, I dropped out of business school. I think it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Fast-forward to the present and I’m CEO of HootSuite, a quickly growing social media company with 300 (amazing) employees and more than 6 million customers. It was real-world experience in business that led me every step of the way—not an expensive college degree.

Higher education is pricier than ever, but in today’s job climate, it doesn’t always guarantee a return on investment. This especially applies to the once-coveted Master in Business Administration. Here’s why:

1. MBAs no longer make sense financially.

Many people say they want an MBA for the money. But decreasing salaries for MBA graduates combined with skyrocketing tuition costs mean they aren’t experiencing the kind of financial rewards they once did. While students coming out of top U.S. MBA programmes in the mid-1990s saw their salaries triple in just five years, graduates leaving the exact same programs in 2008 and 2009 saw that pay cut spike in half. Meanwhile, MBA students in 2012 paid 62 percent more in fees compared to those in 2005. A two-year MBA at an established school like Harvard or Columbia may well cost you around $150,000. That’s just staggering.

2. MBAs are no longer the best way to network.

A lot of people get an MBA for the networking opportunities. But the Internet and social media have changed the way we network. Now, anyone can connect with people all over the world using professional social networking sites like LinkedIn. Even Facebook and Twitter are proving to be tools for connecting with valuable allies and business partners. Take for example the story of Stacey Ferreira, a 19-year-old who landed a million-dollar investment from Richard Branson with a tweet. (She’s since dropped out of college.) Technology has leveled the playing field—no longer do you need an Ivy League pedigree to mingle with the decision makers.

MBA programs themselves tend to be highly competitive as well, so there’s no guarantee that your classmates are going to become trusted allies. As for the professors, they may not make the best contacts either, since many are smart theorists but untested business people.

3. MBAs are not as exclusive or prestigious anymore.

MBAs used to be something that really helped you stand out. Now that elite clique is more like a crowd. In 2010, schools in the US gave out 126,214 MBAs, a whopping 74 percent increase from the 2000-2001 school year. Before the early ‘90s, you had to be enrolled in a full-time program to attain an MBA. These days, you can get one part-time or online from schools that are hardly household names.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that an MBA is worthless. It still boosts your chances for employment. It’s just that the degree no longer offers the same value it once did. The new business landscape—thanks in part to the Internet and social media—grants innovative, entrepreneurial and ambitious people all sorts of new opportunities, without the degrees.

So instead of burdening yourself with a $100,000 debt, why not try an internship or start your own business? Instead of pursuing purely financial goals, why not pursue a passion instead? Find that activity you get lost in, the thing you love to do, and do it. After dropping out of business school, I followed two of my greatest passions, programming and entrepreneurship. Safe to say, I don’t regret my decision.

But don’t take it from me. Ask Harvard first-year dropout Bill Gates. Or Ted Turner, billionaire founder of CNN and TBS. Or Sir Richard Branson, who skipped college and started his own magazine company at the age of 16. And let’s not forget the late and great Steve Jobs, who dropped out of Reed College after just six months and instead spent the next year and a half dropping in on a variety of classes…including a calligraphy course.

For more social media insight and to learn more about my company, follow HootSuite on LinkedIn.