The decision to go back to school isn’t an easy one, especially for women who have families. After all, getting an MBA is a huge commitment of both time and money. (To learn more about the cost of an MBA, read related story, “Thinking MBA? Here’s How to Pay For It.” For more on different types of programs, including part-time and virtual, read “Thinking MBA? Have It Your Way.”)
Despite the challenges, we found three women who say they are glad they earned their MBAs. Some enjoyed major career growth. Estrella, for instance, is now a vice president at Goldman Sachs & Co. For others, the benefits are not as easy to quantify, but the advanced degree still is valuable to the women. Here are their stories.
For Estrella, applying to business school was particularly daunting because English is her second language. Still, the Dominican Republic native accepted the challenge of studying for the GMAT, researching schools and applying only to four top-tier business programs. She asked friends with MBAs to critique her essays. The application process was grueling, she says, but “rather than getting discouraged, I took it as a challenge.” She got into three of the four and chose the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.
How did Estrella and her family afford her stint as a full-time student? The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management paid her tuition with a merit-based fellowship, but moving her family from New York City to Ann Arbor, Mich., took savings and loans. Was it worth it? No question, says the 2002 graduate. Today, she is responsible for all initiatives pertaining to the Hispanic community at Goldman Sachs.
“Five years out [of business school], my future prospects are much greater and more open than if I settled in and stayed at my old firm,” Estrella explains. At Michigan, Estrella says some of the most valuable lessons she learned were in finance and teamwork. She also developed a great network of peers and professionals. “I have friends from business school almost in every industry and at major companies,” she says. “Yet, much more than that, my life is much more interesting and rich for the experience and the collateral experiences that have sprung out of it.”
Patti Tom, who worked as the editor of a trade publication, was looking for a new challenge and interested in the business side of publishing. “To some extent, I felt that being able to ‘talk the talk’ would earn me more respect from the financial people in my company,” she says.
She attended Georgia State University’s part-time program, while continuing in her job. The good new is that her company paid 80 percent of her tuition as long as she made As. The bad news: Her life during that period was so busy that she felt stretched to the limit.
During her first year, Tom only took one class per semester but quickly realized “at that pace, it would take me forever to finish,” she says. So three years into the program, which took her three and a half years to complete, Tom was taking three classes each semester. “That meant I had nearly no social life,” she says. “In that last year, I felt like I was not doing either my job or school work to the best of my abilities, but was doing what I could to get by. It wasn’t the best scenario, and I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way again.”
Has she been able to do things differently in her career with an MBA? Tom says no. She still works on the editorial side of a trade publication, though she is in a new job in California. “I believe an MBA helps introduce you to business and management concepts, but someone could just as easily learn that information on the job,” she says.
The MBA may have propelled her career forward more had she stayed in Atlanta, she says, where she could have capitalized on the relationships she formed.
Still, she has no regrets. She thinks the degree helped her land her current job. Also, she says, “in my personal life, I believe it has given me more confidence in my capabilities. I’m not afraid of numbers, and when it came to buying a a house, I could understand all the different loan options, interest, etc., because of my finance classes.”
Gretchen Effgen, a 2003 graduate of the London Business School, says she has seen a change in her career path due to earning her MBA. “Any education gives one confidence so, yes, an MBA certainly does that,” she says. “It allows you to go after positions that would be out of your reach otherwise.”
After a year traveling internationally and four years working in Washington, D.C., as an international trade and foreign policy analyst, Effgen decided to go to business school. She saw an MBA as a way to broaden her skill set and make herself more marketable. “While I had the international experience, I lacked the business skills,” she explains. “I was at a point in my job where I couldn’t advance without a graduate degree.”
Effgen researched American business schools but preferred to go overseas. “I wanted internationalism to be part of the fabric of the whole experience,” she says. The London Business School was her top—and only—choice. “I decided if I was going to spend the money and take the time out, it had to be the perfect place for me and my goals. I wasn’t going to settle.”
Some of the most valuable skills she mastered were entrepreneurial—Effgen learned business vocabulary, how to write a business plan, evaluate opportunities and secure financing to start her own company. In 2004, the mother of two founded World Notes LLC, a children’s international education media company with offices in London and Boston. She has also held a Presidential Management Fellowship with the Small Business Administration. Effgen credits her MBA experience with much of her business success. “It was an excellent investment,” she says. “I have never given [my decision to get an MBA] a second thought.”