On getting a fancy MBA…

If I was admitted to a prestigious business school and scheduled to begin in January or even September, I’m pretty sure I’d defer.

Take a gap year, take two.

For many students, the two most important parts of the top-tier MBA are getting in and getting out. It’s about selection and certification.

For the last seventy years, the most famous graduate schools in business have been honing a particular model of teaching and value creation. They excel at a sometimes-magical sort of classroom experience, one that uses exclusivity and status and real-time high-stakes interaction to create an esprit de corps as well as occasional moments of real growth. And when the programs work, the $350,000 in tuition and opportunity cost for two years can be repaid with a fancy job that brings leverage and impact to the certified graduate.

The scarce degree is a signaling mechanism for a certain group of consultants and investment banks eager to hire people who have been filtered out and paid their dues as a way of showing commitment to a specific career.

It’s predicted that more people will apply this year than ever before. In uncertain times, the process feels reassuring. For most students, the elite MBA is about the prize at the end, not the learning or the experience.

Due to the pandemic, many of those in-person interactions moved online. And if the schools are honest about it, the interactions they offered online aren’t very good. Instead of the result of nearly a century of improvement, they’re often slapped together, and they’re filled with compromise. The people who built them weren’t charged with improving what was on offer on campus, they were supposed to come up with something that would either augment it or be a less-expensive and less-prestigious alternative for people who couldn’t participate in the ‘real’ program.

My alma mater was proud to have shifted online in a matter of weeks, but they certainly realize that if it didn’t have the fancy name on it, it wouldn’t have been worth much.

After a semester or even a full year of this, it’s quite possible you won’t have really gotten to know your peers, nor will you have learned much more than you could have from a close reading of twenty books.

And for many, that’s okay, because they’re paying for the certificate, not the learning. I wrote about this twenty years ago…

When I taught at the NYU graduate school of business, I was amazed. Not by the caliber of students, which was very high, but at how little emotional enrollment and intellectual curiosity many of them had in learning what was on offer. A few realized how much they could learn, but many of the students were simply concerned with what was on the test.

When I started the altMBA five years ago, I probably chose the wrong name for it. Because I didn’t set out to replace the business school. Instead, the goal has always been to use a new medium in a new way, to create a thirty-day experience that does what it does better than it could be done any other way.

As a filtering/certifying/sorting mechanism, the elite MBA remains a profitable path for the few people who end up at McKinsey and similar institutions. But most of us don’t have those jobs and don’t want to do that work. Instead, we have the opportunity to level up and figure out how to find more relevance and impact in the work we choose to do. We don’t need a certificate–instead, it’s about learning to see and exploring how to make an impact.

The altMBA and its parent, Akimbo, are now independently owned and run, a B Corp. committed to doing work that matters. But the mission hasn’t changed–to use this new medium in a productive way to help people level up. If you’ve been wondering, “is this all there is to work,” it might be a good time to check out the altMBA. If you’re ready to lean into the process and the learning, without giving up your day job or focusing on scarcity, the altMBA could be a good fit.

No teachers, no gurus, no tests, no accreditation. Simply community in service of finding a better way forward.

The Early Decision admission deadline is tomorrow, Tuesday.

If you know someone in traditional education who is eager to push their medium forward, I hope you’ll point them to what they’re building at Akimbo. At 2% of the cost, it shouldn’t be better than what the famous schools are offering online, but I’m pretty certain that it is.

Education and learning are often very different. And online is not simply the same as sitting in a very big classroom but with a keyboard. It’s an entirely new form of pedagogy, one that’s about doing, not complying, about possibility, not coercion.

We have the chance to make things better. To learn and to lead. Together.