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are MBA programs complete garbage?

I am doing an part time MBA at night. The program I am at was ranked in the top 40 in 2005. Not real high, but ranked.

After this semester I will be half way through. I have learned nothing about management. Most of it is complete garbage. There are alot of silly busy work assignments that do not add any value. The projects are garbage.

The only classes that have value are the technical type classes such as economics, finance, and accounting. However, this is the MBA version of these classes and they are not as intensive as classes for people majoring in these fields.

I actually had to take a "programming" class where we learned to use excel. I asked if I could get out of it and I would be willing to substituate a graduate level computer science class or a business class and they said no. It was a complete waste of time and money.

There are quite a few technical people in the program and most of us think its useless. There are a few non-technical people in here that feel the same way. However, the quality of people in the MBA program are quite low. People are primarily interested in their "grades" and how hard a class is or whether it fits one of the useless majors.

When I ask someone about a class I get say "does this class provide useful information that adds value to your life and career". I almost universally get a deer in the headlights look as a response.

virtually none of the professors have any real world work experience. One of the adjuncts is a VP at a major corporation, but he is the exception. how can someone who has never been a manager teach you to be a manager?

anyone else have an opinion? I have a technical masters and I chose an MBA over a PhD in Computer Science because I thought it would be more useful to my career. Unless the letters MBA mean anything on a resume I was clearly wrong.
MBA Student
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
" I have learned nothing about management. Most of it is complete garbage. "

Yes, that IS what management is all about. You're on the right track if that's what you want to do with your life. Instead of calling it garbage, embrace it because that's all it will ever be.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I have a friend who's doing an MBA at Warwick and the stuff she's doing seems to vary between prototypical boardlevel astronautics and some pretty reasonable core "this is how you run an actual business" type stuff.

I wouldn't mind turning up for the latter bits myself because they actually seem to be useful stuff.
Katie Lucas
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
It's been my experience that no MBA program actually teaches you useful skills. Err... you'd never really take a class on how to handle an employee who comes in late Monday afternoons, drunk off their ass, and yet is still a superstar programmer.

What these programs are supposed to do is make you aware of the different possibilities, and expose you to new ways of thinking. The expectation is that you'd then figure out what's the best solution for your specific, unique circumstance. For example, the afforementioned problem employee could be handled through telecommuting, flex-time, psychological evaluation (and support groups), additional insurance, a "no meetings on monday" philosophy, and even legal recourses. Before you can decide on the best course of action, you have to of course figure out the pros and cons of each, and the impact they will have on your business.

So yes, on the surface of things, all of these classes are bullshit. They however broaden the big picture for you.

Let's take another example, the Excel course. As... simple as Excel is, there are times will it would be much easier and faster to just bang out some statistics than to actually code a fully functioning Python calculator. There have been times when it took me 15 minutes to produce a report, and a peer a full day because he insisted on "coding" a tool to do it.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Doesn't MBA stand for "Master Bulls**t Artist?"  Or is it something else?  I can't remember.
John Cromartie
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I am sorry to hear that your experience with your MBA program is so negative.  My experience was 180 degrees. Most all of my professors had significant real-world experience coupled with a strong intellect and interest in teaching.  Many of my professors were nationally recognized in their field and yet were very approachable.  It was often a joy being around them.  I subsequently found that the management and analytical skills I learned in my two years there put me head and shoulders above most of my peers in the business world.  While I earned my MBA as a day student, I believe the choice of schools might be a significant factor.
David Wilson (Univ of Mich) Send private email
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
"you'd never really take a class on how to handle an employee who comes in late Monday afternoons, drunk off their ass, and yet is still a superstar programmer."

That's because Business Administration is not "Management" -- the MBA is more designed to teach you how to grow a company, finance its growth, manage risks, develop efficient business processes, and recognize and grab new opportunities. The latter is hard to define or teach and thus the esoteric nature of some of the classes, trying to get you to realize you sometimes have to "look outside the box." Whether those kinds of classes help, I don't know, but they have to at least try to cover the topic somehow.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I've never been through one, but I've had the impression that MBA programs are basically remediary business degrees for people that didn't get a Bachelor's in accounting/marketing/finance/etc.  Obviously, book learnin' is only going to give you some tools rather than a framework for the real world.

The whole 'leadership' thing is a different deal.  I wonder to what extent it can even be taught.  It would be interesting to compare post secondary school 'management' training with that of the military.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I've gotta admit Steve is right.

I'm also wondering if maybe there's just a disconnect somewhere - I remember reading a lot of people were taking MBA courses because that's where the money was. In recent years, companies have been downplaying the value of MBAs, and schools have been reinventing themselves to be more relevant.

If your classmates are getting the "deer in the headlights" look, it's quite possible they're taking the classes because they can, not because there's something specific they want to accomplish, like starting a business or becoming a CEO.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
"That's because Business Administration is not "Management" -- the MBA is more designed to teach you how to grow a company, finance its growth, manage risks, develop efficient business processes, and recognize and grab new opportunities."

That's not management?
David Wilson Send private email
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
When I got my MBA some years ago, I was always annoyed at those teachers who were basically self-important, ignorant yet opinionated, and an all around pain in the butt.

I remember one of the marketing teachers telling the class that we were to submit papers written as though we knew he was flying home in a plane after a late night meeting, 2 drinks under the belt, at 30,000 feet...etc,etc.etc.

What they really taught me was that the business world is populated by people exactly like them, and that I needed to learn how to handle this and propser anyway!
Yeah...useless paper
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
@TheDavid: I can learn excel from a book and google. I don't need to pay for someone to teach me how to code VBA.

@steve: they don't cover anything about how to run a company. We don't have any business simulations where you do a group project that consists of coming up with a concept for a company and a business plan. Or how to set up organizations in a company, etc....

I have an entrepreneurship class and its all academic crap. We have to actually write a research paper. How many entrepreneurs write research papers? How about a group project where we have to simulate creating a new company and coming up with a product?
MBA Student
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
What you really need to learn is how to pay other people to do your work for you. That is the essence of the capitalist system we've put in place.
Steve Hirsch Send private email
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I don't have an MBA.

I have a few friends with MBAs.

I work several MBAs.

For what it's worth, my opinion is that an MBA teaches you how to talk to other MBAs. I work with a very cynical project manager (from a technical background) with decades of experience who put it bluntly: an MBA teaches you how to make stupid sh!t sound smart.
A. Nonymous
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
"I can learn excel from a book and google. I don't need to pay for someone to teach me how to code VBA."

That really isn't the point.

The point is that unless you actually sit down and do a few things in Excel, you'd never really consider Excel to be a viable solution. You're not paying to learn VBA. You're really paying for someone to force you to learn.

Better example: a lot of kids are growing up these days never learning how to operate a manual transmission. Sure, they probably could figure out how to if they needed to (say their friend got drunk or something) but there's still a chance something can go wrong. Even though they may never drive a stick shift again in their lives, wouldn't you rather give them at least a couple of lessons now so if the time ever came, they could at least get the car home?

The same argument could be applied to research papers.  I loved "yeah...useless paper's" argument; the business world expects certain formats, styles, tones of voice, etc, and you really don't want to be learning that stuff when you've only got two days to write a crucial your-job-depends-on-it paper.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
This is pretty simple if you address it like a technical problem:
1. What are you trying to achieve?
1a. Be more specific.
2. Do you have reason to believe the MBA curriculum will help you achieve that goal?

It's impossible to determine the value of an MBA if you don't have a clearly stated goal in mind.  I think a lot of people consider the MBA because they're spinning their wheels and not moving forward.  What do you want to do?
Christy Send private email
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
@TheDavid: The business does not use research papers. I already have an undergraduate anyway. I know how to write research papers.

I also have never taken a class on basket weaving. If I don't sit down and do basket weaving I will never learn how to do it, but I can teach myself.

I asked to substitute the excel class with a graduate level CS class on algorithms or another MBA finance class. Those are classes that are far harder to teach myself.
MBA Student
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I am self taught in GAP accounting principles and I make tons of loot selling my own accounting software.

MBAs look good on your resume and they tell prospective employers that you went through the curriculum.  And why is this important, I think the underlying question really is, is because it tells everyone interested that you are smart enough to go get one.  You are smart enough to handle the course work and achieve.

Is it really this hard?  In fact, the OP asking this question probably should quit school for asking such a question too.  I find it exceedingly hilarious that you're asking such questions after the fact.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
"That's not management?"

Nope.  Business administration is about figuring out what the business should do, and how to do the paperwork.  Management is about getting people to actually do those things.  Unless you believe in just turning up the salary like it's the volume on a TV until you get the results you want.  If that's the case, can I come work for you?
Drew K
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Let's not forget that MBA stands for Masters of Business Administration

There's nothing in there about management and it's not a degree about management. It's a degree about finance, accounting, marketing, etc. I.e. how to Administer a Business. These are necessary skills in the higher up stages of any business, but if you're looking to be a middle manager, an MBA may not be the right choice, instead take some courses on leadership, dealing with people, etc.
Grad Stud(ent)
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
George W. Bush has an MBA.  From Harvard.

Any more questions?
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
+1 for taking leadership/project management classes.

Having an MBA doesn't automatically make you a manager, it just gives you the background for starting and/or running a business. Nothing more.
QADude Send private email
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
No self-respecting computer scientist will do an MBA.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Part of the confusion arises from the fact that being a manager and an administrator both are necessary skillsets for starting a business, or occupying the top rung of an existing business.

There is some overlap in the sense many of the things you need to know as a manager - such as employment laws and practices - are extremely useful on the administrative side, and as a vice versa example - budget and salary considerations.

Towards this end, some schools do teach management classes in addition to the administrative classes. But don't let this nitpicking distract you from the real issue; MBA programs are really designed to forcibly expose you to aspects of running a business that you may have never had to deal with before. (And yes, many top CEOs do not have MBAs because they learned everything they needed to, on the job.)

As such, they're not "training" programs per se but more like traditional university classes in that they try to teach you a little bit about everything. Remember when you first started in Computer Science?
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The curriculum for MBA programs doesn't vary much from one school to the next, and it's all stuff that you can pick up from books anyway. The value that MBA schools provide to the business world is almost solely in the admissions process. Also, the fact that it's a two-year program allows for a summer internship, in other words, a try-out period, which is valuable for companies that have a hard time firing people. It's actually not too bad a system.

Oh, and Bush went to Yale, not Harvard. Any more questions?
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
@impatient: the finance, accounting, and economics is really tough to learn from books without a professor dissecting it. That stuff is useful. The rest is crap that I can learn from books. I took a marketing class that was more common sense. They could have just skipped the class and assigned 2-3 trade paper bakes on marketing and I would have learned more.

@thedavid: how would you know? you make alot of posts acting like you are an expert. How do you know this stuff? Also, just because an MBA is designed for something does not mean its effective.
MBA Student
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
George W Bush has a BA from Yale in history and an MBA from Harvard.  This says nothing about the value of an MBA.

This discussion is long on cynicism and short on facts.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I don't mean to sound like an ass but anything below a top 15-20 b-school might be classified as "complete garbage".  I know you've probably heard this a billion times, but the value of going to b-school is not academic; it is about building your network.  I personally know people that go to Harvard, Upenn, NYU, UCLA, Columbia, etc.  These are the people going to top undergrad schools, double majoring in cs/econ (and getting 3.7+), socializing on the weekends, and taking leadership roles in organiziations on campus.  They are amazing and bring that attitude to the business world.  These are the people entering top b-schools, landing positions at top firms, and the people you want to meet...
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
"how would you know?"

If you must know, my ex-girlfriend and her brother serve on the corporate board of several companies (they come from old rich money). I know, anyone can say that and you'd like proof, but I'm respecting their privacy.

More to the point, what I'm telling you is what they've told me every time I asked them for career advice while sitting around the dinner table. From their perspective, an MBA is desirable in a candidate for a high level position, who plans to switch industries or large companies like the new CEO of Ford who came from Boeing did. (I think.)  If they plan to promote from within, the MBA is largely irrelevant.

The rationale is that the MBA is arguably the best way of preparing the candidate for dealing with situations that are not typical to his experience, since MBA programs focus on generalities, not specifics. If you're in the software industry, the MBA is pretty much your only way to get experience applicable to textile industry for example.

There are obvious exceptions and not everyone thinks the way they do, or have their particular "needs" in a company president.

However, as impatient says, anyone can read books. I respecfully disagree about the admissions part due to the President Bush example (if they accepted him then...). But not everyone has the discipline and the drive to go out and look for and read all the right books - and that's what the real value of the program is.

For comparison, check out Joel's recommended reading list at...


Notice there's nothing really forcing you to read those books on your own.  At least with a MBA program, the motivating factor is the possibility of flunking out of school and wasting your tuition money.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
MBA is for networking your way to that job. Otherwise it's useless. Oh and only the top 10 counts.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007
isn't it always like this? However, some courses and teachers I thought the world of in my undergrad. I loved Calc II, Stats and Probability, etc.
Patrick from an IBank Send private email
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
MBA programs may be largely networking, but I would kill to have some employees or coworkers who understood basic accounting, finance, and business concepts.

I don't think it's necessary to write a business case for everything, but the idea that there should be a business case seems to escape most people.  Does it really seem sane to spend a year developing something that will sell to 20 people, none of whom will pay more than $20?

(Yes, I know you're clever and can come up with a situation in which my made up bogus scenario makes sense.  Email it to me at
Art Send private email
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Sadly, the type of people who would be impressed by seeing an MBA on my C.V. are not the type of people I would want to be working for.  But that is just me. 

The Excel 'Programming' subject is scary, not because it is teaching Excel (a useful skill), or even VBA (a useful and perfectly valid programming language), but because later on some jackass in a dark suit (and MBA) will think he knows everything about Programming and has the Big Picture.  Hint:  You do not want this guy involved in your project!
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
"...because later on some jackass in a dark suit (and MBA) will think he knows everything about Programming and has the Big Picture."

That's pretty much a universal risk. I've heard horror stories about electrical engineers going out into the field and doing stuff that apprentice electricians know better. In fact, I think I got that particular story from this forum.

In the long run though, I think I'd prefer administrators and managers to have some vague understanding of what it takes to write a program than none. What really ticks me off are the PHBs who think writing programs is like assembling widgets in a factory and if you're a good programmer, you must produce X lines of code a day.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
One thing that is missing in this discussion is the idea that Business Schools are not set up with the individual in mind. No one developed a cirriculum specifically for the OP.

There are a lot of people in the program that need those classes that the OP dismisses as busy work. The university also has a lot of those classes in the program due to organizational inertia - they've always taught them and they will probably continuwe to teach them.

Keep in mind that the accrediation bodies define how many hours should be in the program, etc. Just because you are sitting in a class going DUH! does not mean that everyone in the program is.

FWIW - I'm a DBA working on my MS in Innovation Management (Summer '07 graduation) and MBA in Finance (Fall '09).
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
+1 to the idea that half the value of the MBA is the admissions process.  At top-tier schools, you have to be a person who is going to succeed in life just to get in.

+1 to the idea that another large portion of the value is in the network you can build as an MBA student.

But, more importantly, please remember: 90% of everything is crap.

Seriously.  In the 1980's and 1990's, MBA's appeared to be the ticket to a successful career. So demand increased, so colleges and universities created MBA programs very quickly, and marketed and hired professors quickly.  This brough in students, which equals money.

There are two problems with this.  The first is that an MBA is a graduate degree; people who teach these classes should generally be either a DBA (Doctorate of Business Admin) or hold another terminal degree in business - which takes a signifigant amount of life-effort to earn.

Most people who have a DBA haven't run a succesful business for an extended time, and vice versa.  This problem is far worse for entreprenuership, because academia is a road to guarenteed, risk-free moderate success, and entrepreneur's are generally want the chance to make a big pile of money in trade for moderate to high risk.

Secondly,  programs that are thrown together very quickly with faculty who are available usually aren't very good.

So, you get what you deserve. If I was pursuing a MBA, I'd probably do it at Notre Dame, UC Berkeley, MIT, or Harvard.  The Drucker School also has a good reputation.

In general, though, what is your goal?  An MBA at the right school could qualify you to be  management at a big, slow, ugly company you don't want to work for ...
Matthew Heusser Send private email
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
The only time a 'non-name' MBA could be worth it is if your company is sending you for it, allows you some work time for projects and has some sort of 'carrot' waiting when you are done. 

At a former employer, the manager of my group was sent to get her MBA, was able to use company resources to work on the MBA and was almost guaranteed of a promotion upon completion.  When she graduated, the VP of our area had a champagne toast to celebrate her achievement (she was promoted a month or two later).

The interesting thing is that one of my coworkers was in the same program, just a semester behind.  The company was paying for his MBA, through tuition reimbursement, but didn't have any other involvement.  When he graduated there was nothing, not even a simple announcement from the company.  He was still there when I left, doing the same job and not using his MBA at all.

If you're going to get an MBA, make sure that you know what you'll get for it.  Otherwise it's like writing some software without doing market research, just expecting that it will sell.
RocketJeff Send private email
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
RocketJeff - Your post brings up one question.

If the woman you mentioned wasn't a manager, then would they've treated her the same as the other "rank and file" employee?

I would think that would be the case, but then again there are a lot of other factors that would affect the outcome...
QADude Send private email
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I actually think it's more likely because the woman was a manager and thus more visible, more tied into the social network and perceived to have more potential. This assumes that both RocketJeff and his co-worker were both staff.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Yes, I assume that she was given the opportunity because she was management and not just a staff member.  She wasn't that high up in management, however, and had only been a manager for a year or so before she started the MBA.

I am sure that it was easier for her to get corporate backing for the MBA then it would have been for a non-manager, but I don't think it would have been impossible for a non-manager to get the same treatment. 

My coworker *wanted* to move into management (hence the MBA), I think he should have talked with his manager and tried to get the same backing.  Just doing an MBA didn't help him at that job (I assume that it would for his next one).
RocketJeff Send private email
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

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