Getting an MBA represents an extremely large investment of money, as well as time and effort. The tuition for a two-year program may be $185,000 (Stanford Graduate School of Business) or more, and the income forgone may be $100,000 or more for the two years. Books, computer hardware and software costs, travel to and from the program, and other assorted expenses may add thousands more. The cost of a two-year pro¬gram is thus likely to be upwards of $300,000 or more. A one-year program may cost 50 to 65 percent as much as this, given the often higher annual tuition at such programs.

But as often is the case, these estimated numbers by the business schools tend to be conservative. They rarely include the inevitable 3% to 5% increase in tuition during a student’s second year. And they tend to underestimate the “personal costs” of attending an elite MBA program, from expensive dinners out with friends to traveling to ski resorts over long weekends with new student friends.

Is an MBA worth this large sum? Although not everyone will be financially better off from getting an MBA, those attending the top MBA programs are highly likely to be. In fact, almost no one who attends a top program ends up regretting the experience. An interesting contrast is provided by American law schools, of whose graduates a majority are sorry they ever went.

The payoff is partly a matter of increased earnings. It is also a matter of increased career options, increased confidence that one can do a given job extremely well, increased status and increased security as no matter what happens there are jobs available for people from top schools. In addition, most people feel they lived life more intensely at business school, met the most interesting people they ever have known, and formed their closest friendships there. It is therefore probably a mistake to view the decision to get an MBA on a purely financial basis, despite the sums involved.

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