Is earning an MBA worth it? Each year, thousands of students ask this very question, yet find conflicting advice.
While it’s true that, on paper, MBA graduates earn more (a recent study from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which advocates for leading graduate business schools, showed that median starting salaries for MBA graduates were almost twice as much as bachelor’s degrees), graduate school can cost six figures or more to complete. And that doesn’t even count the time you’ll spend out of the workforce pursuing your degree.
And really, I would argue that you could pretty much create your own MBA program with an entirely different path — one that might cost as little as $100 per year.
What path, you ask? Let’s talk about blogging.
Starting a Blog vs. Earning an MBA
First, let’s start with a disclaimer. I didn’t earn my MBA. In fact, I actually dropped out of a MBA program.
Instead, I earned a regular ol’ college degree, became a financial advisor and eventually acquired the certified financial planner designation. Then, instead of pursuing more college after starting my career, I jumped directly into entrepreneurship by starting my own blog,.
While I never sat in a classroom, I learned all about business the hard way — through trial and error. For example, blogging taught me how to:
Network, not in person, but online.
Since networking in an online space is totally different than traditional networking, this one was hard. Eventually though, I learned how to reach out to other bloggers through cold emails to get guest posts and backlinks to my website.
Get my business (my website) where people could see it.
Through trial and error, I learned to use social media to connect with journalists and reports who would interview me and link back to my site. Because of these connections I’ve also been quoted in major media such as Fox Business, USA Today, and CNBC.
Since I knew nothing about blogging at first, I had to figure out which resources could help me learn about search engine optimization (SEO), HTML, WordPress, and other intricacies of blogging for profit.
Learn to monetize.
While I started my blog to serve as a resource for my customers, I wanted to earn money, too. Over time, I learned tons of ways to earn money and how to implement them myself.
Grow my reach.
Financial websites are a dime a dozen, and you have to find a way to make yourself stand out. I learned to expand my reach by creating movements people could get excited about, then getting other bloggers on board. With my Roth IRA movement, for example, I was able to get 140 bloggers to write about the value of the Roth IRA as a retirement vehicle, then link back to me.
Make my website presentable, and thus more profitable.
Not only did I learn which type of headlines did and didn’t bring eyeballs, but I learned how to test colors, types of affiliate links, ad placements, and various ad networks. In a lot of ways, blogging is like an artform; it takes the right combination of ingredients to make everything work well together.
Could I have earned all of this is a classroom? Of course. But, by not getting an MBA and building a business instead, I learned nearly everything I needed to know about business by doing. And now I have a blog that earns hundreds of thousands of dollars each yearinstead of hundreds of thousands of dollars of MBA debt.
Should You Earn an MBA or Start a Blog?
While it’s true my situation isn’t exactly typical (not everyone makes a million dollars blogging), lots of bloggers earn a full-time income.
Take Jill Stanton from Screw the 9 to 5, for example. Jill and her husband Josh started a niche website in 2011, then turned blogging into their full-time careers. Now the couple teaches others to do the same. But Stanton claims they learned the bulk of their skills through trial and error, not homework.
“No amount of traditional education can ever prepare you for what it is truly like to run your own business online,” she says.
That’s because an MBA is not designed to teach you have to be a great businessperson, says Omar Zenhom, the host of the $100 MBA podcast. Instead, MBAs are “designed to prepare you for entry-level management.” While MBA programs can teach you plenty, they cannot possibly teach you how to be an effective leader, innovator, or entrepreneur, he says.
On the flip side, starting a blog forces you to cultivate an opinion on your subject matter and back it up with research and experience. “We learn by doing,” says Zenhom. “A blog forces you to do with a publishing schedule.”
Another key point from Zenhom is this: Don’t forget your blog is public. Running your business idea through some pretend scenarios in your MBA program is one thing, but your blog is much more than an experiment. “What you create on your blog is real and in the real world.” he says.
Blog or MBA? Learn How to Decide
Of course bloggers think blogging is amazing, and you know I do. But to get to the core of this issue, I decided to talk to people who blog for a living but also have an MBA.
Michelle Schroeder — Gardner is one blogger who fits the bill; she earned an MBA in finance before finding work as a financial analyst. Along the way, she started Making Sense of Cents, a millennial-focused blog that brings in more than $100,000 per month. With those profits, she no longer works as a financial analyst, and just blogs instead.
Is this a feasible path for everyone? Michelle says no.
“Some people think that starting a successful blog is easier than it really is,” the blogger says. “There is a lot that goes into running a website, most of which you can’t really see unless you are behind the scenes.”
Schroeder-Gardner notes researching, writing quality content, advertising, and marketing as some of the tasks you’ll need to master on your own. If you’re someone who needs a lot of hand-holding, blogging may not work out so well.
It’s also important to note that most MBA programs teach the background of business, along with business theory. These lessons played a huge role in Schroeder-Gardner’s business success, she says.
Robert Farrington is MBA graduate who started a blog called The College Investor. He says he learned a lot from both his MBA program and blogging, but the reality of “doing” with blogging was much more profound.
“I don’t want to dismiss my MBA experience,” he says, “but learning something in a classroom or group versus going out and trying it is very different. My MBA program really tried to emphasize experiences, but the classroom just doesn’t compare to the real world.”
Farrington suggests figuring out your ROI before pursuing an MBA. The program he was in rang in at $80,000 when he graduated, yet costs more than six figures now.
“You need to know the cost of your MBA,” he says. “Can you get a scholarship? Do you get tuition reimbursement from your employer? Are you going to have to take out student loans?”
All of this is important if you want your MBA to be profitable, or at least justifiable.
H. Luke Landes, one of the bloggers behind Adulting.tv, has his MBA but has also started several successful and profitable blogs. Landes looks back on both his blogging beginnings and his MBA experiences as positive, with different lessons learned in each. In his MBA program, he says, he gained a better understanding of financial management and risk management — both lessons that aren’t necessarily easy to learn as a hands-on business owner.
Blogging, on the other hand, has been “a real-world application of organizational management theories and techniques” he learned during his MBA studies.
Is an MBA worth pursuing? Landes says it all depends on who is paying. “Find someone else to pay for it,” he says, “or just don’t do it.” Landes also says that, if you’re so concerned about the cost of your MBA, you might not be a good candidate anyway.
Final pro tip, and this is a good one: Don’t start a blog with the idea you’re going to get rich overnight. As Landes and others note, the idea that blogging is some huge money-maker is popular these days.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams out there promising suckers they’ll get rich quick by starting a blog,” says Landes. He notes the painful truth that there are thousands of abandoned blogs out there whose owners gave up after their financial expectations weren’t met.
“And where do those expectations come from?” Landes asks. “Seeing other people succeed without knowing the kind of work that goes into it, whether they’re selling people on the idea of making money blogging or not.”
Blogging can be rewarding, but it’s not the get-rich-quick scheme people sometimes make it out to be. MBAs pose a similar challenge; you can learn a lot for sure, but the investment may or may not pay off.
Whichever path you choose, place a bet on yourself…then go for it.
This post was originally published on entrepreneur.com