With soaring education costs and a growing concern over student loans, it’s no wonder young professionals who want to start their own business are considering alternative options.
The debate is fierce and both parties — pro- and anti-MBA — make their opinions well known. Peter Thiel even offers a scholarship for students who want to drop out and start their own business, providing them with $100,000 and a strong network of businesspeople.
I have a personal connection to this debate. In 2011, after a bit of crowdsourcing, I decided to decline my acceptance into Harvard Business School (of all schools) and instead pursue building my startups.
Related: How Much Is An MBA Degree Really Worth?
But not everyone is willing to leave their fate in the hands of a large group of voters in an online community. Aside from crowdsourcing, when professionals face these crossroads, how do they know which path to take?
Let’s take a look at what entrepreneurs need to consider when they are torn between earning an MBA or diving into starting their own business:
Before taking any steps forward, take the time to step back and reflect. Sure, the idea of running a business is exciting, even romantic. But the idea of doing this is just a thought. Time to get real and confirm that entrepreneurship is the best path.
Personality tests are valuable because they help the participant understand their psychological makeup and their individual character. For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator looks at how someone makes decisions, which explains why it is a popular test in the world of business.
The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is another popular personality test used by mental health professionals. Aside from informing diagnosis, it also is used to help with screening job candidates.
These tests provide valuable insight into how a person thinks, perceives and acts in all facets of life. When reading these results, ask if they sound like they belong to strong leader.
Consider hiring a life coach to help with defining core values. They steer the ship and act as a much-needed moral and professional compass. A life coach motivates, brings clarity, helps strategize and combats any feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem.
A good entrepreneur has a strong sense of awareness and knows how to set and achieve goals. These self-reflection exercises help develop a deep sense of self and will assist in making decisions, both big and small.
2. Costs of education.
With top-ranking MBA programs like Harvard costing north of $100,000, it’s no wonder aspiring entrepreneurs have reservations about enrolling. It’s important to do research on the ROI to avoid falling into massive amounts of student loan debt, which is not uncommon.
A 2014 Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) study found that 21 percent of 12,000 prospective MBA students surveyed rely on loans to pay for school. When they graduate, they want an opportunity to earn enough to live a comfortable life and pay back their debt.
Aside from the ROI, it’s also important to identify the primary reason for pursuing an MBA. Students who earn their MBA undoubtedly leave with a strong understanding of management and an advanced business acumen. But is it entirely necessary for their goals?
Related: Is an MBA Still Necessary?
Is it about the degree or the knowledge? If it’s the latter, there are numerous online resources like Coaching Ourselves, OpenCulture, Coursera, podcasts and many others. While this isn’t the equivalent of an MBA by any means, it may serve the purpose at a fraction of the cost.
For those trying to expand their professional networks, consider joining professional organizations. In these social groups, members can share ideas, meet new people, participate in educational functions and showcase their talents.
My organization, HonorSociety.org, found that 60 percent of the 1,295 professionals we surveyed in June 2016 say their community is helpful in adding value to their career and 65 percent agree that the professional organization they belong to helps them expand their network, meet people, share ideas and inspires them to achieve their goals.
Building a strong online presence through social media and blogging platforms is another great way to build a larger network. Use these outlets to publish content, comment, share and connect with professionals in the industry.
3. Personal and professional goals.
Ambitious professionals should focus on writing down concrete goals for their personal and professional life. The activity of physically writing goals and sharing them has been proven to be more effective than keeping them private.
A 2014 study published by Palgrave Communications looked at academic performance of first-year college students. It found that a goal setting intervention that involved writing “boosted academic achievement and increased retention rates.”
It’s difficult to stay on task and focused when goals aren’t written down and shared. Writing goals can take several forms, such as blogging, self-authoring and journaling.
Related: Just These 5 Lessons Made the MBA Worth the Money
Journaling helps people unload ideas, thoughts and emotions, while blogging is a more public form of expression. Self-authoring helps define beliefs and encourage visualization to boost resilience and perseverance toward achievement.
These types of exercises allow for organization of thoughts and create a space to find the purpose behind one’s goals. After all, businesses need to be founded on more than just a vague passion or a half-baked idea. They need to have true merit and should be well-thought-out.
To fully understand the implications of this choice, professionals must look within themselves and do their homework on the cost of their pursuits. Both paths are valuable and suit needs in a distinct way. Now it’s time to strategize and take the leap.