The VICE Guide to Business School
Justin Dett is the pseudonym of a graduate of a top-tier business school who wants to remain anonymous because he’d like to work again at some point in his life.
The people who make up your typical business school class come in all shapes and sizes and colors, but the one thing they have in common is their attraction to money. They fucking love it, and they love making it. They’re also probably quite a bit further along in terms of tangible life developments than the stereotypical aimless 20-something who is still struggling to hold down an apartment, a job, and a relationship at the same time. I’m not here to judge anyone’s chosen career path, and if making artisanal mayonnaise in Brooklyn is how you’d like to eke out the rest of your existence, more power to you. I will eat the shit out of it. But if you want to actually afford that fancy mayo, along with a host of other fun luxury goods that will—I don’t care what anyone says—make you happy, you need to get your ass to business school and get a Master's in Business Administration.
It should come as no surprise that an MBA is way more financially valuable than the degree you have in gender theory or media studies or whatever piece of paper you get after writing long essays on Deleuze. Forty of the 100 best-paid American CEOs have MBAs, and believe me, those guys are some rich assholes.
The MBA is the biggest loophole in corporate America. The hardest part is getting into business school, but once you’re in, you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you want: It’s virtually impossible to fail, and employers don’t ask for your grades. When you graduate, and find a job—it’s pretty much inevitable that someone will hire you—you’re guaranteed to make boatloads of money; and remember, that’s what this whole thing is about. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the median salary of a newly minted MBA was $90,000 in 2012, and MBAs made, on average, $40,000 more than lowly peons with mere bachelor’s degrees.
You can’t fight the rich, so why not join them? Here’s how:
Getting admitted to business school is the hardest part. If you can’t get into a “top” school, you’re wasting your time. For obvious reasons, more and more people want to get an MBA, and more and more shitty schools have started offering shitty MBA programs, so MBAs are a dime a dozen in the US. You have to focus on one of the 25 or so best schools and ignore the other ones, because your prospects of getting a top job on Wall St. diminish rapidly when you graduate from Northern Eastern Southern Cocksucker State. Only 10 to 20 percent of applicants get into the worthwhile institutions, so you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Business schools are obsessed with statistics—namely GPAs and GMAT scores—because that’s how they convince saps like you to spend $100,000 on tuition. The higher the average GPA and GMAT score for an admitted student, the “smarter” the student, and therefore, the more exclusive the school. That means that if you fucked off in college, or if you suck at standardized tests, I can’t help ya pal. Sorry. Time to go back to mopping floors and playing scratch cards.
The next thing schools look at is your work experience and extracurricular activities, which are difficult to quantify, but almost more important than grades and GMAT scores. The good news is that business schools pride themselves on the diversity of their student bodies, and most of the bros and hos who apply to Business School are investment bankers and consultants—so your experience interning for a digital fashion start-up and “helping” with your friend’s music video will be a breath of fresh air for the admissions committee, as will your recommendation letters from people who aren’t your fraternity brothers.
Paying for It
Uh-oh. You got into a dope business school and have enjoyed a hazy week of showing up to experimental music shows and drunkenly telling people you’re getting an MBA to watch their facial expressions, but now you face the challenge of coming up with the $75,000 per year required to cover tuition and living expenses, and you aren’t rich just yet.
Unfortunately, most scholarships are probably off the table for you. If you’re a white male who hasn’t invented a perpetual motion machine and volunteered in several African countries, you’re completely screwed, and though there are typically more scholarships available for women, minorities, and the foreign-born, at most elite institutions, these will be taken by super-achievers who have already accomplished more with their lives than you ever will. Even if you luck out and get one, very few will cover all of your tuition, not to mention the money you will continue to spend on rent, deli salads, partying, and, as you go through business school, actual clothes a grown-up wears to work.
Some of you will have the luxury of hitting up the Bank of Mom, Dad, Stepmom, Stepdad, Rich Uncle, or Wealthy Suitor, etc., but if that isn’t an option either, don’t fret. Just getting into business school means that you’re already part of the 1 percent in the eyes of our nation’s financial institutions. That means you’re eligible for loans so large and uncollateralized that they would make even the most spendthrift subprime Floridian homebuyer splooge his pants. With only an admissions letter, yours truly was able to borrow almost six figures, even without providing a Social Security Number.
I remember hearing this word a lot when I was at b-school, so I though I’d include it as a section. Upon further reflection, I have no fucking idea what it means, so let’s move on.
Choosing Your Classes
Many consider the MBA to be a professional degree, but unlike other professional degrees—medicine, engineering, and accounting, to name a few—business isn’t bound by quantifiable standards or governed by a professional board; you don’t need an exam to qualify as a businessperson. When you graduate with an MBA, it’s assumed that you’re good at “business,” which is about the same as saying that you’re good at philosophy or communication, only unlike holders of advanced degrees in those subjects, people will hire you based on your implied expertise.
You can specialize in certain course areas, but these aren’t recognized or tracked by anyone other than you—your “specialization” is whatever you decide to type on your resume. Aside from a mandatory curriculum, which generally lasts about a semester, you can pretty much take whatever courses you want.
If you’re a loser like me, and you actually want to learn shit and challenge yourself, you’ll pick the hardest and most boring finance and accounting classes. But if you want to do the minimum amount of work by specializing in such intangible subject areas as “leadership” and “management,” you absolutely can—and you’ll get the exact same degree that I have.
Your professors are charged with teaching you stuff, but that doesn’t mean they’re good at it—some are excellent but some are barely competent, which can be quite fucking appalling when you’re spending thousands of dollars on a single course. But most of the time, what they’re trying to teach you is shit that can’t be learned in a classroom anyway: entrepreneurship, leadership, strategy, etc. To get around this, business schools use these things called “cases,” which are basically short stories about real-life business situations. The professor’s job is often to facilitate a discussion about hypotheticals among a gaggle of 20-somethings who worked for three years and think they know everything already. The net result is that students often end up learning or memorizing cases at the expense of core concepts that can be applied in any situation.
Going to Class
Remember that one guy who always had his hand up in high school? In business school, every classroom is filled with those kids because most of the people who enroll in these programs have such insane levels of self-confidence that they think the class can learn something from them. Most of the time, four or five buttheads compete for the prof’s attention while everyone else does other work, fucks around on the internet, and/or covertly picks their noses and wipes boogers under their desks. Just like a real office environment! The result is that most of the kids with half a brain get so annoyed by this that they skip class, or, if they have deep pockets, fuck off and travel the world for most of the semester.
If you feel guilty about skipping class to go on trips, don’t worry. As a business school student, you have more vacation than you imagined in your soggiest dreams as an undergrad. Business schools will pretty much take any opportunity they can to not teach you anything. Spring break, fall break, a month of Christmas vacation, no class on Fridays, and days off for every imaginable bank or government holiday mean that going to business school full-time is a part-time gig.
The reason that so many people don’t go to class is that there’s no such thing as failing in business school. The school doesn’t want you to fail, because then you don’t get a job, which means that you fuck up the school’s statistics, which means it gets a lower ranking in Business Week, the Economist, and other noteworthy financial publications, which means they don’t get as many chumps like you willing to drop $100,000 at their school.
At my school, there were four possible grades, the lowest being LP—“low pass.” The absolute worse you could do was pass the course! But grades don’t really matter anyway, because most elite business schools refuse to disclose students’ grades or class ranking to employers.
Most employers, oddly, don’t give a shit about grades if you went to one of those schools. If you’re smart enough to get in, apparently you’re smart enough to work for them—which makes you wonder whether these schools add any value at all in the eyes of companies other than lending you their prestigious name.
Since you can’t fail, and since you have so much free time, business school is a great opportunity to actually learn that language your resume says you’re fluent in, pick up the guitar, or get really jacked at the gym. By far, the best part of getting an MBA is that you’re free for a couple years to acquire whatever skills you want without anyone telling you what to do. Use that freedom wisely, because you probably won’t have it again until you’re too old and used-up to appreciate it.
For some reason, when you apply for a job at a big company, the people interviewing you really give a shit about what you do in your spare time. Maybe it’s because if you’re not spending your Saturdays volunteering at Habitat for Humanity or teaching yourself Russian, you’re likely to be injecting heroin into your big toe and as a result are more likely to lie, cheat, and steal in a corporate setting. Whatever the reasons, the more serious extracurricular stuff you do, the more of a hard-on big companies will have for you, especially if you’ve taken on a “leadership” role while doing said stuff.
As a result, at a typical business school there are at least 50 clubs you can join, and each one has five or more so-called leadership positions. Most of these positions exist solely so that every student at b-school can claim that he or she has real leadership experience when asked by job interviewers. In reality, most of these roles don’t involve much work or any sort of leading. Clubs exist either so that members can snuggle their noses into potential employers’ bum cracks and eat shitty pizza and get blind drunk together.
Fitting in/Making Friends/Partying
The real benefit of the business school experience is that even the most socially retarded shifty-eyed introvert can make at least 300 new LinkedIn connections during his or her time there. Networking, networking, networking—it’s the single most important part of b-school, or so I’m told. “Networking” tends to mean getting very, very drunk multiple nights a week with your classmates. Since many of your classmates used to be in frats, and since many of them also used to work in finance, that means going to bars that confuse and terrify you, drinking buckets of aluminum bottles of Bud Light, playing beer pong and/or taking part in a “power hour,” and fist pumping and/or grinding, unironically, to Journey. Networking also means spending thousands of dollars on international “study” trips, where a similar scene is replicated in a foreign country. This behavior is encouraged and even sponsored by business schools, where academics almost always take a back seat to networking-related activities.
For instance, once a week my school would subsidize a weekly party, held in the school’s cafeteria, replete with free food and booze, a DJ, and pre- and after-parties. As a student, your right to attend this party was inviolable, with professors frequently cutting lectures short so that you wouldn't miss a single precious minute of drinking filthy draft beer out of custom plastic beer steins while listening to a mix of top-40 radio jams interspersed with Journey and watching your classmates get weird. (You will listen to a lot of Journey. In fact, that might be the toughest part of business school.)
What happens when you take 700 people, mostly folks in their late 20s who have spent the past few years working 70-80 hours per week as corporate indentured servants, have almost zero responsibility and lots of money (borrowed or saved), are practically guaranteed to make shitloads more money as soon as they graduate, and give them endless excuses to get rip-roaring drunk and dance to top-40 music? Some horrendous game, and some even worse decisions. Many people find true love in b-school, but with almost equal and not-really-all-that-surprising frequency, people cheat on their non-business-school-attending partner or spouse with a classmate or classmates, with understandably disastrous consequences. The way around this is to treat business school like an extended stay in foreign country—don’t expect anyone to stay monogamous with someone who isn’t there.
If you so much as wear a plaid shirt every now and then and if your jeans actually fit properly, then your fellow b-schoolers will invariably label you a “hipster.” The reason for this is that most of your classmates haven’t updated their wardrobes since college, and were never that fashion-conscious to begin with, they will find your sartorial choices—rolling up the cuffs of your pants or wearing non-crewneck T-shirts—shocking and wildly amusing. To understand b-school fashion, you must first grok that most kids at business school have worn business casual every day for the last five years. If you don’t know what “business casual” is, go hang out in Midtown during lunch hour and you’ll get the picture.
To stereotype broadly, there are three key business school styles:
- The Perpetual Professional: Some people just say fuck it and continue to wear what they used to wear to work, but justify it by reassuring themselves that they could be called for an investment banking interview at any moment.
- The College Throwback: You still have your boot-cut jeans and printed vintage shirts from Urban Outfitters? Awesome. Add a few J. Crew pieces to the mix, break out your weekend running shoes (ballerina flats if you’re a girl), and you’re all set.
- The Wealthy European or South American Heir/Heiress: If you’re from South America and find yourself at an elite American business school, then odds are you have enough money to make Mitt Romney look like part of the 99 percent. You’ll buy all of your clothes at Bergdorf Goodman—by which of course I mean you’ll have your clothes bought for you at Bergdorf Goodman and delivered to you. Why are you reading this article? Marry me.
Finding a Job
I’ve made it sound like you get a job the second you graduate business school. But actually, other than getting in, jumping from b-school to a real career is the only “hard” part of the process, and certainly the most degrading. That said, the difficulty of getting a job depends on macroeconomic factors, such as your MBA/1-percenter brethren collapsing or not collapsing the global banking system prior to your graduation.
The odd part of the process is that while you need an MBA to get job interviews, most employers are more interested in what you did before business school, how much you know about their industry, and how much you know about their company—none of which have anything to do with what you studied in class. If you went to an elite institution, many of your classmates will be smart fuckers who did real shit before b-school, so you need to make your resume stand out from the pile of other resumes, which are inevitably better than yours.
There are two ways to do this: either attend a prospective employer’s networking event, or set up an “informational.” An informational involves finding some asshole that has the job you want, taking him out for coffee, and giving him a handjob under the table so that he puts in a good word for you and gets you an interview at his company. Employer networking events, meanwhile, are wretched. They are sort of like the speed-dating version of informationals: You only have 30 seconds to give the guy a handjob, while at the same time fighting off five other students who are also trying to give the same guy a better handjob, then you have to repeat this process with the other nine men or women the employer sent to the event. Do yourself a favor and avoid these things like the plague.
But whatever you do, don’t get discouraged: In the Economist’s recent “Which MBA?” rankings, 86 to 98 percent of students at Top 25 schools found a job within three months of graduation, so you’ll be fine.
By now, you’re settled into the corporate grind and are either figuring out how to repay all that money you indirectly owe to China, or doing some serious adult 1-percent shit, like putting a down payment on a home. But you’ll also have probably made some lifelong friends. Seriously. Though they have questionable taste in bars, fashion, music, and conversational topics, most of the people I met at b-school were smart, ambitious, community-minded, and genuinely nice. Despite all those stereotypes about MBAs being money-grubbing assholes, many of them go on to work for NGOs and other humanitarian-minded groups and donate a lot to charities. They’re the most successful people I know, if you define success based along traditional lines, which I generally do. Fuck, I went to business school—what do you expect from me?
If you still don't want to go to business school, maybe these other guides can help you out: