Mighty Big Aspirations

You often hear people say that when the job market is bad, it's a good idea to go back to school and boost your academic credentials.

I have disregarded that advice because I fear it might interfere with my TV watching, but many folks — whether employed or job searching — now seriously consider pursuing an advanced degree, particularly an MBA.

Before opining on the merits of such a pursuit, I figured it best to research the topic, and because there are no television shows like "Law & Order: MBA" or "How I Met Your Mother While Getting an MBA," I was forced to actually speak with someone.

That someone was George Andrews, associate dean of the evening and weekend MBA programs at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Here's an edited transcript of our Q&A:

Q: What does MBA stand for?

A: (Awkwardly long pause) Master of Business Administration.

Q: I thought it was Making Billions Annually. Wouldn't that be more marketable?

A: That would be nice. We say "My Best Alternative" sometimes.

Q: (I chuckle, but am thinking: "Leave the jokes to me, buster.") But it can lead to making more money, right?

A: If you look at the spread between those with an MBA and those with just a college degree, it continues to grow over time. Companies are willing to pay people for that degree, for sure.

Q: Besides good connections and the title, what does a person with an MBA have that separates them from others?

A: An MBA provides you with so many skills you can use at your next job, and down the line. They come in and we open their cranium and we pour in all this knowledge on economics and finance and accounting. But there are also negotiating skills and things they learn about leadership. These are the things you'll hear people talking about 10 or 20 years from now.

Q: How important do you think an MBA is in today's working world? And don't say "very" just because you're selling them.

A: If you're only thinking short term and just looking to develop certain skills, there are cheaper and faster ways to develop individual skill sets. The problem is, every time you get to the next level and need another skill, you have to go back and learn those skills. At some point, an MBA becomes more economically feasible.

Q: How hard is it to get an MBA?

A: We make it hard, and we make it hard on purpose. I don't want anybody to come here and leave here the same person. We want it to transform you.

Q: Is there a way I could come there and get one without doing much work?

A: No. You're going to come and you're going to work very hard.

Q: Fine. I'll do the work. How long after getting the MBA before I get my BMW?

A: That's 1980 thinking.