Thinking About Going Back To School

Since last summer, when I first admitted to myself that I was unhappy in my career & needed a change, I've been considering the idea of going back to school. At various times I've been flip-flopping between a strong interest/desire to go back to school, and a strong aversion to additional schooling. Right now, I'm back on the "I might need to go back to school" side of the pendulum.

Currently I hold a BS and MS in chemistry. Lots of technical training, but that's it. I'm very good technically at what I do, but now I have additional interests & areas that I want to master, that are way outside of my training. Areas like business development, entrepreneurship, finance, accounting, marketing, and management/HR. I'm not expecting to be an expert in all those areas, but right now I don't even have a foundation in those areas, beyond what I've picked up in my almost 5 years in the corporate world. Right now I can't really transition out of engineering & into the types of positions I want, because I only have a technical background, with no formal business training. In order to move out of engineering/sciences, which I desperately want to do, I either need some formal training, or someone to take a chance on me & allow me to learn on the job.

My ultimate goal is to own my own business - actually several businesses. I want to control my own destiny. I don't mind hard-work at all, in fact, I enjoy it. But I want the fruit of those labors to directly benefit me, in more ways than simply a salary and benefits from an employer. If I'm going to give my effort and my time, I want it to be for me & mine, not simply to line the pockets of executives & investors. I won't work 80-hour weeks for my current job, but I definitely will for my own business.

So why am I on the fence about going back for the MBA? Well there are a couple of factors. First, there is the money problem. I have more than enough student loan debt, and I am not interested in adding to it. In my perfect world, I wouldn't have to pay a dime for my MBA, and I'd really like to make that happen. I am a realist & I know that's hard to do, and that's why I'm hesitant. One option is doing a part-time MBA program & utilizing a tuition reimbursement program through my employer. My current employer changed their tuition reimbursement program, and they now require a 5 year commitment AFTER the completion of the last class is completed, and with a 3-year program, that's 8 years that I would have to stay #nobueno. So if I want to go the tuition reimbursement route, I have to change employers.

I'm also on the fence because of my age. I will be 29 in July, and if I decide to do a full-time program, the soonest I could begin is Fall 2012, and I would be 30. I'd graduate when I was 32. Do I really want to be in my 30s and back in school? Would I be deemed "too old"? Can I be a grown-up & go back to the life of a poor graduate student? I remember that life, and it was hard enough in my early 20's. Now I have grown-up bills & responsibilities & I'm not sure if my finances can handle it. I'm not sure if my ego can handle being a 30+ year old graduate student.

My final hesitation about getting the MBA is simply if it is worth it. I know that I don't want to be a cog in the corporate wheel for the rest of my life. I know I want to do my own thing & be my own boss. Will an MBA help me on that path, or will it simply train me to work for someone else & be a slave to a system that I'm desperate to escape from? I don't want to spend 2-3 years and thousands of dollars on a piece of paper that won't help me get to my ultimate goal. I don't want to waste my time or my money, and I refuse to do so. I know that all the advice in the world won't be able to guarantee that the time & money spent on an MBA is worth it in achieving my life goals...but it will help me decide whether or not I'm willing to take a chance on an MBA.

So here's where I ask for advice...if you were in my position, what would you do? Given what I want to do, is an MBA worth it? Should I be worried about being a 30+ year old MBA student? And most important - any suggestions on how I can get my MBA paid for?