Should A Millennial Freelancer Get An MBA?

Many millennials have chosen careers as freelancers, or this career has chosen us. In fact, it’s estimated that around 50% of us, regardless of our generation, will become freelancers by 2020. But being young and a freelancer doesn’t mean that you have a high tolerance for risk. In fact, it might be just the opposite. This is one reason for the trend among millennials to seek an MBA. Many want to take their career to the next level, while others want to find more stable employment in a fast-paced and ever-changing work world.

Why You May Be More Competitive For An MBA Program Than You Think

Perhaps you’re wondering if you will ever be competitive for a top MBA program if you don’t work in banking or consulting. Rest assured, millennial freelancer. According to Former Assistant Director of Admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business JoAnn Goldberg, “MBA admissions officers are not looking for a type.” In her experience, as a freelancer with a non-traditional career, you may be more likely to get an interview than more traditional candidates with a consulting or banking background.

Someone who embodies an enterprising, millennial freelancer MBA profile is Solenn Séguillon. Séguillon is an MBA candidate at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business who works in Business Development at OpenInvest, a YCombinator-backed startup offering the world's first Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) platform for retail investors. Before pursuing her MBA, Séguillon made her living as a freelance violinist, never aspiring to become a full-time orchestra member.

Séguillon ultimately chose to pursue an MBA because her ambitions stretched beyond playing music. She wants to use the knowledge from the MBA to expand the reach of classical music to a wider audience, launch a new business, and use business skills to advance her interests in music and beyond.

The Importance Of Teamwork

Regardless of your field, as a millennial freelancer, like Séguillon, you might be inspired to expand your reach through getting an MBA. But you have to be self-aware about how you might be seen as a freelancer when you apply to MBA programs. Goldberg cautions that there is a stereotype about freelancers as “free spirits who prefer to do things themselves.” It’s therefore paramount that freelancers have a desire and demonstrated interest to work in teams if applying to an MBA program.

To counteract solo work arrangements that so many freelancers fall into, Goldberg recommends taking a leadership role in a community organization as a way to demonstrate teamwork interests and experience. As a freelancer, you can also find recommenders who can speak to your interpersonal skills, whether they are current clients or others with whom you’ve collaborated.

Séguillon points out that freelancing as a violinist strongly prepared her for the teamwork aspect required by MBA programs. As someone who played in variety of ensembles with different players and conductors, Séguillon was forced to learn quickly how to build trust and read group dynamics. I surmise that this preparation and experience is extremely helpful to Séguillon’s success as an MBA student.

Three Questions To Consider Before Getting An MBA

Now that you know what it takes, who the ideal candidates are, and have some idea of what MBA admissions officers are looking for, here are three key questions for you to decide if you should get an MBA.

1) Is the MBA absolutely necessary to reaching your short- and long-term goals? For example, consider where you want to work after the MBA. You can use data from Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS): Occupational Projections Data to learn the expected pay, industry growth, and degree required for various occupations.

2) How will you pay for or pay back the money for the MBA? This is also where the BLS employment projections come in handy, as do the salary statistics published by the MBA programs you research. Traditional MBA candidates may have tuition reimbursement programs offered through their companies, whereas freelancers are unlikely to have access to outside scholarships. Make sure you have enough money saved up (or the ability to take out a loan) to fund the degree yourself.

3) Is the MBA the right advanced degree for you? Check out the National Center for Education Statistics. Here, you can see data about the number of degrees conferred by type of program. According to these data, the MBA is the most popular master's degree, potentially oversaturating the market with MBAs. Depending on your post-MBA goals, another master's degree might be a better fit for you, be less costly (if the program is less than 2 years), and more in-demand.

At the end of the day, the only person who can make the right decision about if you should pursue a graduate degree, and which type, is you. Be sure to consider the upsides and downsides of the MBA degree, and the fit of the degree in your work and life goals.


Bio: I'm Dr. Aviva Legatt, a millennial (born 1983) who specializes in selective (Ivy +) college admissions advising at VivED Consulting LLC. I have admissions committee experience at The Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania, where I oversaw the top-ranked pre-college program Leadership in the Business World.

Business Insider featured me in one of the most widely viewed articles on college admissions essays, and I teach about college admissions with the New York Times School. I’m also a faculty member at University of Pennsylvania in Organizational Dynamics, where my Coursera courses on high-performing teams have been taken by thousands of learners.

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