I recently watched a special on CNBC featuring Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. It was filmed in November at Columbia Business School, but I caught a re-run. One moment that struck me was when a Columbia student asked Buffett (who got a masters from Columbia Business School) what the most valuable part of his degree was.
In his response, he explained that he was lucky to have found his passion early in life and knew exactly what he wanted to do after business school. Given that, he had already read a lot of the material they covered. So he didn’t feel that he gained any incremental knowledge while being there. But he did gain the inspiration and confidence to launch into the next phase of his career (which obviously turned out quite well for him). The class work didn’t change his life, but the experience and the close interaction with his professors was extremely valuable.
Buffett has a knack for distilling subjects into concise, simple ideas. His response sums up the experience I had in business school as well. I’ve been a nut about technology and entrepreneurship for awhile so I didn’t gain much incremental knowledge from business school about running a startup. But I engrossed myself in the entrepreneurial community, spent time with successful entrepreneurs and early-stage investors, and launched a business. A passive walk through business school for the diploma, the course work, and some networking, is a horrible investment. But used properly, it can be a great opportunity to refine your interests, experiment, make a few mistakes, and launch the next stage of your career with a vengeance.