For Todd Oken, who graduated from Wharton’s East Coast EMBA program in 2007, paying for the program without sponsorship was a sacrifice. He already had a mortgage and a growing family so the decision to spend some of their savings and take on more than $100,000 in loans was a very big deal in his household. However, he felt so strongly about the benefits of a Wharton MBA degree that he ultimately decided it was not only a worthwhile investment, but a necessary one for his long-term career.
Oken, then a senior manager at a large management consulting firm, says that although he was on a partnership track, most of his peers at some point in their careers had earned an MBA or graduate degree. “Also, I often felt as though I was figuring things out on the fly. So this wasn’t just about a credential; I wanted the academic training of an MBA instead of winging it,” he says.
But when he approached his employer about sponsorship to Wharton’s EMBA program, the general response was that he was doing just fine and “didn’t need an MBA.” Oken recalls, “They said I would make partner, so slowing down over the next two years didn’t make sense. My response was that I’m not just interested in the next two years, but the next 10 or 15.”
After a series of discussions with his employer, Oken got the o.k. to attend the program and established an understanding that he would need to spend nights and early mornings focusing on school work. “Even though I didn’t have full financial sponsorship, I had very strong professional support and couldn’t have gone through the program without it,” says Oken.
The down side was that full funding was not possible. The company did offer a partial sponsorship, but Oken decided not to take it. “I felt it was reasonably likely that I would find more opportunities after earning the MBA and I wanted the ability to change jobs without any entanglements,” he explains.
With the support of his wife, he paid a smaller portion of the tuition with their nest egg and paid for the majority with both federal and private loans. He says the loan application process was very straightforward, with all of the necessary forms provided by Wharton.
“Part of the reason I chose Wharton was that I thought it would be a game-changer that would justify the expense not just in money, but also in time,” he says. “I’m not sure another school would have been worth the money, but Wharton definitely was.”
It’s been a year-and-a-half since graduation and Oken says he’s on track to pay off the full amount of the loans within the next five years. As for those other professional opportunities he hoped to find, one actually found him during his last semester in the program. Oken is now a vice president in finance at CDI in Philadelphia.
“Even if I were considering an EMBA program in the current economic environment, I would still make the same decision without question because the Wharton MBA degree was worth every penny. I knew it would propel me forward in terms of my future professional responsibilities and compensation,” says Oken.
Another significant benefit from his education, he says, is the professional network and friendships made at Wharton. “I now have this terrific network that wouldn’t have been possible to acquire any other than through this program.”
Oken adds that while his investment is clearly paying off, others in a similar situation need to weigh both the financial and opportunity costs. “It’s a very challenging two-year program so people need to evaluate both short-term and long-term priorities. If your priority is long term, then the investment is well worth it. But don’t kid yourself and think you’ll make back the full tuition in this environment in the next two years. That isn’t realistic for most people.”