Master of Business administration (MBA) programs can help you develop an effective business mindset and expand your network. And with the cost of MBAs going down, they're more accessible than ever. But MBA programs still lack diversity—and they aren't necessarily for everyone.
Read more to find out about the current landscape of MBAs for Hispanic entrepreneurs.
Are MBAs essential for everyone?
Yuliana Mendez's parents are Mexican immigrant farmworkers with only a third-grade education. After graduating from college with a philosophy degree, Mendez worked in the California state capitol. Curious about business, she opened her own general store outside of Sacramento but felt something was missing.
"It was such an empowering feeling to have built something from nothing," she says. "But I understood that I was missing a big chunk of the educational component."
Mendez spent three years considering business school before diving in. When she did, she applied through the Consortium, an organization that mentors ethnic minority students, as well as anyone who can demonstrate a commitment to making the corporate world more diverse.
She ended up going to business school at the University of Southern California on a full scholarship. Mendez, who is now a financial advisor with MyCFO and a business professor at Yuba College in Marysville, Calif., says that business school gave her "an entrepreneurial mindset." According to Mendez, "You can read all about it, but it's one thing to read about it and another thing to actually have the mindset."
However, because of the demanding application process and time commitment, a full-time MBA isn't necessarily for everyone, Mendez says.
If you plan to stay in the same field, classes at your local college could be enough. Some universities also offer part-time, remote, or executive MBAs so you can keep working while you study. But a full-time MBA could be ideal for someone who wants to transition between industries or move into more executive roles. "Just really make sure that it's 1000% what you think that you need before going in," she says.
Why carefully choosing your school is important
Your choice of school will also determine your network. If you decide you do want an MBA, Mendez recommends reaching out to alumni on LinkedIn and asking them about their experiences, rather than just relying on the information on the website.
You should also choose your school depending on which field you want to work in, says Thomas Savino, a business consultant and CEO of Prospanica, which supports Hispanic students who want to study business. For example, Stanford University is known for its connections with Silicon Valley, while Cornell is known for Wall Street.
This network is crucial, whether you plan to go on the job market or whether you want to run your own business, Mendez says. After graduation, "you're reaching out to your classmates and asking them to support your business, whether it's a like on Facebook or sharing your business within their network," she says. And an MBA from a specific school will often open doors into a company where other alumni are hiring.
What can you do if your MBA is not very diverse?
A Bronx native of Puerto Rican and Italian-American parentage, Savino got his MBA at Fordham University, in the heart of Manhattan, in the early 1990s. At that time, he says, there was very little diversity.
"I realized there were no Hispanics in the program," he says. These days, it's possible to find schools with substantial Hispanic student bodies, known as Hispanic-serving institutions. The advantage of such schools, says Savino, is that "they already have the culture embedded there typically, [and] you have staff and administration that are very familiar with your journey in life, and your sensitivities."
Choosing a university in a diverse city is no guarantee you'll find other Hispanics there, however. Mendez noted that, despite the fact that she studied in Los Angeles, which is 49% Latino, she was only one of about 10 Latino students.
Savino recommends that Hispanic students turn this potential negative into a positive. For example, if you mostly have business connections within the Hispanic community, MBA programs can provide an opportunity to expand that network.
"Let's face it, the MBA programs are not very diverse, but that might be what you need," he says. In fact, he says, "if you have all Hispanic mentors, and you only go to Hispanic events, you're probably making a big, big mistake, cause you've narrowed [your network] too much."
It's especially important, Savino says, that a network includes coaches, mentors, and champions, rather than just peers. "You need to be really thoughtful," he says.
How to make an MBA affordable or even free?
Funding packages and scholarships change year to year, Savino says, but with some careful research, students can find financial packages that put an MBA within reach. For example, Prospanica's University Partnership Program helps Hispanic students connect with universities that offer generous financial packages, including full scholarships.
The Consortium does the same for minority students and others committed to their mission. Tuition and general scholarships, application support, mentorship, and networking are also available through the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and Rising Farmworkers Dream Fund—which is specifically for the children of farmworkers. Mendez credits the latter with helping her shape her application; they also gave her a scholarship to help cover books and living expenses.
Gone are the days when MBAs were too expensive for anyone but the wealthy to consider, Savino says. "It's a great time to start looking at MBA programs again because there's really great stuff happening out there."