Is Math Overrated for MBAs?

MBA Math

Someone recently asked me about my getting an MBA degree, knowing that I was a Liberal Arts major in college. This person was interested in pursuing an MBA, but worried about the amount of math involved. While I could write endless articles on this topic, I am going to stick with one issue for now: Do you need to be good at math to succeed as an MBA student?

Short Answer: No.

When my friend asked me this question, my immediate response was that the liberal arts is the best preparation for an MBA and that overall, math was not as big a deal as one might think.

When pressed, I offered my thought: ’Excel can do math for you, but Word cannot write for you.’Â�

Nationally, educators are concerned about Americans’ lack of math and engineering skill, especially while the rest of the world continues to produce graduates with sophisticated quantitative abilities and degrees. I am not convinced that American jobs are in that much jeopardy, as long as Americans’ keep doing what they do best: innovate, apply creativity to problem solving, display confidence, network and write fluid prose.

While math is, without question, a major component of getting into an MBA program (think GMAT) it has been my experience that once in the program, those who fair best are those who can best express their answers ’“ not calculate them fastest.

Even as a Finance major, almost every class I have contains elements requiring concise reading and writing ability. I believe that American students with lackluster math backgrounds (but great writing and creative abilities) will generally do better academically than foreign students with strong math backgrounds (but weak abilities to express themselves in English, or to think ’outside the box.’Â�). Even if the American does not do as well academically, I believe their ultimate earning power is greater.

I see evidence daily that math may not be as important as business people like to think. For example, analyzing trends in a cash flow statement is irrelevant if you are then unable to take the next step and offer recommendations to a client based on your calculations. Why do many startups get funding? It has nothing to do with the numbers in the business plan, but it has everything to do with ability of the entrepreneurs to think innovatively and to confidently address questions and issues for an investor. Many CEOs don’t even have MBAs, let alone strong math backgrounds.

There are of course exceptions, but one the whole, I think math is overrated for MBAs. A greater value should be placed on creativity, networking and the ability to express one’s self confidently.

What do other MBA bloggers think?


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