“What do you think? Is it a good idea for me?”

“Its hard to tell. If you really want to be a doctor, you need a medical degree. If you want to practice law, you have to pass the bar. The business world is different. So let me ask you, what do you want to do”


“There is no barrier to entry in business. All you have to do is start.”


I’ve had that conversation what feels like a hundred times. As a chairman of a young alumni association for a top 30 MBA program and as an alumnus who regularly attends recruitment events, I expect people to ask me for advice on graduate school. I expect it and I love it. I want to help.

I typically respond with the same answer: if you need or want an MBA, get one, if you don’t, then don’t. It’s a canned answer but it’s the best I can do without context. After all, earning my MBA was one of the best professional decisions I have ever made. It was an easy decision for me. After serving in the Air Force, I had plenty of education benefits.

The piece that many people miss is the underlying why. Do you want an MBA for prestige? Knowledge? Money? Connections? Personal satisfaction?

After speaking with dozens of prospective MBA students, I realized there might be a better way to learn and grow in to a better overall person — not just professional.

I read a dozen books and hundreds of articles on education, motivation, lifestyle design and career planning. I was looking for examples and paths of non-traditional education in the business world. What I end up creating is a Self Directed, Non Traditional MBA program.

What is a Self Directed Non Traditional (SDNT) MBA?

First, check out what Investopedia has to say about the current cost of an MBA:

“So summing it up, $80,000 for tuition, $40,000 boarding and books, $20,000 peripheral expenditures brings the total MBA cost to around $140,000, while the lost income brings the tab to a whopping $260,000. That figure amounts to more than four years of salary at an annualized income rate of $60,000.”

A SDNT MBA is a program of your choosing to learn general business, create an impressive array of skills and experience, create a digital narrative and become a relative expert in your field of choice — all for a fraction of the cost of a traditional MBA in half the time with an exponential output.

The program is split in to 3 core areas. You can do them in any order, at any time. It’s self directed, remember.

  1. Read
  2. Practice
  3. Build

There is an optional, extra credit area of Life Enrichment.

You will invest less than $10,000 and can finish as fast as you want. What will you gain? Knowledge. Power. Connections. Fulfillment.

What do you have to lose?

Semester 1 — Read

Investment — $500

In a traditional MBA program, you will read one to two textbooks per class and 5–20 articles and case studies. For a 12 class program that could be 24 books and 600 articles. For a 17 class program like the one I went to, the reading becomes even more intense.

As an avid reader, that does sound interesting but it is likely overkill. Use the minimum effective dose and cut your reading down. After a few best sellers in any give topic, the information becomes redundant.

Instead, pick a book or two in each of the core categories of business. I’ve outlined some options below. If these work for you, go for it. If not, adjust.


Information Technology

Organizational Behavior

Strategic Management


Finance and Accounting



In additional to the recommended books, grab a subscription to the Wall Street Journaland Inc Magazine. They are some of the best in the business.

Also, read your local business publication or business section of the weekly newspaper. If you don’t plan on staying where you are, read the news from where you want to be. Online, print, mobile. It doesn’t matter.

*If you are interested in meta-learning — learning how to learn — read The Four Hour Chef by Tim Ferris. It is one of the single best resources on rapid skill acquisition. He uses the culinary arts as a medium to teach learning.

Semester 2 — Practice

Investment — $2,250 — $5,250

You can do this before, during or after the first semester. These practice areas are for people to learn as much as the can by doing, not just reading. There is no better way to learn than to try it for yourself.

You will cover marketing, sales, product development, finance, global business, investments, strategy, operations, organizational behavior and public speaking. Basically an entire MBA program. Don’t forget to follow the #1 rule: adjust to your goals.

Create an online portfolio / blog about you. Market yourself to potential employers. Create personas, marketing campaigns, content, project plans and execute. You are the product. Employers are the customer.

Find a student team at a business idea competition at a local university. Invest $5,000 in their tech project. Learn how they build it.

Find a problem you want to solve. Sketch out a potential solution. Find a developer on Upwork and pay them to build it. You will lose money, waste time and learn a lot about how to actually build technology. If it goes well, you may have a product you can sell. If it doesn’t, it was still cheaper than tuition.

Loan money to an entrepreneur via Kiva.org. Go visit them on your overseas trip (See below). Ask them how they build their business.

Pick 5 companies, read 2 years worth of financial reports. Convince someone who knows nothing about finance they are a good or bad investment. Back it up with facts.

Find a local family run business. Offer to work for free to help them improve their business. Marketing, process, finance, accounting, sales, strategy. Anything and everything.

  • Not sure where to start? Local chamber of commerce.

Join Toast masters for 6–12 weeks.

Join an industry networking group. Volunteer for the hard stuff. Talk to every single member and ask them what they want out of the professional association. Identify the top 3–5 trends. Make those happen. You will have dozens or hundreds of people thanking you.

Semester 3 — Build

Investment — $350 — $850

The third semester could also be titled “concentration”. Some MBA programs allow you to have a concentration in a core area, others do not. With a SDNT MBA, you can do literally anything you want. This is what I recommend.

Read 10–30 books on your concentration.

  • Best sellers, self published, new releases, timeless classics.

Create a blog and post 50–100 articles on your concentration over the course of one year. Once or twice a week.

Contact 100 companies / people in your target industry(s) and interview them for the blog

Create a service or product based on this concentration

Semester 4 — Life Enrichment

Investment — $4,029

An MBA is a time of personal and professional growth. You meet new people, learn new concepts and work hard. The late night group projects and back to back classes build character.

In a non-traditional MBA, you may not have those exact same growth opportunities. Here are some alternatives to continue your life enrichment while pursuing your business education.

Learn a language. Join a MeetUp for language learning. Fluent-forever.com is the single best method to learn another language.

  • Here’s the summary
  • Learn 1,000 words
  • Learn basic grammar
  • Watch some TV shows in the target language
  • Read your favorite children’s book in the target language

Buy a Round-the-World plane ticket or use Frequent Flyer Miles to travel to several major world regions, including somewhere in Africa and somewhere in Asia.**

Set your home page to http://wikipedia.org/random. Over the next year, every time you open your browser, you’ll see a different, random Wikipedia page. Read it.**

Learn to write by listening to the Grammar Girl podcast and buying Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.**

Instead of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, read The Know It Allby A.J. Jacobs, a good summary.**

** These ideas are taken from Chris Guillabeau’s Art of Non Conformity

Final thoughts

An MBA should be a vehicle. If you know where you are going, you will know what you need. If your path requires an Ivy League MBA, then you need to get an Ivy League MBA.

Question your motives and your goals. If you realize what you are seeking is knowledge, skills and understanding, a Self Directed Non Traditional MBA may be perfect for you. You can grow and build your career on your own education terms.

Success is in your hands. No one else’s.