The No-Pay MBA: Is it Worth Pursuing?

Have you heard about Laurie Pickard? She's a 32-year-old woman working in international rural development and living in Kigali, Rwanda with her husband, a foreign service officer with the US Agency for International Development, for the next few years.

If you're like me (and thousands of others), you learned about Laurie when an article titled She's Doing An Elite MBA For Under $1,000 appeared in your LinkedIn newsfeed in mid-January. And how could you not dive right into an article labeled like that?

The story boasted that Laurie planned to earn an MBA in three years, taking classes from prestigious schools such as Stanford, the Wharton School of Business, and Yale, for less than $1,000. Even more impressive, she planned to keep her full-time job in the process.

An Idea

A blog post by Poets and Quants called The MOOC Revolution: How To Earn An Elite MBA For Free was among the first to suggest the option of the No-Pay MBA, and Pickard herself answered many of the questions from naysayers.

Despite the hesitancy of many readers, the fact remains: if Laurie accomplishes her goal, she'll be one of the first students in the world to piece together an MBA solely through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Not only are these classes free or extremely low-cost, but they are available to anyone with access to a computer and the internet.

Weighing In

The more I read about Laurie's No-Pay MBA, the more enticing the idea sounded. I've had great experiences with MOOCs I've taken including an Introduction to Personal Finance class from the University of California Irvine that I took via Coursera last year.

The LinkedIn article goes on to explain:

“Pickard developed her program by reviewing the B-school curriculums at top schools. She designed it to be flexible because MOOC courses are not guaranteed: ‘You have no idea when they’ll be offered and if they’ll ever be offered again,' she points out. Rather than setting a strict course list, she organized her degree path by themes.”

Laurie has even dedicated a portion of her website to outlining her curriculum. She also profiles other students from around the world who are working on their own No-Pay MBAs.

The Reality

Critics are quick to point out several disadvantages including the fact that the No-Pay MBA isn't an accredited degree. They've also mentioned that individual online classes lack the network, invaluable relationships, and career services that earning an MBA from a single school provides.

However, one commenter eloquently argues that opponents are missing the point: doing what you love. They believe that combining your passion and dedication with more business knowledge will only make you better at your current job, bring you closer to your future goals, and make the world a better place in the process.

I agree with the commenter. As someone who has considered business school several times, but has always been turned away by the price tag and someone who has taken at least a few classes a year since college, the No-Pay MBA would likely be a good fit for me. My only hesitancy right now would be another long-term time commitment.

Readers: How do you feel about the No-Pay MBA? Is this something you would consider pursuing?

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Discussions — 34 Responses

  • Jeff @Project Ikonz March 21, 2014 on 12:54 pm

    No-Pay MBA sounds great because there are no constraints like money, time and venue. That is something i would pursue if i ever wanted to be a businessman. Something like No-Pay financial investment seminars would be great so i would have more information about my retirement options.

    • Addison Cash Jeff @Project Ikonz March 21, 2014 on 8:43 pm

      Agreed, Jeff. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Sam @ March 21, 2014 on 9:32 pm

    The no-pay MBA is not my area of expertise, but it sounds like an intriguing idea amidst burgeoning amounts of student loan debt. I’d say that the better question is employability afterwards. If statistics show that you can be hired and benefit from the degree, do it! If you’re in a position where education seems better than doing nothing much, try writing! Writing is wonderful craft to hone and can even pay the bills some day. 🙂

    • Addison Cash Sam @ March 21, 2014 on 11:15 pm

      Great points, Sam! Employability after the No-Pay MBA is definitely still a question mark. Agreed re: writing! Still working on honing my skills 🙂

  • E.M. March 21, 2014 on 10:53 pm

    This is an interesting idea. I love learning, and from time to time, I honestly miss college. If I had more free time, I would definitely look into taking free classes online. I’m not currently in a position where it would greatly benefit me, but I don’t think learning is ever really a bad idea. You never know when the knowledge could come in use.

    • Addison Cash E.M. March 21, 2014 on 11:11 pm

      I agree. The time commitment is my biggest problem right now, as well.

  • Daisy March 22, 2014 on 7:26 pm

    MOOCs are great, and I definitely would prefer to take education that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, especially if it is for my general interest and learning. That being said, you can’t get an actual, real, accredited MBA with MOOC (as you pointed out), so if you are doing it for your career, it may or may not be valuable.

    One way to approach MOOC is to take them, and list them on your resume; they are free, so no harm done if they don’t help.

    • Addison Cash Daisy March 23, 2014 on 10:53 pm

      True, Daisy. I haven’t listed any of the classes I’ve taken on my resume, but I probably should!

  • Kay March 22, 2014 on 11:37 pm

    It sounds great. I wouldn’t pursue that with the thought that I would become an investment banker or something where the actual school you attended matters, but doing this to increase personal knowledge is great. More and more schools are offering MOOCs, just another way to make education accessible.

    • Addison Cash Kay March 23, 2014 on 10:55 pm

      I love that more and more schools are joining. It’s amazing to have free access to so much!

  • Well Heeled Blog March 23, 2014 on 4:34 pm

    It’s great for personal development and knowledge, but not-so-great for the network and the relationship development that an good MBA is supposed to provide.

    Of course, whether the network and the relationships of a top tier MBA is worth the price tag is another discussion all together, and will depend on the individual, his/her financial situation, and his/her career goals.

    • Addison Cash Well Heeled Blog March 23, 2014 on 10:56 pm

      Agreed. A top tier MBA school definitely isn’t right for everyone!

  • Liz March 23, 2014 on 7:52 pm

    I’m right with you – I would love to continue my education but am not willing to fork out the money again. I would be really interested in trying one class out just to see how it goes.

    • Addison Cash Liz March 23, 2014 on 10:57 pm

      Awesome, Liz. Let me know how it goes!

  • Bridget March 24, 2014 on 3:10 pm

    I’m doing a pay-MBA and frankly, once is enough! That said, I chose a cheap school (I’m in Canada so my tuition is only $20,000/yr) and I received scholarships, so while I’m broke and poor it’s costing me a fortune, which is nice.

    • Addison Cash Bridget March 24, 2014 on 6:07 pm

      Sounds you have a great deal, Bridget! $20,000 per year is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it’s a lot cheaper than most of the schools in the U.S.

  • Natalie March 24, 2014 on 4:00 pm

    Excellent post. Two thoughts: 1) If I wanted to pursue a career that required an MBA, I would absolutely need an accredited degree, so this would be a no-go for me. 2) However, if I wanted to learn about business for myself (not for my career), then I would absolutely use this option – cost effective and you still learn everything.

    • Addison Cash Natalie March 24, 2014 on 6:10 pm

      Good points, Natalie. It definitely depends on your career goals and the purpose for an MBA. An MBA is absolutely not necessary for my career, but the knowledge would be invaluable.

  • Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia March 24, 2014 on 4:39 pm

    I don’t know…I’d count myself among the naysayers. I think a MOOC is a fine idea if you want to get a preview on what MBA course material will be like. It also could be beneficial to pick up some handy knowledge/skills here and there to benefit your career. To me, that’s where it ends. First, an employer most likely isn’t going to acknowledge a degree that is not accredited. Second, you simply cannot discount the networking aspect of MBA programs. There can be more value in the networking and group/team skills honing than in the actual coursework. I wrote about this a while back:

    • Addison Cash Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia March 24, 2014 on 6:11 pm

      Valid points, Mr. Utopia. It will be interesting to see where MOOCs go in the future. Hopefully they will be more widely accepted and considered equivalent to a traditional education.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 25, 2014 on 1:51 am

    I think it’s tough to consider a non-accredited option. One of the primary reasons to get an advanced degree to be able to get a job that requires it. If the job doesn’t recognize your non-accredited degree then it seems like a waste.

    • Addison Cash Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life March 25, 2014 on 12:11 pm

      True, Stefanie. If a job requires a traditional MBA, the No-Pay MBA wouldn’t be beneficial.

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance March 26, 2014 on 3:03 pm

    I like the idea of gaining all of that knowledge, but at the same time, without the actual stupid diploma, it might be that some employers obviously wouldn’t recognize the education. I guess that’s where you would have to shine with the specific knowledge you’ve gained. I like the idea of MOOCs, but I would use it to do something like French or Physics. Of course, if business is your passion, I think it’s definitely worth it. It’s all about what the individual person wants to do.

    • Addison Cash Ryan @ Impersonal Finance March 26, 2014 on 11:55 pm

      Definitely! It’s hard to justify the time commitment if they actual diploma is required by an employer. I’m looking forward to spending more time learning via MOOCs when my schedule gets a little less hectic (seemingly never, right now!)

  • Anneli @thefrugalweds March 27, 2014 on 12:47 am

    Ahhhh! I’m absolutely late to this NO-FEE MBA party, but just wanted to put my 2 cents 🙂
    I absolutely love the idea of the No-fee MBA. Everyone has the right to enrich themselves through education by every means possible. Although I would love to pursue an MBA – I don’t wanna be $150K in debt to get it done. I am very passionate about free, online education sources. I think education is a right and those who have the means and creativity to pursue it, I wholeheartedly support.
    Such a great post, Addison – sorry I missed it while on vacation!

    • Addison Cash Anneli @thefrugalweds March 27, 2014 on 4:14 am

      Thanks, Anneli. I am in total agreement with you!

  • RaiseQuestions April 18, 2014 on 3:48 am

    MBA = Master of Business Administration. These pieced together programs do not offer a Masters degree or any degree at all. They are great as a means of gaining additional knowledge but they simply aren’t an MBA and I seriously question whether they are going to do much for employabilty.

    • Addison Cash RaiseQuestions April 19, 2014 on 3:44 am

      You raise some good points. The No Pay MBA is still too new to know whether employers would take it seriously. Definitely great for gaining know, though, as you point out.

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  • Gary Manzo October 27, 2015 on 5:40 pm

    I support the idea of the no-pay MBA, but if others are like me, I’m paying for Certificates from Coursera and other platforms. But, I’d be taking the courses anyway, and the idea of it all being culled together in an MBA equivalent, is brilliant, whether it is accredited or not.

    The key point is that the MOOC courses are most often from the most distinguished Universities on the planet, and the Professors top-notch. Where would you get this otherwise, being able to pick and choose from Yale, Harvard, MIT, Wharton and a host of other Universities? Even if one could afford Wharton, that’s about all you’d experience, not the full array of individual great Universities, that one could in the MOOC system.

    • Kate Dore Gary Manzo October 28, 2015 on 8:03 am

      Great points, Gary! MOOCs have really changed the game with online education.

  • Roy Gertig February 10, 2016 on 9:49 am

    I just read through the no-pay MBA and my thought is this is just a marketing scheme for Laurie to sell her $17.00 book and $219.00 a year for the network; far – far from being free. I would say the advertising is disingenuous at best.

  • ric August 2, 2016 on 4:54 pm

    So it’s not accredited. Laurie is a jerk to market her whole blog as “get an MBA practically for free!” when it’s not a real MBA.

    • Kate Dore ric August 6, 2016 on 5:16 pm

      Thanks for reading! You make a valid point about the accreditation. Like any type of education investment, it depends on your long-term goals. If earning an accredited MBA is what you need, this plan will be a waste of time.


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