- Lisa Andrea completed a part-time MBA at San Diego State University in two years for $20,000.
- After interning at a Big Four accounting firm, she got job offers from places such as HP and Apple.
- She recommended getting an MBA to set yourself apart from other candidates and show motivation.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Lisa Andrea, 32, knew exactly what she wanted to do after college: She wanted to pursue her MBA, become a certified public accountant, and work for a Big Four accounting firm.
“That was my dream,” Andrea, who asked to use a different last name in compliance with her company, told Insider.
But with student loans to cover, she decided to take on a full-time role right after school — having graduated in under four years — save some money, and build up her résumé.
After she spent two years working in marketing, she enrolled in a part-time MBA program at San Diego State University with an emphasis on accounting, which required her to study twice a week at night for four hours.
“I had talked with many C-suite executives of different corporations before applying to grad programs to get their advice on the type of school to go to,” she said about her application process. “Unanimously, every person I spoke with said not to spend the money on an expensive university, unless it was a top-10 program like Yale, Harvard, etc.”
Andrea is glad she listened to their advice. Instead of ending up with a price tag upward of $200,000, she paid about $20,000 total in tuition. It took her two years (with summer school) to finish.
“Since I was very diligent about not wasting any money, I planned my entire schedule for the two years before I started the program,” Andrea said. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste any time or money. So I made sure to plan my schedule so that my classes could be taken at the proper times to stay on track.”
The MBA candidate also tested out of nine units based on curricula from her undergraduate degree, so she took the exact number of classes that were required.
Through San Diego State’s job-postings website, Andrea ended up getting a high-paying internship with the Big Four accounting firm Ernst & Young in the last semester of her MBA program.
“I quit my marketing job that I really loved to go after my dream of being a CPA,” she said.
After she completed the six-month internship, Andrea was offered a full-time position at EY. But she had other offers as well. During her internship, she had applied to jobs online and interviewed at other Fortune 100 companies, finding posting through her school’s MBA career site and on her own.
“I was then faced with four incredible job offers from Fortune 100 companies — two of which were Apple and HP — all because of my MBA,” Andrea said. “This is one of the biggest advantages to a graduate program. Access to employers that want you.”
In the end, Andrea ended up turning down offers from Ernst & Young and Apple — two of her dream offers. “Yes, that’s still crazy to say,” she said.
She accepted the job at HP, she said, because it offered her four times as much money as the other options.
“I decided I couldn’t ignore something like that,” she said. “At 24 years old, my new job allowed me to pay off my MBA and undergraduate degree very quickly.”
For the past eight years, Andrea has been working as a business-development consultant — a job that she loves.
“I work from home, travel the world, have given speeches in front of thousands of people, and have worked with some of the largest organizations in the world,” she said. “The opportunities that have opened for me are truly incredible.”
On the side, she’s the owner of The Financial Cookbook, which she uses to provide career-empowerment coaching to other women. Andrea started her business because she realized there was a market gap between what people learn in school about personal finances and the real-world needs that people face with money management.
“Some people live unfulfilling careers or struggle with financial freedom simply because they don’t know what they don’t know,” she said.
Andrea attributes her successful job experiences in the corporate world, as well as her ability to launch her own venture, to earning her MBA. “Do I use my MBA now, or do I need it for my current job? No,” she said. “Was it worth it, and would I recommend it? One hundred percent yes.”
Having an MBA changes the game in many ways for those who earn one, she added.
“Employers saw me differently from the undergraduates I was up against,” she said. “Getting a graduate degree has an unsaid connotation behind it. It says to the employer that you’re a go-getter who wants to expand your horizons and learn.”
She also said it was extremely impressive to the companies where she interviewed that she already had four years of full-time work experience under her belt. “This showed them how strong my work ethic is since I was working full time and going to school at night,” she said.
“Most top executives have a graduate degree,” Andrea added. “Therefore, when they realize that you do as well, they view you differently. You now have additional topics to converse about. It helps you to build rapport with others in life and executives within your organization.”