Is an MBA Worth It?

If you’re considering pursuing a master of business administration (MBA), you’re in good company.

A Google search trend analysis conducted by Olivet Nazarene University revealed that an MBA was the most frequently searched master’s degree across the United States from 2018 to 2019.

This is no surprise, since an MBA can offer growth opportunities and even an increase in earning potential. However, obtaining a master’s in business administration is a serious undertaking that requires careful consideration.

So, when is an MBA worth it?

Below, we’ve compiled a guide to help you determine if an MBA program is a good choice for you.

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How to Decide Whether an MBA Is Right for You

Although an MBA degree can open doors for professional advancement and personal growth, it requires a substantial commitment.

When deciding whether to enroll in business school, you will need to consider factors unique to your lifestyle, personal goals and career aspirations. Let’s consider each factor.

Career Path

An MBA is like a key that can unlock new opportunities. For example, professionals looking to step into managerial roles within their industries could greatly benefit from a master’s degree.

James Bailey, a professor of leadership at the GWU School of Business, discussed the pros and cons of getting an MBA and the need for a graduate degree experienced by his students.

“What I hear from students over and over again is that to move to the next level in their organizations, they need to be credentialed,” said Bailey.

In terms of moving up on the corporate ladder and gaining the skills needed to lead large firms, having a master’s in business administration may be crucial.

Nonetheless, before you invest in an MBA, you should determine if it is necessary for your industry. Doing the research will help you determine whether an MBA is worth it for you and learn if an MBA alternative will fit your needs better.

Lifestyle

Whether you are working full-time or fresh out of an undergraduate program, your lifestyle is an important component in deciding whether or not to pursue an MBA. Set aside time to consider how your current circumstances would shift if you opted to enroll in a Master of Business Administration program.

The typical MBA program takes two years to complete as a full-time student. However, the program can range from 12 to 36 months, depending on the university. The rigorous course work demands a great deal of focus.

Another point to consider is that online MBA programs can give you the ability to obtain an MBA on a more flexible schedule.

In 2019, the AACSB reported 156 institutions offering full time online MBA programs and 221institutions offering part-time online MBA programs. In other words, you have an increasing amount of options to find a program suitable for you.

The monetary requirements of graduate school can be substantial. The total average tuition cost for an MBAis $60,000, and high-ranking business schools may charge upward of $100,000.

However, online MBA programs can give students the ability to take classes from any location, which may ease the balancing act of work and other personal commitments.

Continuing to work a full- or part-time job while in an online MBA program can provide you with additional tuition funds that would not otherwise be possible if you took two years off from work to attend a full-time on-campus program.

Qualifications

While all MBA programs will differ in some capacity, most have specific prerequisites that applicants must meet. For example, to gain admission into business school, you will likely have to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test.

These tests help schools to assess your proficiency in analytical, verbal, written and quantitative areas. Preparing for these standardized tests requires time and dedication. However, in some cases, you may be able to waive the GMAT/GRE requirement at each school’s discretion.

Most MBA programs require applicants to have a certain amount of work experience upon admission. The average work experience of MBA students varies but is generally around two to three years. However, many top schools in the United States require three to six years work experience for MBA students.

In this case, you may want to think about accruing more work experience before applying to Master of Business Administration programs. Having work experience can be helpful if you want to write more compelling business school entrance essays. Work experience can also provide you with more options for references and MBA recommendation letters.

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University of California, Davis GMAT Waivers Available 24 - 36 months AACSB Accredited
Pepperdine University GMAT Waivers Available As Few as 20 Months AACSB Accredited

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Financial Return on Investment for an MBA

Before you make a significant investment in a graduate program, you may be wondering, “Is an MBA worth it financially?”

The saying that “knowledge is power” is certainly true. However, the financial return on investment you earn with an MBA is different for everyone and can rely on a variety of factors. These factors include: the amount of loans, scholarships, grants, expendable income and more. Return on investment can also differ based on the MBA concentration you choose and its median salary as well as projected demand.

The return on investment for your MBA program can also vary based on the business school’s ranking. A top-ranked MBA program can, but not always, provide a higher ROI.

In addition, it may be helpful to consider the non-financial returns, including acquired skills, experiences, internships, networking opportunities and so on.

How Much Could an MBA Increase Your Salary on Average?

The Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) administers an annual Corporate Recruiters Survey with insights into hiring practices and salaries for MBAs. Here a few findings from the Business School Hiring Report: Corporate Recruiters Survey 2019 (PDF, 8.3 MB):

  • The base salary for MBAs is the highest on record. The 2019 median starting salary U.S. companies will offer new MBA hires is $115,000.
  • The highest median starting salaries for MBAs in the United States are in the consulting ($135,000) and finance/accounting ($125,000) industries.

According to GMAC, starting industry salaries should increase for MBA graduates when compared to direct-from-industry or bachelor's degree new hires. Below are average salary increases broken down by industry.

  • Consulting: 32% increase
  • Energy/Utilities: 24% increase
  • Finance/Accounting: 34% increase
  • Health Care: 33% increase
  • Manufacturing: 34% increase
  • Nonprofit/Government: 45% increase
  • Products/Services: 59% increase
  • Technology: 35% increase

Remember that other factors play into your future salary, including your work experience and MBA concentration, your professional network and the reputability of the business school that you earned your degree from.

Which MBA Concentration Should You Choose?

Selecting an MBA concentration allows you to home in on a specific business discipline and gain skills that pertain to your desired field. You are not always required to choose a concentration, but if you know what sector of business you want to work in, a concentration can prove beneficial. Additionally, having a concentration can help you stand out among other MBAs.

To choose a concentration, think about the industry you would like to work in and the job opportunities you would like to explore. Keep reading to learn about some popular MBA concentrations that could benefit your career.

In-Demand MBA Concentrations

1. Consulting

Consulting is undoubtedly one of the most popular concentrations that MBAs pursue. This is perfect for professionals who would like to help firms solve complex problems and work more efficiently. The consulting concentration will equip professionals with the critical thinking and analytical skills needed to succeed in this lucrative career path.

2. IT Management

A concentration in IT management means you’ll learn the latest in computer information systems and managing and securing data. The training goes beyond technical knowledge and imparts students with the skills needed to be successful managers and leaders in the technology sector.

3. Finance

Arguably the most competitive concentration, finance is a challenging field that yields high returns. Expect to study theoretical frameworks and learn analytical approaches to managing capital for large companies. Common roles for finance concentration MBAs include finance managers and CFOs.

4. Operations Management

For those with interest in supply chain management and logistics, a concentration in operations management is a suitable choice. Students who pursue this discipline will gain insight into global trends, risk management and other complexities of this interconnected industry.

5. Strategy

No matter the industry, firms need top strategic thinkers to stay innovative and forward-moving. This concentration requires professionals to take on a big picture outlook and sharpen decision-making abilities. The versatility and the high salary that the strategy concentration commands lends to its popularity.

How Does Life Change After an MBA?

For many MBA graduates, earning a degree brings a sense of personal achievement, including the personal and professional growth that occurs during this process.

It’s worth noting that your perceived value among your colleagues and employers may elevate. Earning a master’s is no small feat. An MBA can provide additional clout to your resume when you are applying for higher-level positions that could have been more difficult to reach previously.

Some managerial positions require candidates to hold an MBA to even be considered. Therefore, an MBA may not only serve as additional leverage but also fulfill a mandatory requirement.

Perhaps you already had ample work experience in a firm. In this case, your MBA adds to your qualifications and enhances your ability to lead teams. Now you are not only well-versed in your industry, but you also have more skills to lead a department or firm. Moreover, your MBA can help put you on the fast track to promotions in your organization.

Additionally, an MBA can be amazingly versatile, including in areas beyond business endeavors. The skills learned in the program can be used to pursue roles in social and philanthropic sectors. MBAs can seek out unique career paths that combine business with a personal passion, like philanthropy or education.

So, is an MBA worth it? With all of the opportunities available, you get out what you put in—and the possibilities are vast.

MBA Alternatives

A Master of Business Administration is not the only way to propel your career in business forward. Other advanced degrees may be more in demand in your specific industry and more accessible to you. Below are a few MBA alternatives to consider:

Master of Accounting

A Master of Accounting (MAC) equips professionals with specialized knowledge of the accounting sector. While an MBA highlights leadership and managerial skills, a master’s in accounting equips students with technical knowledge and dives into specific accounting industry information. Many professionals obtain this MBA alternative before taking the Uniform Certified Public Accountant and Certified Management Accountant exams.

Master’s in Management

If you’re looking to gain managerial and leadership know-how but lack work experience or a business degree, a master’s in management (MIM) is an alternative worth exploring.

This degree may have less stringent admissions requirements than a traditional MBA. Most MIM programs require little to no work experience for applicants seeking to attend, and they often have a strong focus on cultivating leadership and interpersonal skills.