Weighing the pros and cons of earning an MBA degree?
As business raises the bar for success, the B-school question is a common one for ambitious working professionals.
With the rise of the Information Age, alternate paths to technical business prowess have proliferated. But there's no substitute for the leadership savvy, decision-making and strategic skills that an MBA degree provides. Signal potential employers that you're serious about success with a degree that equips you to solve both the technical and human sides of the management equation.
1. Advance your career
If your present career path is a less than a perfect fit for your aptitudes and interests, one of the benefits of an MBA program is that it allows you the flexibility to explore your options and provides you with the training you need to change careers. If you're satisfied with your current line of business, a master of business administration degree can prepare you to move into a managerial position within your field.
2. Earn more
Come payday, the benefits of an MBA degree show up as a bigger paycheck. As of 2015, the median starting salary for new MBAs hit $100,000, according to an annual survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).
In another 2015 survey of B-school alumni by GMAC, 90% of respondents reported that their MBA degree had boosted their earning power.
3. Gain employer support
As today's marketplace evolves and becomes increasingly complex, many employers are choosing to balance their need to retain good employees with their need to fill managerial positions with candidates possessing advanced-level knowledge and skills. They're doing this by sending selected employees to business school for their MBA degrees—and footing the bill.
4. Start your own business
If you're interested in starting your own business, but not sure you have the necessary expertise to launch a start-up in a high-growth industry, an MBA degree can prepare you to do everything from writing a business plan to acquiring venture capital to launching an IPO. Research has shown that the failure rate for small businesses started by MBAs is about 50 percent less than the standard failure rate.
5. Develop your business savvy
An MBA degree will put you on the fast track to career advancement by offering you the chance to develop a wide range of general business knowledge and a broad base of technical skills in a relatively short period of time, as opposed to the years-long trial-and-error process that tends to characterize knowledge and skill gleaned from on-the-job learning.
6. Lead in an emerging field
A recent proliferation of "niche" Master of Business Administration programs means that you can not only look to business school for a firm grounding in the basics, but for innovative education that can lead to an exciting career in a newly emerging field such as brand management, information technology, e-commerce or mobile telecommunications—just to name a few.
7. Grow your network
Networking is another key benefit of the MBA degree. Business school teaching styles encourage teamwork, and over the course of an MBA program, you'll develop important relationships that can serve you well throughout your business career. And no matter the school, you can often get plugged into a network of alumni working at a wide range of companies. This is useful for mentoring, job searches and professional contacts.
8. Enjoy greater job security
MBA grads are desirable in any job market; an MBA will give you the opportunities you need to advance in the business world.
Now that you understand the rewards of earning your MBA, it's time to start learning which type of MBA program will fit with your busy lifestyle.
4 Steps to Prepare for an MBA Degree
Create a great track record. Assuming you've already earned your bachelor's degree, pave the way to an MBA by first working hard in your current role. Sign up for stretch assignments that take you beyond your comfort zone, and cultivate a strong network. Business schools expect applicants to show a solid work history of at least two years, and they generally require references. Set yourself up for success by excelling in the role you have today
Research your options. The range and variety of MBA programs have exploded in recent years. From delivery formats to areas of academic emphasis, all programs are not created equal. Check out our roundup of the different types of MBA degree programs below
Take the Graduate Management Admissions Test. Traditional schools require that applicants submit their GMAT scores with their materials. It's a four-part standardized test that measures analytical writing, quantitative, verbal and integrated reasoning skills.
Or not. (See #1 above). Many accredited schools have kicked the GMAT requirement to the curb. They recognize that performance on a standardized test isn't always a clear predictor of academic success. As B-school applicants showcase extensive business track records, schools are scrutinizing work histories and previous education.
Types of MBA Degree Programs
Business schools are breaking out of traditional formats to offer a range of routes to the MBA degree—many of which are ideally suited to working professionals. Consider your circumstances and priorities to see which format is right for you:
» Full-Time MBA: 2 years
Ready to commit? The tried-and-tested route to the MBA generally demands two years of concentrated, on-site studies. Expect to develop a very close network of peers and professors that will persist for the rest of your career. Depending on the industry you're focused on, you might want to target schools in specific geographic areas, where those programs are most relevant.
» Part-Time MBA: 3-5 years
Determined to earn your MBA, but can't shrug off work and family commitments to do it? Whether you study online or on-campus, the part-time degree option offers more flexibility. Your fellow students will likely be in the same boat as you. Bonus: If you stay in your job while attending business school, you'll apply fresh skills and knowledge immediately.
» Part-Time Online MBA: 3-5 years
If you live in the West, but yearn for the cachet and resume-boosting power of an East Coast degree, the online option may be the ideal choice for your MBA path. Studying alongside a cohort of colleagues from across the country, you'll study and complete assignments at the time that's most convenient for you.
» Accelerated MBA: 12-18 months
This fast-paced format packs two years' worth of materials into as few as 12 months. It's crucial that you arrive with a strong grasp of business principles and a schedule that allows you to focus on your studies. The accelerated path is a rigorous one, but graduates often reflect that the format promotes constant engagement with both the material and fellow students.
» Executive/Evening MBA: 2 years
Are you a mid- to senior-level manager with five or more years of business experience under your belt? The curriculum in this MBA degree format emphasizes real-life scenarios that improve leadership, decision-making and strategic skills. The online EMBA schedule usually offers the flexibility for local students to meet weekly, while out-of-state peers join them for monthly or quarterly intensives.
Choosing an MBA Degree Program: 5 Factors to Consider
From accreditation to school rankings, what are the most important things to consider when choosing an MBA program? See which factors matter the most.
MBA Degree Program Accreditation
It's crucial that the business schools you're considering have earned national or regional accreditation. An outside agency conducts an evaluation to determine if the school meets it standards for academic quality and rigor. The school then undergoes monitoring, with periodic re-evaluations to maintain accreditation.
The primary accreditors for business schools are the elite Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, plus the Accreditation Counsel for Collegiate Business Schools & Programs, and—for online MBA degree programs—the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.
Beyond the stamp of approval, accreditation directly affects your bottom line. Only students enrolled in accredited schools are eligible for federal student loans and grants.
MBA Degree Program Rankings
How much credence should you lend the much-publicized B-school rankings? Before you put the top-ranking schools at the top of your list, know which criteria each list-maker uses:
|U.S. News & World Report began publishing separate rankings for traditional and online MBA degree formats in 2015. Its criteria include:
|Bloomberg Businessweek ranks business schools biannually, measuring their mettle with these three markers:
|The Economist employs two surveys—one completed by schools, and the other by current students and recent graduates. The schools' responses are weighted at 80% of the score, while student input takes the remaining 20%.|
MBA Degree Program Faculty Credentials
As you investigate potential MBA degree programs, check out the faculty bios on the schools' websites. What degrees do professors hold? Do they have real-life work experience in the industries about which they teach? Have they published work in scholarly and/or professional journals?
MBA Degree Student Support Systems
Don't short-change the student services as you research potential schools. Look for financial aid resources—including a fully staffed office to help navigate the options—and access to corporate recruiters. Investigate the school's relationship to companies in your target industry. Can you meet recruiters at job fairs and other networking opportunities? What about mentoring and career counseling? Go the extra mile and ask the school to provide documentation of graduation rates and alumni employment stats.
Other MBA Degree Students
You'll be spending lot of time with fellow students on your MBA degree journey. Before you enroll, make sure that the student mix is a good cultural and professional fit for you. Can you see yourself learning alongside them? Is there an active alumni network that operates in locations and professional fields that are relevant to you? One of the biggest benefits of business school is the expanded network it offers—be sure that you're joining the right one for you.
MBA Degree Costs
What's the price tag for an MBA? In the U.S., costs are all over the map. Tuition ranges from less than $15,000 at West Texas A&M University, to more $95,000 for the University of North Carolina's top-ranked distance MBA program.
In some cases, a school might charge less for its online MBA program than for its traditional degree program. But at other schools, the opposite is true. And at still others, the online and on-campus MBA degree programs cost exactly the same.
Do your research. Each MBA degree program should clearly list tuition and fees on its website. Don't forget to calculate costs beyond tuition, such as books, commuting or relocation costs, journal subscriptions and technology fees.
Paying for the MBA Degree
If you're wondering how you'll foot the bill for an MBA, you're not alone. Thousands of other working adults are pondering the same question. Check out a few options for funding your education:
Federal Student Aid for Graduate Students
The FAFSA form requires an average of just 17 minutes to complete. The starting point to qualify for all federal student loans, it's a free tool offered by the U.S. Department of Education.
To be eligible for federal aid, you must:
- be enrolled (or accepted) in an eligible program at least half-time
- be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
- demonstrate financial need
Government-backed loans offer a variety of repayment plans, including an option to tie payments to your income. Private lenders rarely offer such flexible terms.
Scholarships and Grants
Don't stop with the FAFSA. Depending on your finances and background, you might qualify for a scholarship or grant to help fund your MBA degree. These forms of financial aid don't require repayment. Grants are typically need-based, whereas scholarships are targeted to academics or specific fields of study.
Start your search with the U.S. Department of Labor's massive database, which contains more than 1,000 scholarships available for graduate students.
Take the Next Step
With starting salaries and demand on the rise, there's no better time to turbo-charge your career with the resume-boosting MBA degree. Discover the program that's right for you.