You're interested in giving your career a boost and accelerating your climb up the corporate ladder. Is it time to go back to school and get an MBA?
An advanced degree is a very expensive proposition. Annual tuition at a major program can easily top $50,000 per year. And if you decide to go back to school full time, this means that you'll also need to factor in substantial additional expenses for housing and living expenses.
Factor all this together, and you're looking at easily spending more than $200,000 over two years (take a look at the estimated costs for one year of tuition, housing, and living expenses for business school Harvard University; these are the university's own unvarnished projections); you could buy a house for that money. And don't forget about the income you lose by putting your career on hiatus.
It's quite true that if you complete an MBA from a top-tier school it's quite possible you'll see a substantial bump in pay from what you were earning before. And you don't necessarily need to quit your job to go full-time (depending upon the program). But that doesn't make the degree any less expensive or time consuming.
GETTING AN MBA MIGHT BE A GOOD IDEA IF YOU...
- Didn't get a bachelor's degree in a business discipline. Many career disciplines require a strong foundation in business education. A non-business bachelor's degree (in disciplines such as liberal arts, science, or communications) won't necessarily offer the classes in marketing, accounting, finance, and operations which provide a helpful business orientation and skill set.
- Want to change career path. A degree in a new discipline can be a fantastic way to reinvent yourself, since you'll be armed with a new knowledge set. And it's a great pivot point since you have demonstrated an interest in taking your career in a new direction through your studies. I've seen nurses, journalists, technologists, and other non-business professionals reinvent themselves as marketers, investment bankers, and financial analysts.
- Need a career boost. Maybe you hit a ceiling in your career. The act of getting (or even pursuing) an MBA may convince your employer that you take your career progression seriously, which could potentially open new doors. Also, the knowledge you gain through your education may increase your value and skills in your current role, pushing you onto more of a promotion track. And some companies use the MBA as a minimum requirement for entry to the executive suite.
- The jobs you want require it. Many employers equate MBA graduates from highly ranked program to high potential hires. If you want to get into a leadership rotation program with a brand-name employer, for example, the MBA might be a fundamental requirement. Likewise, I used to recruit for a consumer products company, and for their Brand Manager roles, and they considered the MBA in Marketing as essential, unless the candidate had more than five years' success in a prior brand management role with another leading consumer products company.
- Have an employer who offers to pay for your degree. Tuition reimbursement is a fantastic employment benefit. An employer who is willing to invest in your continuing education is making a commitment to your ongoing development with the hope that you will continue to add value. You should note, however, that before paying for your tuition, the employer will likely make you sign an agreement allowing them to claw back a portion or entire amount in case you leave before a certain time (usually 1 or 2 years), to discourage you from quitting immediately after getting your diploma.
- Want the knowledge an MBA provides. Academic study can be intellectually rewarding, opening up new ways of thinking as well as providing you with additional skills and knowledge. You may find classroom discussions and group projects incredibly stimulating and fulfilling.
PURSUING AN MBA MIGHT NOT BE IMPORTANT IF YOU...
- Have a bachelor's degree in a similar business discipline. Make no mistake, the bachelor's and MBA are not identical – the emphasis in the MBA tends to be more of a survey format, with a focus on strategic thinking and real-world application since the majority of MBA students have prior professional work experience – but there is similarity throughout quite a bit of the curriculum. And you may already have the academic foundation you need in your career.
- Are on a strong career trajectory. If you've been rapidly promoted several times, and have been told that you'll soon be in the executive ranks, it's quite clear that you're moving in the right direction. Which would move your career further, more quickly? Quitting your job to pursue two years of study, or continuing your high performance at your current company.
- Can't justify the return on investment. As mentioned above, an MBA is expensive. Maybe it's realistic to anticipate a $50,000 jump in annual salary after finishing the degree. Maybe not. Don't just look at the "Average Graduate Salary" data the school provides as your benchmark, since the student population spans a variety of fields and levels of experience. Do your homework. $200K is a lot of money.
- Don't need it. In many cases, there's no substitute for real-world experience and elbow grease. In a 2014 study of CEOs, out of the top-performing 100, only 29 of them had MBA degrees. To look at this another way, 71% of these 100 CEOs did not have an MBA – in other words, there's no direct correlation between having the MBA and getting the corner office. And consider whether the MBA is relevant to advancement in your line of work; in some fields, a technical degree might provide more value.
Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at email@example.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.