Is Getting an MBA Worth It? Everything You Need to Know About Earning Your Advanced Degree
If you’re considering getting an MBA, you probably have a million questions: Can I keep my full-time job and go back to school? How much will a degree cost and can I afford it? Will an MBA degree pay off in my career field? Each of these questions are important, but together they boil down to one big theme: is getting an MBA worth it?
In this article, we’ll help you arrive at a clear answer. We’ll walk through the costs and benefits of pursuing an MBA degree and explain the criteria that separates a so-so program from one that’s worth its weight in gold. By the end, you’ll be ready to make an informed decision and decide whether going back to school is right for you.
For a complete overview, read through these sections in order. Or, if you want to cut to the chase and answer a burning question, skip ahead by clicking a heading in the table of contents below:
What is an MBA?
MBA stands for Master of Business Administration. It is a graduate degree developed to provide students with the core knowledge and skills they need to succeed in business.
Although exact specifications vary depending on the type of MBA or concentration, a student can expect to take classes in:
- Business strategy
- Data analytics
- Information technology
What Separates MBAs from Other Degrees
Surveys show that MBAs are one of the most popular graduate programs, but they aren’t the only degree out there. If you’re considering multiple options, it’s helpful to know what sets an MBA apart.
MBA vs Bachelor’s in Business
Chances are you already have a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field. So what sets an MBA apart from the education you already have?
- MBAs are graduate degrees. A bachelor’s might provide a good business overview, but MBAs offer more in-depth courses and advanced study. They prioritize practical skills and train you for leadership positions.
- MBA programs are shorter and more flexible. While a bachelor’s typically takes four years to earn, an MBA is generally completed in two years. Because most MBA students are working adults, courses are also structured to work better with a busy schedule.
- MBA graduates stand out from the crowd. Although many individuals have a bachelor’s degree, MBAs are far rarer. As a result, graduates have more career opportunities and earning potential.
MBA vs Master of Science
While both graduate degrees, MBAs and Master of Science programs are very different. Here’s how they stack up:
- MBAs provide a practical, holistic business education. They may have a specific concentration, but teach an individual the skills to problem solve and approach a wide area of study. Students focus on practical skills and are trained to integrate their knowledge to think critically and make good business decisions. Meanwhile, MS degrees are typically more academic and technical. Students choose a specific field and pursue in-depth study. As a result, MBA and MS grads typically have different career paths.
- MBAs typically require more credit hours. To provide a well-rounded education, MBA degrees often require more credit hours than an MS program.
- MBAs have a higher median starting salary. Due to the nature of their training, MBA grads are qualified for leadership and management roles, which typically earn more than the professional roles of their MS counterparts.
MBA vs Doctorate of Business Administration Degree
MBAs are often terminal degrees, but some students may choose to pursue a Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA). What’s the difference?
- MBAs are practical, whereas DBAs are research focused. In a DBA program, students review, revise, and apply theories to a specific area of existing and future businesses. Meanwhile, MBA students learn to integrate departments and lead businesses.
- MBAs qualify for managerial positions, DBAs often seek academic opportunities. Typically, MBA graduates will work directly in a business. DBAs, meanwhile, may be found teaching in a university or working in a research setting.
A Practical Graduate Degree
Compared to other degree programs MBAs offer:
- A holistic business education
- Practical skills and knowledge
- Training for business leadership and real world application
Benefits and Costs of Earning an MBA
To know if pursuing your degree is worth it, it is important to carefully weigh the benefits and costs associated with earning an MBA.
Benefits: What Difference Can an MBA Make in Your Life?
The biggest reason people pursue an MBA is to advance in their career. Perhaps you’re looking to increase your value to your current employer or look more attractive to a new company. Either way, an MBA helps set you apart. It provides the education you need for higher positions and qualifies you for leadership roles.
Many senior positions require an MBA for promotion and organizations actively recruit people with MBAs. A survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council confirms this: 87% of respondents said graduate management education helped increase their employability, 84% said it improved their professional situation, 76% said it prepared them for leadership positions, and 68% said it offered opportunities for quicker career advancement.
Earning an MBA can also lead to an increase in pay. Your degree is a sign to employers that you bring a high value to the table and makes salary negotiations easier.
Data supports this bump in earning potential. A recent survey showed employers plan to offer new MBA hires a median starting salary of $115,000. That’s significantly higher than the direct-from industry hires ($95,000) and approaching double that of bachelor’s degree hires ($65,000).
Not all benefits of an MBA can be so easily represented in numbers. Although a bit more difficult to measure, these benefits are no less valuable:
Many MBA students report feeling a surge in confidence after receiving their degree. They feel equipped with the knowledge and skills to step into any business arena and make good decisions. They can have intelligent conversations across disciplines, understand how to research and present their suggestions to upper management, and feel equipped to think critically and problem solve.
This versatile skill set and communication abilities garner the respect of peers and supervisors. Because MBA graduates have hands-on experience with the latest technology and methods, they feel uniquely qualified to confront the challenges of future business leadership.
An advanced degree also upgrades your network. MBA students find themselves in an inner circle of C-Suite executives and industry leaders. Through their cohorts and their school’s alumni groups, students can get to know key decision makers in their field. This can open many doors and lead to job opportunities and industry advances.
Why an MBA?
Your degree can help
- Advance your career
- Increase your salary
- Boost your confidence
- Expand your network
- Succeed and your reach goals
Costs: What Will it Take to Earn an MBA
According to data from MBA Today, tuition to a top MBA program can vary greatly — anywhere from $55,727 to $161,810 a year. This cost changes based upon the number of credit hours a student takes at one time.
The good news is few students are stuck paying everything out of pocket. Many employers will pay for their employee’s MBA. Those that don’t cover costs completely may contribute a certain portion or dollar amount. Students also have the opportunity to earn scholarships and grants. And of course there are student loans and financing options. A school’s financial aid department can help you work through these numbers.
There is a financial cost to going back to school, but prospective students should compare any fees with the ROI from an MBA. With increased earning potential, many students find an MBA quickly pays for itself.
Earning an MBA is also a time investment. Again, your timeline can vary depending on the program you choose. Most MBA programs require between 36 and 72 credit hours to graduate. Each credit hour typically corresponds to three hours of work a week.
The way this time is spread out depends on the student and program. On average, a full-time student can complete their degree in 2 years, but this could be accelerated or elongated if necessary. Students with full-time jobs or busy family lives will want a program that works with their schedule.
This is undoubtedly a long-term commitment, but it shouldn’t scare off students. The right program will work with your schedule and not against it. Even more, an MBA will continue to produce value for the rest of your life, making the semesters you spend in class a worthwhile investment.
Beyond money and time, prospective students should also consider the opportunity cost. What will you have to give up if you pursue your MBA?
In some cases a student may need to cut back on working hours or put certain career moves on hold. If you have a family, you may need to learn to juggle classroom responsibilities with time with your spouse or kids. And to pay tuition, you may need to monitor expenses more carefully.
However, the right MBA program will not force you to compromise your life. It will offer flexibility with scheduling and payment and will help you advance your career right away, not take time off from it.
Keep in mind the opportunity cost of not pursuing your degree. What would you give up if you don’t earn your MBA? Will there be career doors that stay closed to you? Caps on your earning potential? Missed opportunities for your family?
Your decision will likely include a mix from both sides of opportunity cost. Take the time to think through these questions and form clear responses.
The Bottom Line
With this information in mind, we can answer the big question:
Is getting an MBA worth it? If you’re looking to grow your career, then yes!
If you want to advance your career, increase your earning potential, or develop your confidence in skills across business areas, then an MBA degree is a great investment. While your degree will take time and effort to complete, you will see it pay dividends for years to come.
BUT, not all MBA programs are equal.
A degree at one school may be all right, but a degree at another might be the best decision you ever made. If you really want to make sure getting your MBA is worth it, you need to select the right program.
Choosing the Right MBA Program
To maximize the value of your degree, there are things you want to look for in a school and certain characteristics you don’t want to compromise. Here’s what to search for:
A Degree that Matches Your Career Goals
When Harvard Business School opened the first MBA program in 1908, there was only one type of degree offered. Since then, the needs of businesses have changed and there are now many different types of MBAs to choose from.
Instead of settling for general knowledge, it’s best to choose a degree that fits with your career goals. The best schools offer unique programs for each track. For example, here at Walsh College, we offer 4 MBA degrees: one focusing on business leadership, one geared towards the STEM disciplines, another built around technology, and fourth centered on data science. Each type of MBA attracts specific students who know they’re not just getting an off-the-shelf education.
Beyond the type of degree, look for a program that offers specific concentrations. These programs allow you to tailor your degree around a chosen area of study. You can maximize your benefits by focusing on material that will be most relevant to you. For example, at Walsh we offer concentrations in business analytics, economics, finances, information systems management, interdisciplinary study, marketing, organizational resilience, and taxes.
Students who select from among these concentrations see the most practical benefit from their education. They don’t waste time or money learning things that won’t advance their career.
If you want to see the highest value possible from your education, we strongly recommend you consider a dual degree. Some schools offer combined MBA/MS programs, where you can earn both degrees in just a couple of extra classes.
Graduates enjoy this combination because they get the best of both worlds: a holistic business education and specialized training in a specific field of study. This provides breadth and depth for minimal extra cost, resulting in the most ROI.
Which Type of Degree Should I Choose?
The right degree depends on your career goals and desired outcomes. Talk with one of our admissions counselors to ask questions and get their recommendation.
A Program that Emphasizes Practicality
The most common criticism of education is that it isn’t practical. Knowledge, no matter how impressive it sounds in the textbook, isn’t very valuable if you can’t put it to use in real life.
This is especially true for an MBA. Since most people enroll in an MBA to advance in their career, all coursework and training should help them reach that goal. Your program needs to be about more than just theory. It should teach you skills that you can put to work right away and use for years to come.
At Walsh, our MBA programs are built around that philosophy. Each degree is built for direct application. In our courses, professionals with real-world experience teach you the latest methods and provide industry knowledge straight from the field. Because our programs go beyond the textbooks, you get a business education that takes you further.
A School that Works with Your Life
To minimize the opportunity cost of earning an MBA, search for a school that works with your life. The right school should offer the attendance method and timeline you are looking for:
In-person classes benefit students who find they engage better in person and prefer face-to-face networking with classmates and instructors.
However, in-person classes do place some additional demands on your schedule. You have to live within driving distance of the college and have to commute to campus at specific times to attend classes.
Online education has spiked in popularity since the ’90s. The advantages are obvious: You can attend classes from anywhere. Classroom work can be on your own time, especially if you choose an asynchronous program.
These are huge advantages for individuals navigating full-time jobs and busy family lives. They enjoy the flexibility of learning on their terms and find online courses make pursuing education possible in nearly any season of life.
However, it’s important to consider your learning style when looking at an online education. Some find it more difficult to engage and miss the opportunities of traditional in-person classrooms.
One thing you don’t need to worry about with the right online program is the quality of your education. Good online programs now offer the flexibility of a virtual education without losing any value.
For example, the Walsh Online MBA has been repeatedly recognized for excellence. The program has been recognized as one of the Top Online MBA programs in Michigan by Online MBA Today. It has also been given a Tier One Global ranking by CEO Magazine.
Hybrid classrooms offer the best of both worlds. They combine in-person and online approaches so an individual can enjoy both the flexibility of online education with the face-to-face time of in-person classes.
At Walsh, our Connected Classrooms engage both virtual and in person learners at the same time. With state-of-the-art, user-friendly technology, online students can interact with on-campus instructors and peers in real time. It helps students customize their degree to their lifestyle and learning preferences.
As mentioned above, an MBA typically takes 2 years to complete. While this is an average, the best degree programs offer more customization. At Walsh, we offer flexibility so busy people can slow their degree down and ambitious people can fast track their way to graduation. This adaptability gives students peace of mind that they won’t be locked into a timeline if their circumstances change.
It’s Your Degree, Make Sure it Works for You
To feel confident that getting an MBA is worth it, take the time to pick the school, program, and options that work best for you. The right MBA program should make sense for your life right now — working with your family, financial situation, and work responsibilities — and for where you want to go. It should teach you the skills you need to advance your career, earn a higher salary, and lead your company to success.
At Walsh College, we believe you deserve an education that works with where you are today and applies directly to your career tomorrow. We’ve built our entire MBA program to provide the highest value while minimizing costs. Our students have found again and again that earning a Walsh MBA degree is absolutely worth it. If you want to learn more about how an MBA from Walsh can work for you, talk with one of our admissions counselors today.