Our guide will help you decide whether you should return to school for your MBA today, or hold off for a little while.
Are you a current or prospective MBA student? Our MBA Corner is just for you.
Whether you’re a recent college graduate or further down your career path, you might be asking yourself this question. The question isn’t “should I or should I not go to graduate school?” It’s a question of when should you go.
Here are the merits of attending business school now versus waiting:
You should attend business school now if…
1. You’re unemployed
Like the price of any commodity, the value of education increases during poor economic times. When layoffs begin and the job market dries up, it’s a great time to go after your MBA.
If you’re collecting unemployment benefits, have savings and get decent loans, you can pursue your MBA full time without distraction and with little economic downside. If the job market improves, you’ll be qualified for better, more lucrative positions. If it doesn’t, you’ll at least have a competitive advantage.
2. Your employer will pay for it
According to Forbes, the average cost of an MBA is more than $100,000. Paying back school loans can take decades. If you have a full-time job and your employer is willing to foot the bill for your master’s degree while continuing to pay you a living wage, it’s a no-brainer.
Working full time and taking graduate classes at night means you’re going to have little free time, and it’ll be a challenge to keep those grades up. But for those up to the challenge, the rewards are great.
The 2013 QS Top MBA survey estimates the average starting salary of an MBA holder is $113,000. A six-figure salary without student loan debt is no small thing in this economy. If you work for a company with reasonable upward mobility, a company-sponsored MBA can also be a fast track to upper management.
3. You want to run a business, but lack management skills
A common misconception outside the business world is that an MBA is a master’s in finance. MBA programs are more about management than anything else. Many applicants to b-school aren’t business, economics or accounting majors. Many have or are working on their undergraduate degrees in fields like engineering, geology, or even art history.
What all viable MBA applicants have in common is a desire for leadership and business management skills. An art major might pursue an MBA to become a gallery owner or museum curator. Engineering and architecture majors with MBA degrees start their own firms.
If you want to create your own company but lack management experience, an MBA might be a good idea.
You might want to wait if…
1. The demands of your life won’t allow you to concentrate on the degree
If you’re going to pursue your MBA, commit to the experience. Graduate level classes require considerable time and effort. An MBA alumnus from the University of Delaware said she spent an average of 20 to 30 hours per week in class, studying and working on group projects. The minimum GPA for graduation was 3.2. While she wasn’t working at the time, she was raising a new baby and found herself exhausted by graduation day.
Not all MBA programs are as rigorous, but all require a significant devotion of time and have exacting graduation requirements. If you aren’t able to manage these demands along with your workload and personal life, you’ll not only waste time and money, you’ll also damage your academic record.
2. You don’t know what you’re going to do with your degree
Admissions officers for business schools want to hear candidates articulate a plan for their career paths after graduation. They don’t want to hear that you want to make more money. Students with specific goals have a greater sense of purpose and are more serious about completing their degrees.
Admitting qualified and determined candidates benefits business schools because it allows them to maintain high academic standards and completion rates, metrics key in attracting qualified applicants — and tuition dollars.
If you plan on applying to business school, spend some time considering where you want an MBA degree to take you. Polish your messaging. This doesn’t mean you have to plan out your life until retirement. Just make sure your personal statement and interview talking points convey both maturity and a sense of direction.
3. You don’t need it
By now the story of the college dropout whose tech startup makes him a billionaire has become an American cliché. You don’t have to get an MBA because you think you should or because you want to impress others.
If you possess rare, bankable skills, and already have a job you love or are pursuing a dream, you might not benefit much from an MBA degree. You might also not be management material. If your skill set or personality isn’t suited for managing a business, do a little soul searching before committing to two to four years of rigorous education and $100,000 in tuition.
If you continue on to graduate school out of college, the true economic cost is the money you could have made working, plus the expense and debt you incur, compounded by the lost interest of starting your retirement savings later and accumulating less money. If the increased salary that comes with your improved career prospects can make up for these losses, an MBA makes economic sense.
But this calculation fails to consider personal factors: lost time with family and friends versus stifled ambition, the stress of a lower income versus the pressure of a demanding academic curriculum, satisfaction with your job versus the freedom of owning your own business.
The best advice on deciding when to pursue your MBA is to make a list of the benefits and opportunity costs of the decision, discuss the matter with friends, loved ones and advisors, and above all, commit to whatever decision you make.
Rich Carriero has worked in the test preparation and college admissions industry since 1999. In addition to his career as a freelance writer, Mr. Carriero is also a GMAT Tutor and Academic Manager for Next Step Test Preparation.