An MBA is the most general of master’s business degrees. Properly trained MBA graduates should be capable of assuming leadership and management roles in a wide variety of organizational settings. Of course, an MBA degree alone won’t provide all of the knowledge needed to perform all jobs, but MBA graduates have been trained to learn quickly. MBA graduates should be independent, lifelong learners.
Other business degree programs are more specialized for those with specific career goals in mind. Our Master of Accountancy is a great professional degree for career accountants. Our Master of Project Management is for those who are more likely to manage projects during their careers than people. Our Master of Entrepreneurship is designed for students who have a strong interest in establishing their own businesses.
Should I get an MBA? Why?
By far, the best reason to get an MBA is career development. If you are currently in a job and need to improve your management and business skills, I can guarantee the MBA will do that. You will be a better strategist, leader, judge, and analyst when you complete the program than you were when you began. This means better performance and more opportunities for advancement.
Obtaining an MBA degree is also a great route for career change and enhancement. Most of us don’t know what we want to do when we’re in college and we often choose majors without good reason and without good knowledge about what the choice means. MBA programs are now filled with lawyers, doctors, nurses, and teachers. The MBA is an excellent choice for these professionals since it is such a broad degree. It allows professionals to leverage their knowledge and skills into new opportunities.
An MBA can also be a successful route for career resuscitation. Some businesses and careers just don’t have futures any more. I have a good friend who repaired small electronics, for example. With today’s systems, repair isn’t really an option as we usually replace. That doesn’t mean that the years he spent developing technical skills were completely wasted, because he also developed sound customer service and sales skills. An MBA might allow him to exploit these skills.
With the decline in high-quality, entry-level jobs that has accelerated during the current downturn, we’re seeing more young students seeking an MBA to improve their chances of getting a good first job. This has been a real challenge for MBA programs, because our courses and programs were designed for experienced managers and professionals who were often fully employed. In ordinary times, I would very much encourage at least five years of full-time work experience before starting an MBA program. These aren’t ordinary times, and I doubt we’ll ever see ordinary times again.
I suspect that for many students graduating now, there will be few opportunities. For those who can’t find a good job where they can learn and develop, an MBA may be a reasonable next-best choice. This is particularly true for students who did not get an undergraduate degree in business.
There are several important keys to getting benefits from an MBA degree while you’re still in your early twenties. First, you can’t treat the program as just more courses. You need to learn more in an MBA than just how to complete projects and pass exams. You need to develop real skills that can be directly applied to real problems, and you need to develop the network and support system that you will need to succeed.
When should I get an MBA?
When you should get an MBA is tied closely to why you should get an MBA. First, if you need better business skills to do the job you’re in or the job you aspire to, you need an MBA. If you find yourself in a position where you have little opportunity to advance or to develop your skills, you need an MBA. If you’re still early enough in life that you don’t have mortgages and haven’t started planning to provide an education for your own children, you may be able to complete an MBA without significant financial hardships. Similarly, if you’re late enough in your career to have a good income you can afford an MBA. In both situations, don’t forget that long-term, low interest rate loans are still available for graduate students.
Looking at your own life stage will also help determine when you should pursue an MBA. If you’re still in the trial phase of life, an MBA may not be your best choice. An MBA requires a serious commitment of time and effort and you shouldn’t start one until you’re ready to finish one. It’s too easy to lose time, money, and course credit when you realize that you really have to climb that mountain or play that guitar.
If you’re in the growth or maturity phase of life, an MBA can pay big dividends. Generally, this means you should know who and what you want to be and you should be able to clearly articulate your goals. These can be financial or lifestyle goals, but they should be goals you’re ready to commit your life to.
Finally, an MBA can be interesting late in life for many reasons. Primarily, an MBA just makes life more interesting. Learning can be a frustrating experience, but it can also be a joyous one. Becoming qualified to teach is another important benefit of an MBA later in careers.
Where should I get my MBA?
Exclusive programs are highly selective and require strong grades, high GMAT scores and extensive work experience. There is a reason that graduates of highly-ranked MBA programs make a lot of money after they graduate. They were usually very successful before they were accepted.
A number of big city programs have taken a different route to quality. Georgia State University has built one of the country’s best part-time programs by focusing on the needs of working adults and providing networking support in a rapidly growing job market. How they will fare in the current downturn is not so clear.
Beyond these programs are literally hundreds of good MBA programs at regional universities like Western Carolina University. These programs share many common features, but have the ability to customize offerings to best fit the needs of smaller markets. This gives us a strong local advantage. Just be sure to always look for AACSB accreditation. That’s your guarantee of quality.
Finally, whenever possible, you should get your MBA where you want to live. If you know when you’ll be relocating and you know where you’ll be relocating, wait until after you move. You’ll have the advantages of networking in your new home and won’t lose time and money when courses fail to transfer.
For more answers, download our 2012-2013 FAQs document (Word).