How to tell if you should get an MBA
Here is an article written by Suzanne Lucas for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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An MBA is incredibly valuable if your career path requires an MBA. If it doesn’t, then it may be helpful, it may be neutral, or it may even hinder you. Yes, an MBA expands your earning power, if your career path requires one. Yes, it makes you look more impressive, if the people who are doing the hiring are impressed by that. Yes, there is a big difference between a top 10 program and the local “if you can pay tuition you’re in” program. But, how to decide?
Here are some questions to ask yourself (and some questions you need to ask others):
1. Where do you want to be in 5 years? What about 10 years? I know, it’s the dreaded interview question. But, this time you’re going to ask yourself. Where do you really want to go with your career? Yes, I know things can change, but take the time to think it out.
2. What credentials do the people in your “future job” have? You figured out where you want to be, so find out who is there now. Do they have MBAs? Do they have different advanced degrees? What schools did they go to? (Yes, it matters.)
3. Will the school that you are attending be worth the effort? I hate to sound snobbish, but the school you attend really matters at the MBA level. Really, really matters. If you want to be CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, getting your MBA at the local university is unlikely to help you. You’ll need to go to a top MBA school
for that. The good news is that Bloomberg BusinessWeek is reporting that some top MBA programs are easier to get into now.
I know people with MBAs from some low prestige schools that have jobs they could have gotten without those degrees, and, in fact, their coworkers lack the MBA. The school you choose will open some doors for you and will close other doors to you.
4. How much money will your MBA bring you? Okay, I don’t have a crystal ball either. But, take a look at the school’s information about the salaries of its alumni. An MBA from Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business brings a median staring salary of $90,000, while one from Harvard brings in $114,400. Awesome! But, check out what Payscale.com is reporting for people with MBAs.
A range of almost $50,000 to the mid $80,000s for University of Phoenix grads is substantially different. If you’re making $75,000 right now, it doesn’t make sense to get an MBA at a low tier school.
5. How much will your MBA cost you? I’m not talking just tuition here. In your case, the company is paying 75%. Yippee! But, does that come with a clause that holds you hostage for 3 years after they make their last payment? How does your company treat newly minted MBAs? Is a promotion possible, or will it just be a cake? When you’re released from your 3 year hold, new companies will see your salary as one you earned as someone with an MBA with 3 years of post-graduation experience. If you weren’t rewarded financially at the old firm, your value to a new firm drops as well.
Are you going to be willing to pay back what you would owe in order to leave? And if your company is not paying it, are you taking out student loans, paying as you go or relying on your trust fund? Because some MBA programs can be really expensive–over $100,000 kind of expensive. Sure, if it raises your earning potential by thousands and thousand’s it’s worth it. But, if it’s going to only slightly raise your potential then the costs may outweigh the benefits.
But, if you’ve gone through the 5 questions above and determined that an MBA is the path for you, then go get it. The knowledge will be helpful, and the connections invaluable.
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Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate Human Resources. She’s hired, fired, and analyzed the numbers for several major companies. She founded the Carnival of HR, a bi-weekly gathering of HR blogs, and her writings have been used in HR certification and management training courses across the country.
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