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Is Earning an MBA Still Worth It?

Earning an MBA carries both risks and potential rewards. While MBA programs can help you build a strong professional network, clarify your interests within business, and develop important skills, the cost of an mba can be expensive and programs can be time-consuming. As a result, the decision of whether and where to apply to business school involves a great deal of research, as well as intense self-evaluation.

When considering business school, asking yourself the following questions can be helpful:

  • "Why do I want to earn my MBA?"
  • "What do I want to get out of business school?"
  • "What specific aspects of business interest me?"
  • "How could an MBA give me the training and knowledge that I currently lack to enter the field I wish to enter?"

Gathering reputable information about different MBA programs and combining that research with your own judgment can help you determine your optimal path towards your career goals.

"I think there are some key things that someone should have in hand before they really consider doing an MBA," says Andrew Sama, senior associate director of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. "Number one is, I think you have to know what you are going to use it for. … [You] have to have a solid sense of why you are pursuing a graduate business degree and what you could potentially do with it."

Other experts agree with Sama. "Like so many decisions in business and in life, whether to get an MBA demands a cost-benefit analysis," says Joel Peterson, chairman of JetBlue Airways and a professor at Stanford Business School, in his article for LinkedIn. "Business schools are certainly good places to learn the rudiments of finance, marketing, accounting, strategy and operations management. … And the best ones will give you insight into your strengths and weaknesses and enable personal transformation," Peterson continues. However, he also adds, "If you're an entrepreneur itching to get started, or a professional hungry for change and advancement, sitting in classrooms doing projects, taking tests and writing papers for two years may simply not be the ideal path for you."

Some of the benefits of earning an MBA, according to Eric Jackson of Forbes, include opportunities to network with highly motivated individuals, broaden your perspective on issues such as international business and effective management, and encounter professors who truly challenge you to solve difficult business issues. Furthermore, according to Sama, MBA programs can help individuals develop a holistic idea of what it takes to create and maintain a successful business. "What MBAs are really good at is giving you that foundational understanding of how a business works in an integrated way," he explains. "MBA programs help you to see how a marketing decision can affect your business from a finance standpoint."

Yet other experts, such as Dale Stephens of The Wall Street Journal, argue that the money and time you spend in an MBA program could be spent just as -- if not more -- productively working towards your career goals in the professional world. Furthermore, as Peterson points out in his article, there are many different avenues that can help you further your career, including in-house business training from your employer, online courses in business, part-time MBA programs (which employers are sometimes willing to subsidize), and specialized one-year training programs that enable you to develop skills in a certain field.

With so many options and so many different opinions about the usefulness of an MBA, how can you really determine the optimal path toward your professional goals? The answer lies in really knowing yourself and what you want, says Sama. "This is the reason every school asks you to write a career development essay. It is not a contract, but more of a logic test," he explains. "They are trying to see if you have some sense of who you are as an applicant, what you bring to the table, and what the school can realistically provide. I've seen MBAs help people from a variety of different undergraduate programs. I've seen it help folks who have had 10-plus years of work experience, people who are coming off of Wall Street, and even people like myself who had no business background previously."

Sama's comments suggest that an MBA program is often worth as much as you are willing to put into it. Peterson agrees with this notion, and explains in his article, "The more you're determined to get out of an MBA program, the richer an experience it will be." Thus, if you do decide that an MBA program is the right path for you, experts advise that you forge strong relationships with professors and classmates, while engaging with academic material that challenges or even intimidates you.

"A Smart Investor Would Skip the M.B.A." online.wsj.com, March 1, 2013, Dale Stephens
Interview with Andrew Sama, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Notre Dame University, Jamar Ramos, May 2013, MBAPrograms.org
"The 10 Most Under-Rated Reasons Why You Should Get an MBA," forbes.com, November 13, 2012, Eric Jackson
"The $200,000 Question: To Get an MBA or…Not?" linkedin.com, Joel Peterson