Earning an MBA may be a logical step for you to gain the skills you need to advance your career. However, this does not mean that deciding to pursue an MBA is a decision taken lightly. To get an MBA, you may have to make monumental shifts in the daily life that you’ve become accustomed to living.
An MBA will help you grow and gain knowledge, but sometimes growth and change can be uncomfortable, even if it’s positive. In order to help you decide if getting an MBA is right for you, this article will explore what the MBA is, why you should get an MBA, and the benefits and considerations of pursuing this prestigious degree. This article will help you understand the steps you need to take to get an MBA, as well as help you select which schools and programs will suit your career aspirations best.
What is an MBA?
An MBA is a Master’s in Business Administration and is an internationally recognized business degree with a history dating back more than 100 years ago. The first MBA program ever was founded in 1908 at Harvard Business School, 27 years after the world’s first collegiate school of business, Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1881.
The MBA is a graduate degree designed to prepare students to understand the functioning of business management better. The MBA is a popular choice for those looking to secure corporate-level jobs in major companies or entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses. This credential appears on the resumes of many individuals in high leadership positions, including numerous Fortune 500 executives. However, just getting an MBA is not a guaranteed one-way ticket to fame and fortune. Elissa Sangster, CEO of the Forté Foundation, said that "There's nothing about getting an MBA that doesn't require initiative from that point all the way through your career.”
There are many different types of MBA programs that are specialized to certain schools, but there are three main types that you can pursue: full time, part time, or executive MBAs.
Full time MBA
The full time MBA programs are completed during the day and are typically 1 to 2 years in duration, although some programs may be as long as three years. The tuition costs for full time MBAs at top business schools can significantly vary, but you may pay approximately $60,000 to over $120,000 for a two-year program at top business schools.
Part time MBA
Part time MBAs are often completed on evenings and weekends and can take anywhere from two to six years to complete depending on how you build your schedule. Part time MBAs are best suited for those who want to remain working full time or have community or family obligations. Part time programs usually are a fraction of the tuition of full time programs, making them an attractive option if you are looking to save on costs.
Executive MBAs (EMBAs) are completed on a part time basis, similar to part time MBA programs. The main difference is that those seeking an EMBA usually have much more work experience and hold senior or high leadership positions. The EMBA usually takes between one and two years to complete and can come with a hefty price tag. EMBA programs are often more expensive than full time MBAs, but usually, your employer will carry most, if not all, of the cost.
An MBA can be a costly and timely commitment, but it is a solid credential to have on your resume.
Why Should I get an MBA?
When considering whether you should get an MBA, there are numerous factors to keep in mind. Getting an MBA can benefit you in multiple ways:
1. More Job Opportunities and Higher Earnings
Getting an MBA can be a great way to unlock new opportunities as you navigate the corporate world. Obtaining this advanced business degree is a great way to set you apart from your peers because employers will know that you have the skills and knowledge to manage people and succeed in a business setting that other candidates may lack. Graduates from MBA programs can often accelerate their career paths with their new skills: that promotion you’ve been working so hard for awaits.
With a more diverse pool of jobs and opportunities for career advancement, it’s no surprise that MBA graduates can more than double their earnings after completing their degree. While getting an MBA can be costly, the return on investment can be high. How much money you make will be impacted by your choice of school and industry, but a recent survey suggests that the average salary of MBA graduates averaged over $105,000 annually. Graduates that attended the top 10 business schools in the U.S. saw an average annual compensation of over $170,000. Money may not be everything, but getting an MBA can lead to higher-paying jobs, and who wouldn't want a little more cash to spare?
2. Networking Opportunities
Getting an MBA can connect you with many influential and like-minded individuals. In terms of the classroom, you will have the opportunity to build connections with other diverse professionals as you work together on numerous projects. Perhaps some of these people you will click with enough to forge lifelong friendships and help each other succeed. Along with the chance to network with your peers, you will also have the opportunity to join an alumni network where you can access and connect with accomplished professionals.
You can connect with your school’s faculty, guest speakers, and anyone else associated with your MBA program. Nirav Mehta, associate director for MBA admissions at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business said, “The MBA degree's real value comes from membership in a lifelong learning community and access to the alumni network…The overall network serves [as] an active source of personal and professional support. The connections that one makes through the MBA program can be life-changing, and these relationships help to facilitate career transitions long after graduation."
3. Changing Industries
Maybe you’ve decided that your current career path is not what you see yourself doing for the rest of your life. That’s okay - statistics suggest that the average person will switch careers 5 to 7 times in their lifetime. If you’re committed to leaping into another industry, getting an MBA can be a great springboard.
The University of Walden lists one reason for getting an MBA is to switch career paths, stating that “MBA programs force introspection that helps students determine what matters the most. Not only can they solve complex business issues, but they might also decide to go in an entirely different direction than they originally planned.”
When you’re gaining new skills and having new experiences, it’s possible to discover a passion for another field. Liza Kirkpatrick, the managing director of the career management center at the Kellogg School of Management, said that “Something to note about the MBA is that you can apply it to most industries. For people who don’t know what industry is right for them yet, there are a series of specializations and concentrations you can explore in these programs, like strategy, corporate finance, and operations.” Remember that it’s excellent to explore all of your options and grow, even if that means switching fields.
4. Gaining New Skills and Reflect on Big Business Issues
The skills you will acquire will help you in your professional life and help shape you personally, too. People are constantly reinventing themselves, and getting your MBA can set you on the path to personal growth. The classes can be challenging, but they will also coerce you into new ways of thinking critically and will show you different perspectives. Many schools offer over 100 electives, so you can tailor your experience to fill in your own personal and professional gaps.
You will also have the chance to reflect on business issues on a global scale. Reflection is a great way to solve problems, and by getting an MBA, you can be a part of the solution. Getting an MBA will help you understand the workings of the business world, but it can also help you facilitate change for major issues like poverty or climate change.
While there are numerous benefits to getting an MBA, there are also some initial drawbacks to consider before pursuing this prestigious graduate degree:
As outlined above, annual tuition fees can be costly. However, the MBA cost is just one piece of the expense; you need to account for the fact that you will be losing wages for the duration of your MBA program. The flip side to this consequence is the monetary gains you can experience post-grad, but the price tag for most full time MBAs can be daunting.
When thinking about MBA consequences, cost and time go hand-in-hand. It would help if you also accounted for the time you will spend in your MBA program, especially the full time programs. You will not be able to hold down a full time job, and it's unlikely you would have time for a part time job either. If you have family obligations or other responsibilities, you must factor in managing your time between your studies and your daily life.
What Do I Need to Get an MBA?
If you’ve decided that getting an MBA is the next step for you, you will need to fulfill the requirements to apply to business school. You will submit an online application with specific documents for the admissions committee’s consideration. While these requirements will depend on what school and program you apply to, this is the general application structure.
Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
You will need to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree or international equivalent and provide academic transcripts to the admissions committee. A low GPA from your undergrad isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker in your MBA application, but a higher GPA will bolster your application. A recent study found that the average GPA among students at the top 20 business schools in the U.S. was just over 3.5.
You will be required to submit a one to two-page CV or resume detailing your work experience, extracurricular activities, and any other relevant information on your experience to the admissions committee. It’s worth noting that the average MBA applicant will have around four to five years of full time work experience before applying to a program. Your resume should be easy to follow, short, and impactful to make it the best that it can be.
Valid GMAT, GRE, or EA scores
You will need to have valid GMAT, GRE, or EA scores from within the last five years to submit to your institution. Which test scores are accepted vary by institution, but many schools will accept either GMAT or GRE scores. If this is the case, you can choose to take whichever test you want. These tests can be pretty challenging, and there are many services available for help with GRE prep and GMAT prep, as well as online practice tests.
Letters of Recommendation
The number of recommendation letters you must submit will be school-specific, but expect to submit at least one or two with your application. Many schools will prefer to receive a letter of recommendation from your current manager or supervisor but will usually accept them from past supervisors. Letters of recommendation are a crucial part of your application, as the people you have worked with closely can vouch for your work ethic and character.
You should prepare to write at least one essay as part of your application. Essay questions will vary greatly by school and even by year. Still, most business schools will have you write about yourself and your experiences and why you specifically want to attend their business school.
Writing a great business school essay can be a daunting task but remember to brainstorm, create an outline, and show the admissions committee that you’ve done your homework. If applicable, you can also answer the open-ended or personal essays with actionable steps you’ve taken to grow or achieve your goals.
All schools will require you to submit an application fee as part of your application. These fees will be school-dependent but will typically not exceed $300.
If your application is well-received by the admissions committee, you will be invited to attend an interview either virtually or on-campus. MBA interviews can be nerve-wracking but should go well if you’re prepared. You should know your application front-to-back, gain a general idea of what questions you may be asked, and remain authentic and professional. Interviews are an excellent way for the admissions committee to get to know you, but also a perfect way for you to get to know them too.
Keep in mind that this list details general requirements for getting an MBA, and you may be asked for other components as part of your application, such as an English language proficiency test, video questions, or other assessments. Remember to read the MBA requirements before putting your application together carefully. If you want more peace of mind, you can find a service to evaluate and polish your application from start to finish.
Choosing Where to Apply
If you know why you want to get an MBA and understand the general requirements, the next step is deciding where to apply. A great place to start is to check the rankings for MBA programs, though basing your decision on rankings alone is not the best way to choose a school.
However, rankings will help you evaluate the competitiveness of the program and how you stack up to your competition. You should be realistic but also apply to programs that are perfect for you, even if they are a bit of a reach. You should also check out specialty rankings in the area of your interest.
For example, if you want to break into Silicon Valley, UCLA would be a great school to consider. Many schools cater to specific areas of interest and can help you get the most out of your MBA experience.
You can try to work out if a school is a good fit for you by visiting the campus, talking to staff and current students, and attending online or in-person events. Finding a school that is the right fit for you will be subjective depending on what is most important to you: classes offered, flexibility, extracurricular activities, or location.
Keep your preferences in mind while you browse schools, and you will be more likely to find a school that fits your career aspirations and lifestyle. If you’re still stumped about what programs are most suitable for you, there are services available to help you choose an ideal business school.
1. I did not end my undergrad with an exceptionally high GPA. Is this a deal-breaker?
Not at all. Most MBA applications are reviewed holistically, and your undergrad GPA is just one component of your application. If there was a reason for your lower GPA in undergrad (maybe you had to work, or you had to deal with extenuating circumstances), it’s worth discussing this discrepancy in your application. If you excel in other areas of your application or demonstrate how you overcame adversity, a low GPA does not make you an ineligible candidate.
2. I haven’t taken a standardized test yet. Is the GMAT or GRE easier?
The GMAT and GRE are reasonably similar in difficulty. However, the GMAT may be slightly more manageable if you’re exceptional at math or a highly analytical person. If you are language-oriented with an expansive vocabulary, you may find the GRE easier. Make sure to check if the school you are applying to accepts both the GMAT and GRE or if they are partial to one test over the other.
3. The cost of an MBA is a barrier for me. Are there scholarships available?
The answer will depend on the school, but usually, students may be considered for merit-based scholarships automatically. Be sure to apply early, and browse the school’s website for scholarships for which you’re eligible.
4. In which round should I apply for the best chance of admission?
The round you apply to will be specific to your situation. If you feel that your application is strong, applying in round 1 may be best for you, as there are more spots for top candidates. Round 2 may be best to give you more time to craft and perfect your application, but it is also considered the most competitive around. Round 3 will have little spots left in the program to fill.
Still, you may consider applying in this round if you had a personal emergency or exceptional circumstances that prevented you from applying in the first two rounds.
5. Can I apply even if I don’t meet the minimum requirements?
MBA programs are very competitive, and you need to fulfill all requirements to be considered. Just fulfilling the conditions is not enough to guarantee your acceptance to business school, so the chances of acceptance with unfulfilled requirements would be meager.
6. What’s the difference between an MBA and a regular Master’s program?
These programs are similar in that they are both graduate degrees. However, the MBA focuses on training and practical business experience, with an emphasis on leadership experience.
Deciding to get an MBA is a significant life and career decision, but if the answers to “why get an MBA?” reveal more benefits than drawbacks, getting your MBA can be the right decision. Getting an MBA can expand your job opportunities, allow you to earn more money, connect you to like-minded professionals, and even help you switch industries.
Although getting an MBA can be costly and time-consuming, the experience and knowledge you gain will be an invaluable resource in your professional life. If you work to meet the general requirements of getting an MBA and perfect your application, you will have a higher chance of acceptance to business school.
You can choose to apply to numerous programs, and you can select these programs based on what schools you believe are most suitable for you and your career goals. If getting an MBA is the right move for you in your career, you can achieve your goals with the right amount of preparation and time. The next time you ponder, “why get an MBA?” keep the outstanding benefits we have discussed in mind.