Should You Get an Online MBA?
Each year, over 150,000 individuals in the United States alone are awarded traditional campus and top accredited MBA programs online. It marks a momentous occasion in their lives as they gear up for a rewarding professional career, one many of them road mapped before joining a B-school.
You would imagine that they had clear and meaningful reasons to pursue a Masters in Business Administration. But you also wonder, how many of these graduates are actually going to fulfill their career aspirations with an MBA? Is there a guarantee, a surety that an MBA is your ticket to executive or entrepreneurial greatness? Well, it can and will certainly help. The value attached to an MBA – or any college degree that empowers you with work and life skills – can never be questioned. The more important question, therefore, is how you’re going to use this value to realize your career goals? What are your specific reasons for doing an MBA? And most important of all – are you getting an MBA for the right reasons?
What Does a Right Reason to Get an MBA Look Like?
Mary, a Computer Science graduate who after working for two years as a systems analyst wants to move up the career ladder and into a managerial position. She is meticulous, has good people skills and led a few projects in her short career. Mary sees herself leading bigger teams and managing floor operations. It’s an ambitious plan but she’s resolute about her career direction.
After some research and asking around, she decides to do an Online MBA in Operations, which can help her become a future Product Manager or Technical Supervisor, and then a General Manager or Chief Technology Officer in the engineering, IT and manufacturing sectors. Operations management requires an eye for detail, technical know-how, good negotiation skills and the ability to steer teams confidently even in stressful situations. Mary knows she is up to the task, and believes that an MBA can equip her with the knowledge and skills to manage future challenges.
Alan works in an entry-level HR job, his third in two years, and this one is for keeps. He enjoys the social and governance aspects of human resources. Alan wants to expand his knowledge and develop experience in the HR field. After working another year at his company, he decides to do an MBA in human resource management. Alan plans to join evening classes at a local college, and his manager is very supportive of his decision. Alan’s idea is to get an MBA while also gaining valuable job experience in the same field. His dream is to be an HR manager in a medium-sized or large company.
Jose is a 45 year old automobile spare parts supplier in Fort Worth, Texas who joined his dad’s business soon after tenth grade. He has a thriving business, but wants to expand his business throughout Texas and has his eye on Michigan as well. Jose has a great team and the business acumen to meet his ambitious goals. But he lacks new ideas and novel concepts that can help grow his business. Many of his contacts are experienced industry folk, but none have come out of an Ivy League business school. Jose thinks that his business needs new and savvy ideas, which can come from interacting with a diverse group of young, talented minds.
Jose is eager to learn about disruptive technologies in the automobile sector, novel concepts and innovative way of running a spare parts business. His consultation experience hasn’t done a great deal, so Jose has taken it upon himself to get all the ideas and inspiration he can from a B-school. He has selected an MBA program combining innovation and entrepreneurship that considers candidates without an undergraduate degree but who possess significant business experience.
He’s taking up the business degree program not so much for core business skills as he already has them, but for the opportunity to network with bright minds who can spark off new ideas while also continuing his education in a field so closely related to what he does for a living.
Mary, Alan and Jose have the right reasons to pursue an MBA. They’ve figured out who they are, what they want from their professional life, and how exactly their chosen MBA program can equip them for future success.
What Do the Wrong Reasons to Get an MBA Look Like?
1. You’re not sure of what else to do
Some people join MBA programs because :
- Everyone else seems to be doing it and there’s a lot of positive press around the degree.
- They’re confused and want to do something!
- They want to feel secure in a Master’s program first, take it as it comes, and then figure out what to do. While it’s perfectly fine to be a bit flexible about your goals, it’s quite foolish really to commit time and effort to a significant endeavor without giving it much thought.
The risks of doing an MBA for the wrong reason are:
- There isn’t a strong desire to stay committed when you feel the pressure of the GMAT or GRE. You may even decide not to give it or attempt it halfheartedly. That’s money, time and effort down the drain.
- You may crack your GMAT, start your classes, and realize this isn’t what you really want to do. This is not an expectation vs reality scenario but a mismatch of interests.
- Halfway through your MBA in Finance – which many websites listed as the most sought-after specialization – you begin to wish you had chosen Marketing instead because it is more compatible with your interests and inherent skills.
When you feel directionless, follow the basic steps outlined below:
- Make a list of your interests, skills and future goals. This is your starting point; you cannot do without it.
- Determine if an MBA can further your goals. Also assess if there are better, more cost-efficient ways to meet your goals. If yes, you can put MBA on the back burner. If not, research online for MBA programs and specializations that match your interests and ambitions.
- Check out B-schools offering the MBA programs and specializations that interest you. Go through the curriculum, career services, campus, alumni networks, faculty and other aspects of the full MBA experience.
- Talk to peers, seniors, colleagues or get on discussion boards to tweak and refine your decisions.
2. Salary enhancement is your only reason
An MBA arms you with skills you can apply throughout your career. It is an investment of a lifetime that pays you back in many rewarding ways. Just to give you an idea, alumni of London Business School enjoy an average salary hike of 132 percent after graduation. 2015 statistics from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) indicate that the post-MBA salaries of students have increased by 90%. The ROI potential of an MBA degree is massive, and anyone who gets an MBA is at some point thinking about getting a raise. But if it is the sole reason, then you may want to add more to make your MBA quest more meaningful. Here are five reasons why:
- A salary hike may not necessarily be a direct consequence of an MBA degree; other variables also play a role. Payscale.com lists years of experience, performance reviews, reporting hierarchy, extent of responsibilities, and professional certifications and associations as factors besides quality of education that impact salary increases.
- A GMAC report supports Salary.com’s findings. While the report acknowledges higher post-MBA pay hikes, it says that the increases vary on several factors, including work experience, industry and interestingly – gender. The report also finds that MBA graduates who get the biggest pay hikes are those hired by the same companies at which they had completed their summer internship.
- MBA graduates with lesser work experience tend to get the biggest pay hikes, and the percentage raise diminishes with an increase in work experience. That means if you’re an experienced professional with a higher pre-MBA salary or one around the median post-MBA salary, then you cannot expect a very high post-MBA pay.
- Continuing from the above point, you need to factor in the incremental increase an MBA provides that you would have got by continuing on for two years at your current company, or by negotiating a hike after changing jobs.
- You want to ask yourself if you’d be really happy at a job that pays well but does not excite you. Job satisfaction creates the motivation to excel and has a direct impact on work performance.
Finally, the returns from an MBA degree also depend on where you decide to study. There are thousands of B-schools offering a vast number of courses, and not all are created equal. How smartly you choose an institution with an excellent faculty, outstanding peers and strong global connections will also determine your pay hike and lifelong ROI from an MBA degree.
3. You think it is the best way to start your entrepreneurial journey
What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? A great product or service, passion and perseverance, a great team, some relevant experience and capital (a bit of luck is always welcome). If you don’t have some or all of these things, then a full-time MBA can give you the opportunity to meet talented people, explore new ideas and take baby steps towards entrepreneurship within the safety net provided by a B-school. In short, it can prepare you for your future entrepreneurial journey in a short span of two years.
Now consider this: what you may learn on the job in five or seven years, an MBA student might learn in a classroom in two years. If you find a venture or business activity that you love, you can get immersed in it as deeply and quickly as you can. An MBA, then becomes unnecessary.
So, to the question ‘do entrepreneurs really need an MBA?’, the answer would be ‘no’, but we’d add that the right one can make a big difference. And the right one is really down to your entrepreneurial aspirations and personal decisions that no one else can make for you. When making a decision, do consider the following points:
- Can I reach my entrepreneurial goals sooner or later without an MBA? Is time really such an important factor for me?
- What are the odds of success with and without an MBA degree? In what specific ways can an MBA help me increase likelihood of business success?
- What do I value more: an MBA education or an MBA degree?
The right questions to ask prospective MBA programs:
- Can the programs on my radar provide the management training and practical leadership necessary for entrepreneurial success?
- What do alumni have to say about the courses? How have they benefited from this training?
- What other alternatives are available to hone core business skills?
4. You feel it is absolutely necessary to move up the career ladder
There is no career path that absolutely requires an MBA. It isn’t a JD or MD mandatory for skilled professions in law or medicine. Lots of business leaders and individuals in general management positions don’t have an MBA. So, as discussed earlier, educational credentials – on their own – cannot dictate the outcome of your career. What you want to do is analyze the true value of an MBA in meeting your entrepreneurial aspirations. This analysis will also involve both an understanding of your current industry and its future possibilities. Here is a mix of questions you want to consider:
- What market am I in now and what kind of markets can I think of entering in the future?
- How do these markets perceive MBAs? What kind of stereotypes may I face as an MBA?
- What is the reputation of the MBA programs I’m looking at? How are these B-schools and alumni viewed in my desired markets?
- What signals does the MBA I’m considering send in my desired markets?
- What are the alternatives available to me that can help me send the signals I wish to communicate?
In life, we set milestones that represent something meaningful and significant to us. An MBA is both a milestone and a springboard to career milestones. Give the degree the careful consideration it deserves to extract lifelong returns from it.
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