Wondering is an MBA is worth it? Here’s the honest, straightforward truth: an MBA is not worth it for everyone. There are some downsides to getting an MBA, from the immense cost to to the calculated return on investment. But the truth is for most professionals, getting an MBA is not worth it, and most MBA applicants are applying for all the wrong reasons. In this article, we’ll look at whether an MBA is worth it for you or not and what can help you make this important decision.
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Is an MBA worth it? I would argue that for the majority of us: no, an MBA is NOT worth it.
Why do I think this? It’s a combination of my own personal experiences and observations and the data from what MBA graduates and educational authorities have to say.
There are a few different surveys and studies out there asking MBA graduates whether they think their business degree was worth it. Anywhere from 70-90% of MBA grads say yes, their degree was worth it and had a positive impact on their professional and personal lives. Great, right?
A recent study from the Graduate Management Admission Council, the organization which administers the GMAT and acts as an authority on graduate management education, says that 85% of students who graduate with a graduate business degree think their education had a positive impact on their professional lives.
Note that this is 85% of all business graduates, not just MBA-holders. Earning a graduate business degree, I think, is a worthy investment for many professionals and has a fairly high return on investment.
But an MBA specifically I think is not worth the cost or the return on investment for 85% of those considering applying.
I say this because there are thousands of available degrees out there, thousands of business school programs. You can get a graduate education in business without an MBA and still achieve your goals.
Like many professionals who pursue an MBA, I had some years of work experience but found myself stuck. I faced a job market where more people were being laid off day after day, and no one was hiring. I wanted to change my career, but without experience I couldn’t bridge the gap.
I started researching MBA programs, thinking it would be the best way to pivot my career and put myself on a new track to success. I narrowed down my options and sent in my applications. I had to choose between two offers. One was for a promising MBA program. The other was for a similar, but less “prestigious” program. I chose the second program, because it ultimately was the better fit for my goals and situation. As a fairly recent grad, I have been able to achieve some of my professional and personal goals already, some while I was still in my graduate program.
I decided not to pursue an MBA, and I have zero regrets. But my personal example alone won’t help you make this final decision of whether an MBA is worth it for you.. Let’s take a look at some of the general pros and cons of getting an MBA, so you can decide whether an MBA is worth it for you.
Pros of an MBA Program
Cons of an MBA Program
We’ll switch gears a little bit here and talk about why an MBA IS worth it for those select few. I do believe an MBA can be the right choice, depending on your circumstances and your goals. But I also think most people don’t apply to the MBA for the right reasons, and those are the grads who say an MBA was not worth their time or money.
If the disadvantages of an MBA don’t bother you and you’re still interested in applying to an MBA program,, here are a few reasons why an MBA might be right for you.
1. You’re switching careers
Many MBA applicants are looking to switch careers, and earning an MBA is one of the quickest ways to do so. Mid-career changes are becoming more common in recent years, and you may find after a few years of working in your industry or business that it’s not working for you.
Rather than spend your time running into obstacles where you’re told you don’t have enough experience or you have too many knowledge gaps, an MBA program can be the bridge between your careers. Spending 2 years in an MBA program is much faster than carving your own path. And it’s definitely faster than going back to school to get a bachelor’s degree in a whole other major.
An MBA allows you to build that foundational knowledge of a new industry, and even earn that initial experience in a new career through an . For applicants thinking of a major career change, an MBA can the best jumping off point to do so.
2. You want to become an entrepreneur
Many MBA applicants choose their program because they are interested in starting their own business or becoming an entrepreneur. Plenty of entrepreneurs believe in the school of learning by doing, but again, the right MBA program can serve as your foundation in business education.
In these cases, it will be up to you whether an MBA is worth the cost and time commitment while you’re trying to build your own business. Starting a business takes time and plenty of hard work, as does completing an MBA program.
If you’re willing and able to take on both challenges and believe the MBA will complement your entrepreneurship goals, great! Then it’s all about , since many have a special interest or focus on entrepreneurship.
3. Your job or company requires it
Some companies or job positions specifically require an MBA degree for certain positions. Or, your employer may ask you to get an MBA if you want to move into a higher position within the company. In this case, if a promotion or position aligns with your professional goals and absolutely requires an MBA, this is a fair reason to apply.
There are that can be completed on a weekend and evening , and there are programs that prepare you for executive level positions, also scheduled on a part-time basis. So, you can keep working AND earn your degree comfortably.
If your employer is asking or encouraging you to get an MBA, most of the time you’ll be able to work out a flexible work schedule, and you can also ask for sponsorship from your employer so the weight of your education doesn’t fall solely on your shoulders.
4. You want a comprehensive business education
If you’re interested in getting a graduate business education, an MBA may be the right fit for you, full stop. It’s possible that you’re drawn to the comprehensive and broad curriculum of an MBA over a more specialized business degree.
If the cost and commitment of an MBA aren’t a concern for you, an MBA can indeed open many doors and possibilities. I would still caution against applying if you don’t have set and clear goals yet for , but if you’re more of a jack-of-all-trades business professional and you’re drawn by the idea of developing your leadership and managerial skills, an MBA can be your way to do so.
Should you go to grad school? Here are some things to think about before you apply:
Now let’s look at some of the reasons why an MBA isn’t worth it, and the wrong reasons to pursue an MBA.
1. Prestige doesn’t matter
In some circles, an MBA is considered a prestigious badge of honor, and having the credential listed on your resume is a sort of status symbol.
But honestly? This is completely false. Just having an MBA doesn’t guarantee that you’re an amazingly successful businessperson. If it did, all the millionaires and billionaires in the world would have an MBA. In the end, degrees are not automatic indicators of success. An education in business is a foundation, a tool that you use to help you.
2. Salary bump isn’t guaranteed
Lots of MBA graduates do see an increase in their earning potential and their salaries. But again, just having an MBA doesn’t guarantee you’ll earn more. And in fact, according to surveys done by the GMAC, MBA grads noted that the professional and personal impact of their degree was bigger than the financial impact in their lives post-graduation.
Add to this, the average cost of an MBA is over $70,000. At top business schools? Expect to shell out well over $100,000 for your degree. The average cost of graduate school programs is around $50,000-60,000. There is a huge disparity in the cost of education when it comes to MBAs. And even with the higher earning potential, you’ll be paying off your MBA for a while after you graduate.
3. It’s not a cure for unemployment
In fact, if you’re unemployed, an MBA can add to your stress and financial strain in the short-term. In the long-term, you might see a return on investment, but you may not even know if that’s the case until you are thousands of dollars in debt.
Once again, it’s important to consider that an MBA isn’t the same as a guaranteed job position. An MBA is an investment in yourself and your skills, it’s not a hail Mary in a tough job market.
4. It’s not a shortcut to success
An MBA is not a surefire shortcut to success. MBAs attract a huge diversity of applicants, including a crowd of new graduates and early career professionals looking to move up the ladder quickly. The reasoning being that with an MBA, you’ll be more employable and worth more money.
This is unfortunately not true in most circumstances. Skills and experience, more than anything else, are what make you employable. Those three letters at the top of your resume tell a potential employer absolutely nothing compared to your work experience and accomplishments.
I’ve met many students who believe that they need the MBA or the grad school degree before they enter the workforce, so they can get a head start or a leg up once they begin the job search. Unfortunately, many of them became disillusioned once they did finally enter the job market, because they had NO experience.
Here’s the last piece of good news for those of you considering an MBA: you have other options. An MBA is far from the only business degree program out there, and any one of these might be a better fit for you personally, professionally and financially.
If you’re on the fence about whether an MBA is worth it, I would suggest doing two things:
- Ask yourself why you want an MBA. Give yourself a clear, direct answer.
- Explore whether there are other programs that are a better fit.
I say this because if you don’t have a clear answer and expectations for yourself, you risk setting yourself up for disappointment later on. And I encourage you to explore other program options, either separately or together with an MBA program, because you might find your perspective changes. If you confirm an MBA IS the right choice for you, you’ll have an answer to your question of whether it’s worth it. On the other hand, you may choose an entirely different program and make the best decision for you.
To give you a starting point, here are some graduate business degree programs that are not an MBA:
- Master in Management
- Master of Science in Finance
- Master of Business Analytics
- Master of Accountancy
- Master of Marketing
And here’s a list of business-related degree programs you can explore:
- International Business Law
- Business Taxation
- Risk Management
- Project Management
- Economic Development
These lists are far from exhaustive. A quick internet search yielded me almost 1,000 different business-related graduate programs, covering every industry and area of business. Plus, these programs have similar perks as your traditional MBA, from potential jobs to good salaries to career satisfaction. They are also significantly cheaper than most MBA programs, while still providing you the foundation of business knowledge and skills you’re looking for.
Is an MBA worth it? For most people who are considering it, I don’t think so.
Enrolling an MBA program has undeniable benefits, but I’m not convinced the return on investment is worth it for a majority of professionals. It’s becoming increasingly important to stand out in today’s job market, but MBAs are not always the best way to do so. They are not a one-size-fits-all degree.
Add to this that business schools attract arguably the widest variety of students, from all backgrounds, professions, ages and cultures. We need more diversity in business, but MBA programs have become too exclusionary.
They are some of the most expensive graduate programs out there, the MBA acceptance rates in the US and MBA acceptance rates in Canada are incredibly competitive, and these programs have a certain reputation for prestige and exclusivity. There are a quite a few barriers to getting an MBA for the vast majority of students, and the payoff isn’t always worth it.
The bottom line, an MBA degree is not a golden ticket. If you are considering a business education, be very clear and honest with yourself about what your goals are, and don’t be afraid to expand your options. The best program for you will be worth it, even if it’s not an MBA.
Bottom line MBA Is not a magic ticket. You need a very strong and clear reason to get one and look at alternatives before committing to MBA specifically.
Lastly, remember that an MBA program is an opportunity above all. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth it, and it’s on you to turn the opportunity into something greater. You need to be 100% in to make the most of what an MBA program can offer you. An MBA can open the doors to success, but it must be your decision to walk through the door and put in the work.
1. Is an MBA worth it?
The truth is, an MBA is not worth it for the majority of professionals. An MBA is not a one-size-fits-all degree, and it is not designed as a guaranteed fast-track to business success. MBA programs have many benefits, but they are not the best fit for every working professional out there.
2. How do I know if an MBA is right for me?
If you want to be certain an MBA program is right for you, ask yourself why you want to pursue an MBA. If your reason is honest and outweighs any drawbacks of an MBA program, it may very well be the right choice for you. But it’s recommended that you explore other options as well in case a different business degree may fit your professional goals and situation better.
3. What are the disadvantages of an MBA?
The biggest disadvantages of an MBA program are they tend to be quite expensive and they sometimes require you to stop working or put a pause on your career while you study, due to the intensive nature of an MBA schedule. MBAs may also lead you to disappointment, since they are not a guarantee of professional success or finding a job.
4. Who are MBAs best for?
MBA programs are best for mid-career professionals who want to expand their leadership and managerial skills, or professionals who decide they want to pivot careers and enter a new industry. MBAs are best for applicants who have at least a few years of professional work experience and who have clear, defined professional and personal goals they want to accomplish through an MBA program.
5. How hard is an MBA?
MBA programs are not especially difficult, academically speaking, but they are not easy either. MBA programs are intensive programs and they require strong business skills to succeed in them. Your ability to work as part of a team, take initiative, build relationships with others and communicate in a professional setting will be especially important.
6. Are there any alternatives to an MBA?
Yes! MBAs are the most well-known graduate business degrees, but there are thousands of specialized graduate programs in business and related disciplines available.
7. Should I apply to an MBA right after my bachelor’s?
Applying to an MBA straight out of an undergraduate degree is not a good idea. MBA programs are uniquely designed for early and mid-career professionals to accomplish specific goals. And often include a minimum number of years of work experience. Most new graduates do not have ANY work experience, and so an MBA will not provide them any significant value for the cost.
8. Is having an MBA impressive?
An MBA has a certain cachet or reputation for being impressive or prestigious. For some, it is a status symbol in the world of business. But the truth is, just having an MBA does not mean you are inherently more employable, experienced or skilled than someone else. If you have an MBA but no experience or skills to back it up, it is almost meaningless. Some jobs do require you to have an MBA, but the degree alone does not tell potential employers whether you are a good fit for their company or not.