Is an MBA Worth It? Three Ways to Make Sure Your MBA Adds Value to Your Career

Jennifer King Logan

Written By: Jennifer King Logan

Published: 5/3/2022

The Master of Business Administration degree is still the most popular master's degree earned in the U.S., and current data from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) shows that applications to MBA programs have increased since the pandemic started after several years of slightly declining interest. For most prospective graduate students, potential career advancement, enhanced skill sets, and higher salaries are the primary incentives for pursuing an MBA. But is it the right choice for you?

Whether the significant investment of time and money will yield the results you're seeking from an advanced degree in business management depends on many factors, particularly your career goals. There are, however, three steps you can take to ensure that earning an MBA is worth it for you.

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Step One: Pick the Right MBA Program for Your Goals

In business education today, there are many types of MBAs. Universities are deliberately trying to differentiate their programs from competitors, giving students more choices than ever before. Cost and return on investment are, of course, two of the most important deciding factors when choosing if and where to enroll, but you may want to take a more holistic approach to finding the business degree program that will best fit your career aspirations.

What is an MBA?

An MBA is a master's degree program in business administration. MBA programs are designed to prepare students for leadership roles in business, from small start-ups to large multinational corporations. Coursework often involves case studies that allow students to explore various industries and business sectors in depth. There is also a heavy emphasis on building essential managerial skills, such as collaboration, communication, and strategic thinking.

Many business schools offer different formats for these programs, both on campus and online. If you've recently earned a bachelor's degree, you may want to keep going by enrolling in a full-time MBA program that should take one to two years to complete. These are time-consuming programs that leave little free time for working at a job, but you may enter the workforce with a competitive advantage over some job candidates with only bachelor's degrees. It's a popular choice, as GMAC's most recent survey of 6,500 people who plan to pursue a graduate degree in business showed that 40% of respondents intend to study full time.

Full-time MBAs are time-consuming programs that leave little free time for working at a job, but you may enter the workforce with a competitive advantage over job candidates with only bachelor's degrees.

Then again, you may have accumulated several years of work experience and want to give your career a boost, but you may not want to or be able to quit your job to return to school. There are options designed for you, too. You may prefer a part-time program that fits around your busy schedule and takes two to three years to complete. If you're more advanced in your career and already in a management position or some other leadership role, you can consider enrolling in an executive MBA (EMBA) program. These are part-time, accelerated programs that assume you've already acquired some knowledge, developed skills, and established a professional network through your work experience.

What is the Cost of an MBA?

The cost of MBA programs varies widely. The total tuition cost for many MBA programs falls into the $60,000-$100,000 range, but some programs cost less while some EMBA programs can cost nearly $200,000. While the program format may influence the cost somewhat — online programs, for example, are sometimes cheaper than on-campus programs — the school's reputation is perhaps the most significant contributor to tuition fees. The more prestigious, nationally recognized universities usually charge higher rates than less familiar, often state-run colleges.

While the program format may influence the cost somewhat, the school's reputation is perhaps the most significant contributor to tuition fees.

MBA students need to factor in additional expenses as well. All enrollees have to pay for books and fees, and full-time, on-campus students also need to account for room and board, travel expenses, and lost wages if not working. Your employer may be able to provide financial assistance in paying for your MBA, but if not, consider applying for fellowships or grants.

What is the Return on Investment for an MBA?

With so many variables, it can be challenging to figure out which program is best for you. One valuable tool is to calculate the return on investment — the total cost of the degree as compared to the increased income you can reasonably expect to earn over the rest of your lifetime.

To find the real numbers needed to reasonably calculate ROI, visit the websites of the schools you're most interested in attending to determine an estimate of the total cost. Most have fee schedules that tell you the cost per credit hour and the number of credit hours required to complete the school's MBA program.

Data from our companion site,, may be useful in estimating potential income. The following table shows what MBA graduates of various programs are earning one year after graduation, although there is no guarantee that any of these degrees will lead to high-level positions and significantly more lifetime earnings. Clearly, however, graduates of the top MBA schools are earning far more than their counterparts from other schools. Yet, all of these programs equip students with advanced knowledge and skills, so it's up to you to determine how much you want to invest versus what you need to obtain the job you envision. If you're more focused on the knowledge than the name brand, it's quite possible that a lower-priced degree will still get you where you want to go.

School Salary Score Median Annual Salary
Boise State University 61 $76,770
Dominican University of California 51 $71,580
Georgia Institute of Technology 100 $127,600
Harvard University 79 $88,640
Iowa State University 65 $79,470
Northwestern University 100 $160,420
San Jose State University 89 $98,210
Stanford University 100 $166,520
University of Central Oklahoma 28 $57,770
University of Pennsylvania 100 $179,110
Utah State University 72 $83,700
Virginia Commonwealth University 85 $93,470

Step Two: Choose A Specialization

Cost and ROI are not the only factors that can determine whether an MBA is right for you. Focus is also an important consideration. Some MBA programs have a specific theme woven throughout the courses that may align with your career goals. For example, Boston University offers a social impact MBA that emphasizes corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and ethics. Cornell University features a tech-oriented MBA that includes cross-disciplinary coursework from data science

Many schools offer MBA programs with formal areas of concentration, which means you'll take several elective courses in that subject in addition to the core business management courses. Some of the more common concentrations include entrepreneurship, finance, operations, marketing, and strategy. However, if you're not yet sure of a specific direction you'd like to take, there are still many general business programs that provide a broad base of knowledge.

MBA Salaries and Career Outlook

Whether you opt for a general program of business or a specific concentration, an MBA may position you for leadership roles in many different fields. A master's degree is not necessarily required to obtain any of the following leadership positions, but it could impress recruiters and hiring managers by setting you apart from other candidates.

Top Executives
Annual Median Salary: $98,980
Job Outlook: 8%

In corporations, high-level executives include chief executive officers, chief financial officers, and chief technology officers, but university presidents and mayors fall into this category as well. They are responsible for establishing the long-term vision of an organization, making strategic plans for growth, and overseeing the management of the entire operation. Professionals typically need at least five years of experience to work their way up to one of these positions.

Management Analysts
Annual Median Salary: $93,000
Job Outlook: 14%

Management analysts are typically consultants who are brought into an organization temporarily to examine operations from all angles and make recommendations that drive profitability. They look for ways to increase productivity and revenue while decreasing costs and inefficiencies. Business professionals typically accumulate several years of work experience — often in a certain aspect of business such as operations or finance — before becoming analysts.

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers
Annual Median Salary: $133,380
Job Outlook: 10%

Although the specific duties of these three types of marketing managers vary, they are all dedicated to creating promotional programs that generate interest in their organizations' products and services. They help shape an organization's brand identity, develop campaigns, hire relevant staff, and monitor budgets. Managers in these areas often have a background in advertising, marketing, sales, or public relations.

Public Relations and Fundraising Managers
Annual Median Salary: $119,860
Job Outlook: 13%

Public relations managers work in all types of organizations, while fundraising managers typically find employment in nonprofit organizations. Both are tasked with developing campaigns that promote their organization and build brand awareness, and fundraisers have the additional responsibility of inspiring donors to support the organization financially. Aside from having several years of experience in this field, management candidates benefit from developing their skills in writing, public speaking, and marketing.

Computer and Information Systems Managers
Annual Median Salary: $159,010
Job Outlook: 11%

Often called IT managers, information systems managers assess their organizations' technology needs and install the appropriate hardware and software. One of their highest priorities is to protect their organizations' systems by monitoring risks and implementing security protocols. As with most other types of managers, professionals often have five or more years of work experience in IT.

Step Three: Capitalize on Your Networking Opportunities

Beyond all the specialized information and leadership qualities you'll acquire while earning an MBA, you'll have the chance to meet other future leaders as well as alumni of your school. These connections may prove to be invaluable to you as you advance in your career or if you decide to start up your own business. Many schools host conferences and other networking events, and they encourage alumni to stay connected through virtual and in-person channels. By getting involved in student and alumni networks, you'll continue to benefit from your MBA program long after you've earned the degree.

Additional Considerations for Earning Your MBA

Before submitting your applications, there are just a few other qualities you may want to investigate.

Does the school offer career guidance services? Some schools feature career centers with specially trained counselors who can help you improve your resume, brush up on your career search skills, and coach you on interviewing techniques.

Will you have access to a personal academic advisor? Some schools pair MBA students with dedicated counselors who can help you select the right courses and electives for your goals. They also help you stay on track and resolve any issues that may come up.

Online Alternatives to Earning an MBA

Given that the MBA is the most popular choice for a master's degree, you might also consider earning a related, but more specialized degree that may help you stand out in a crowded pool of job candidates. There are many other master's programs designed to prepare graduates for senior leadership positions in specific industries or aspects of business. For example, it's possible to earn master's degrees online in any of the following business-related subjects:

It's also possible to develop advanced skills in management in specific industries through online degree programs such as:

Is an MBA Worth It?

Higher education has made it easier than ever to enter the business world by offering full-time, part-time, on-campus, and online MBA programs with a wide range of concentrations. However, it's still a significant investment of time and money, and there's no guarantee that you'll end up in a high-powered, high-paying job. If pursuing an advanced degree in business seems like it should be the next step on your career path, be sure to choose a program that fits your needs, budget, and interests. Then make the most of every opportunity that comes your way while in business school.

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