If you feel that your career has gone as far is it can go, yet you want to still get ahead, then you may want to consider enrolling in an MBA (Master of Business Administration) program. It seems that this is the degree that allows you to really earn the big bucks, and to change your resume from good to outstanding. However, salary and career prospects are just two reasons why people attend business schools. You do need to consider exactly what your personal reasons are, because you may need to take a two year career break (unless you study online) and be ready to make a significant financial investment as well. In addition, regardless of whether you study on campus or online, you will have to make some personal sacrifices in terms of lost time with your family and your own hobbies and pursuits.
Clearly, deciding to go to business school is a decision not to be taken lightly. You must fully understand what the risks and implications, and the pros and cons of your decision will be. Another very important factor that you need to consider is which school to go to. The caliber of the program that you decide to complete has a direct impact on your eventual salary. At the same time, the schools that usually lead to the highest earnings are often expensive schools.
Examine Your Personal Goals
Before you decide to enroll, you have to have a clear idea of what your personal goals are, and how obtaining an MBA may be able to help achieve them. Perhaps you want to be an equal to your colleagues in terms of opportunities for career advancement. Perhaps you hope to attain the position of CEO. Perhaps you want to earn as much as you possibly can. Or maybe you simply want to do something completely new. Thinking about this, and reviewing your answers, will tell you whether or not pursuing an MBA is a suitable option for you. It will also tell you how you should study it, with options such as full time, part time, online, distance learning, and executive MBAs all being available. You may, for instance, be more suited to go for a graduate certificate program, or individual courses, rather than trying to get an entire degree.
Choosing Your School
Ultimately, self-reflection will not just tell you whether an MBA is for you, but also which school you might want to go to. If, for instance, you have an interest in having quantitative skills, then you should look for a school that focuses strongly on certain areas, such as accounting and finance. If you hope that your degree will help you get an internal promotion, then you should look into the schools that currently work together with your employer. Some prefer to work with local MBA programs, which in turn means you are more likely to be able to complete the degree part time with support from your employer. Some may even reimburse you, at least in part, for your expenses in attaining the degree. If, on the other hand, you aim to completely overhaul your professional life, then you should speak to those who work in the field you are interested in, and ask for their advice. Alternatively, you could have a conversation with a company you would like to work for, and ask them which programs they would recommend.
The Issue of Rankings
When choosing your school, you cannot ignore its ranking. A lot of research has shown that the school you go to has a direct impact on how likely you are to find a job, as well as on your salary. However, you also need to make sure that you are not influenced by rankings alone. Some highly ranked programs, for instance, may not offer the specialization that you are interested in. Stanford University, for instance, is the second highest ranked business school in the country. However, if you have an interest in sustainability and environmental management, they do not offer such a concentration. Hence, while the school ranks very high, it will not serve your purpose in the kind of career you want to pursue.
Similarly, there is the issue of cost. Those who graduate from Harvard University enjoy the highest earnings – $122,000 early career pay, up to $201,000. At the same time, their tuition is $61,225 per year, and only 63% manage to receive some sort of financial assistance towards the completion of their degree program. These are all important issues to take into consideration.
The 15 highest ranked business schools, according to the U.S. News & World Report, are:
1. Harvard University
2. Stanford University
3. University of Chicago (Booth)
4. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
6. Northwestern University (Kellogg)
7. University of California – Berkeley (Haas)
8. Dartmouth College (Tuck)
9. Yale University
10. Columbia University
11. University of Virginia (Darden)
12. Duke University (Fuqua)
13. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (Ross)
14. Cornell University (Johnson)
15. University of California – Los Angeles (Anderson)
Meanwhile, the 15 schools that deliver the highest salaries for new graduates are:
1. Harvard University
2. Columbia University
3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
4. University of Pennsylvania
5. Stanford University
6. University of California – Berkeley
7. University of Chicago
8. Northwestern University
9. Santa Clara University
10. Duke University
11. Emory University
12. New York University (NYU)
13. Cornell University – Ithaca, NY
14. University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA)
15. San Jose State University (SJSU)
As you can see, there appears to be a significant correlation between school ranking and average earnings. This makes logical sense, as people who graduate from a highly ranked university are respected, and will be more likely to be snapped up by global companies, including Fortune 500 companies. Again, however, you need to ask yourself whether that is your personal career goal, and whether it is worth the significant financial investment associated with completing your degree. Columbia University, for instance, is the most expensive of the top 15 universities, with tuition fees of $65,988 per year for full time students. They also average early career salaries of $112,000 and late career salaries of $184,000. Such is a significant salary, but not guaranteed. And when you consider the financial investment you need to make – Columbia would require you to take a two year salary and career break to study full time, pay the tuition, and pay all the other associated costs – you need to wonder whether the investment is worth it.
MBA salary earnings do vary widely, and there is a strong link to how much graduates can earn and the caliber of the program that they have completed. That said, average salary increases for an MBA degree holder across the board is $45,000 per year. That is enough to cover one year’s tuition at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler) if you are an in state student, which ranks #16 according to the U.S. News and World Report. It falls far short of the tuition charged by most other highly ranked schools, however.