Consider These 5 Important Factors in Deciding Whether to Pursue an MBA

In the business world today, an MBA can seem as common on a resume as a high school diploma.   However, a graduate degree is a significant commitment- of time, resources, energy and finances- and it’s not the right choice for everyone.  How can you decide if pursuing an MBA is right for you?   Below are five major factors to take into account before making this important decision.

1) Career Goals

Before you even think about an MBA, you should have a clear idea of where you want to be in your career in five, ten, and even twenty years.  By defining the field, industry, and position you want, you can better evaluate what benefit an MBA will provide you.  Will an MBA get you to your desired position faster, or is it a necessity to facilitate a major change in career field?  For example, if you are an architect but really want to work in finance, getting your MBA can be an excellent transitionary tool for what would otherwise be a difficult career change.

Once your goals are clearly identified, reach out to people in your field and position of choice (either from your personal or professional network or online).  Ask them for their expertise- is an MBA necessary?  What benefits does it provide in speed and quality of career advancement?  What about the financial impact?  Consider also reaching out to HR professionals for their opinion on how important an advanced degree is in the hiring process for your desired position.  

2) Access

Once you’ve defined your career goals, you should have a good idea of the type of program and field of concentration you need to succeed.  Do some research to see what’s available in your area.   Know the reputation not just of the school, but of the specific programs and disciplines.  All graduate schools are not created equal-  what may be considered a mid-tier school could have a top-tier Entrepreneurship program, or an excellent full time college could have a less-than-stellar part time program.   An online degree may be perfectly acceptable for many fields, but for others it might not make the cut.  Don’t waste your time and money on a program that’s not right for you!

3) Lifestyle

Before you mail in your first application, make sure you consider the lifestyle changes that come with pursuing an MBA.  Whether you choose a full-time, part-time, or online program, the time commitment will be significant.  One frequent mistake potential students make is failing to consider the long term commitment of a graduate program.  A part time program may last four or more years- are you considering marriage, children, a move or a job transfer in that time?  

Be honest with yourself about the time commitment necessary to pursue an MBA and the potential trade offs.  Consider not only the amount of time you will spend taking classes, but also commuting time, study time, and any extracurricular activities.  If you plan to work while pursuing your degree, it may be wise to have a candid conversation with your boss about what flexibility can be offered while you are in school.

4) Finances

A graduate degree can be the key to increasing your income substantially, but it does require upfront investment.  Once you decide on the type of program you are interested in (full time, part time, executive, online), thoroughly research the tuition and expenses.  Make sure you include things like commuting costs, textbooks, and supplies.  This is especially important if you are planning not to work or to work part time while in school.  If you will be taking out student loans, look carefully at the total amount and interest rate and calculate the amount and length of your repayments.  Make sure you have a plan if that six figure dream job doesn’t materialize immediately upon graduation!

If you are currently employed and plan to go to graduate school online or part time, check with your employer to see what kind of tuition assistance or reimbursement they offer.  This can be an excellent tool to ease the burden of an MBA, but be careful- these programs often come with a catch!  It may be stipulated that you must maintain a certain grade point average or stay with the company for a number of years after graduating to avoid having to repay the tuition.

5) Personal Motivation

Overall, the most important question you can ask yourself when considering an MBA is- do you REALLY want this?  If you have no real desire to go to graduate school but think it’s a necessity to advance your career or it’s just what is expected of you, you may have a hard time staying motivated and completing the program. 

 A strong desire for personal fulfillment is a better reason to proceed than any salary increase or career opportunity.  If this is what you truly want, let nothing stand in your way!  With careful planning and research, you can find the best program to give you an excellent graduate school experience and pay lifelong dividends.  Best of luck!