Is an MBA right for you? Three key questions to ask yourself before enrolling

Motivations for earning an MBA vary, but it's important to ask yourself these key questions before making a decision. Is an MBA right for you? Is now the right time? Here are some key factors to consider when making a decision about your MBA and learning how to get a return on investment that meets your goals.

Is it worth it to earn your MBA?

Business experts measure an MBA's return on investment in terms of the post-MBA salary "bump" relative to tuition costs. For example, a full-time MBA program at an elite school gives your MBA immediate brand recognition and supplies you with an amazing network. But it can cost up to $200,000 per year. Relative to how much you can expect to earn after graduation, that's a comparatively slim margin. Also, it doesn't account for two years' worth of foregone salary to attend school on campus, which cuts even deeper into ROI.

The reality is that those things matter a lot more if you're just starting out in your career. If you've already established a professional reputation and network, your skill set, experience, track record and knowledge are as valuable to a current or potential employer as an MBA. An MBA can make you more competitive, but it is by no means a substitute for your other assets. That's why opting for a more affordable, accelerated online MBA degree that you can complete on your own schedule in half the time is a smarter investment. Your potential salary bump is much more proportionate to the cost of your degree, and since you don't have to give up your income to pursue your MBA, return on investment is even greater. With many well-known schools now offering accelerated online MBAs, you can easily find one aligned with your needs and goals. But remember to choose a school with a solid reputation and high-quality accreditation that employers recognize and value.

Can you afford the non-monetary sacrifices?

That depends on the weight you assign to a lot of tangible and intangible factors that aren't necessarily reflected in a salary bump, but might be of equal value personally. For example, no matter how and where you earn your MBA, it is a major investment of time and energy. In an accelerated online MBA program, you can expect to spend as much as 20 hours per week completing coursework. If you have a demanding job, a family or other personal obligations, all those things will compete for your time. It's up to you to prioritize and balance them, and that takes enormous focus and discipline. While online study gives you the convenience and flexibility to study on your own schedule, you have to be the enforcer of how your time is allocated, and sometimes the person most frequently distracting you is you.

Why do you want an MBA?

An MBA is a key that unlocks doors, not a miracle drug that eradicates ennui or dissatisfaction with your life or job. Like anything else in life that is worth major commitment and huge amounts of effort, an MBA's return on investment is proportional to what you put into it. If you're looking to gain expertise in a new area or move your career into a different industry, you should carefully consider whether an MBA is essential to your goal. Also, while the skills you learn in an MBA program are applicable to many industries, MBA programs are specifically designed for people who come from – and plan to remain in or return to – business professions.

With an MBA, return on investment is closely tied to your goals. Having a clear sense of direction for your career and purpose in your academic focus is critical to your success. Whether you want to become more competitive in the workforce, advance your career faster or change careers altogether, take the time to understand what you want from your career and how the knowledge, skills and opportunities you gain from an MBA will put you on that track.


Sources:

Martinelli, Rose. "Is now the right time for an MBA?" Bloomberg Businessweek, May 16, 2012.

"Good-value MBAs: Payback time." The Economist, May 10, 2014.


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