The typical pattern for success is as follows: graduate from high school, get a bachelor’s degree, get an MBA, start your career, see massive success. But that pattern doesn’t always hold true, particularly when it comes to getting an MBA. The demand for MBAs has gone down in recent years. In fact, research from the Education Advisory Board has found a decline of 34 percent in the number of job postings that ask for an MBA. Some of the most successful business people in the past few decades never received an MBA degree, yet they’ve become wildly successful in their own right. That has led many to wonder, is an MBA worth it?
The list of successful people without an MBA can be a long one. Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Michael Dell, Daniel Elk, Elon Musk, and many more have achieved business success without this particular degree. Musk has even stated, “I think that there might be too many MBAs running companies.” Could it be that people who go through an MBA program are wasting their time and money?
Maybe not. While many people have achieved great things without an MBA degree, that doesn’t mean that getting one is not without benefits. A recent survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council found that graduates from MBA programs were more likely to start out with a much higher average salary than others, roughly around 115,000 dollars. That’s the sort of thing you can’t dismiss when discussing the worth of an MBA.
However, there are times and circumstances when an MBA might not be worth all the hassle. It really depends on your professional goals. Just as having an MBA is no guarantee of success, not having one doesn’t mean you can’t fulfill your professional and lifelong dreams. With the right attitude, you’ll see your goals will always be within reach.
In this article, you’ll learn what you need to know about getting an MBA, the pros and cons of receiving one, and more.
- There has been a 34 percent decline in the number of jobs asking for an MBA
- Only a quarter of the founders of the 50 unicorn startups with the highest valuations had an MBA
- A little over half of Fortune 500 CEOs had a graduate degree
- Examples of business leaders without college degrees include Richard Branson, Larry Ellison, and Michael Dell
- Most MBAs can cost upwards of $100,000
What Does MBA Stand For?
So, what is an MBA? MBA stands for Master of Business Administration (or Master’s in Business Administration). As you can tell from the name, it emphasizes developing the skills one needs for business administration. Business schools that provide MBAs will usually have classes centered on areas such as business law, finance, entrepreneurship, operations management, marketing, ethics, human resources, and accounting. An MBA program is usually meant to take a more general approach to the subject, though a business school may offer more specialized courses intended to help new MBA students get experience and prepare themselves for specific fields and industries.
How Long Does It Take to Get an MBA?
When you decide to go to business school and pursue an MBA, you’ll likely want to know how long the program lasts as that can affect things like financial aid. The length of your business education will depend on the type of program you sign up for. If you go with a full-time MBA program at a reputable business school, it’ll take two years for you to get your degree. That’s a typical period of time, but different programs offer different options. For example, an accelerated MBA program can allow you to graduate more quickly, usually in 11 to 16 months.
Conversely, a part-time MBA program may be the better option if you want to continue working while you study at a business school. If you choose a part-time program, you can usually get your degree in 4 to 6 years. An online MBA program from most business schools will usually offer part-time classes for you to take. There are also dual MBA programs where the student can get an additional degree along with an MBA. Those usually last around three years, though it may take longer. Think of your options and choose what’s best for your career path and long-term goals.
Career Options for MBA Graduates
If the chance of getting an MBA sounds intriguing, you may wonder what you can do with an MBA. Once you’ve received a business education that includes an MBA, you’ll see some rewarding opportunities come your way. The following are just some of the top career options you can pursue with your MBA degree.
- Business Operations Manager: This job entails efficiently managing logistics, particularly when it comes to the supply chain. In general, the goal is to reduce operational costs and ensure everything runs smoothly.
- Financial Analyst: As a financial analyst, you provide expertise on significant financial matters for the business you work for. Your assessment of current and future investments can help a company be profitable and highly influential.
- Project Manager: Most businesses engage in important projects that can have huge impacts on the organization. The project manager role ensures these projects not only get off the ground but meet their goals.
- Entrepreneur: With an MBA in hand, you can feel confident starting your own business. Since you are armed with all sorts of knowledge about how to run a company, you can tackle multiple jobs while waiting for the business to grow. Now, you can finally turn that side hustle into a real company.
- IT Manager: For those who love computers and solving problems around them, an IT manager could be an ideal position. You’ll do things like set the tech standards that others in the organization need to follow and research the best hardware and software that can meet your company’s needs.
- Investment Banker: Make big deals and prepare for the future as an investment banker. If you like working with numbers and studying financial statistics and business performance reports, you’ll feel right at home here.
Pros and Cons of Getting an MBA
Based on the above descriptions, you may feel torn on whether to get an MBA. You may even ask, why get an MBA in the first place? Let’s boil the advantages and disadvantages of going that route. As you’ll see, the decision on getting your advanced degree will largely depend on what you plan to do with it once you have it.
- Rapidly increase skills in a variety of areas to become a versatile worker
- Gain helpful friends and colleagues through college programs
- Start your business career off in a better financial position through higher pay
- Learn more about other fields and industries you may not have considered before
- Prepare yourself to be a valuable member of a prominent organization
- Higher starting salary on average
- Potentially go into significant debt depending on the program you’re part of (most MBAs cost more than $100,000 to get)
- Expect things will just happen for your benefit because you have an MBA
- Spend valuable time learning skills you likely will not use when you already know where you want to go in your career
- Get a degree simply because it’s expected of you
- Lack of specialization in specific skills since an MBA covers more of a wide range
- Uncertainty whether you’ll get your money’s worth for the degree
From this list, it’s easy to see that if you’re getting an MBA from business school, you need a plan in place for how you’ll use it. Simply getting it because it’s the “thing to do” won’t be worth your investment. Going through an MBA program and arriving on the other side with no clue what to do afterward is simply a waste.
Entrepreneurs vs. CEOs: Does One Need an MBA More Than the Other?
When looking at the value of an MBA, another significant factor is the position you want within a company. If you want to know how to become a CEO, an MBA may be a helpful step. According to a study published by Forbes in 2017, 54 percent of CEOs among Fortune 500 companies had a graduate degree. Most of those were MBAs. This makes sense because a CEO needs to know the ins and outs of the company. They have to have a generalized knowledge as they discuss solutions with people from all departments. While an MBA isn’t necessary to become a CEO, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have.
When you contrast that with entrepreneurs, however, you get a different picture. An analysis from BSchools found that of the 50 unicorn startups that had the highest valuations, only about a quarter of them had a founder with an MBA.
Taking a step back, it’s easy to see why an MBA may be more useful for a CEO than an entrepreneur. Successful entrepreneurs need to think differently from existing businesses. If you go through an MBA program, most likely you are taught that business must be conducted in a certain way. Entrepreneurs like to buck the normal way of doing things and conduct business in a new way. It’s how they get noticed. Plus, not having an MBA is no indication you don’t know what you’re doing. As Robert T. Kiyosaki puts it, “In the world of entrepreneurs, you don’t need a college education. You need a proper education.” Almost anyone with a great new product, service, or idea can step into the role of an entrepreneur and thrive regardless of a degree. They don’t even need to have gone to a business school.
Entrepreneurs and CEOs Who Have an MBA:
- Darren Woods (ExxonMobil)
- Sundar Pichai (Alphabet)
- Mary Barra (General Motors)
- Karen S. Lynch (CVS Health)
- Tim Cook (Apple)
- Doug McMillon (Walmart)
- Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase)
- Satya Nadella (Microsoft)
- Gary R. Heminger (Marathon Petroleum)
- H. Lawrence Culp, Jr. (General Electric)
- Gail Koziara Boudreaux (Anthem Inc.)
Leaders Without College Degrees:
- Matt Mullenweg (WordPress)
- David Karp (Tumblr)
- Daniel Ek (Spotify)
- Richard Branson (Virgin)
- Michael Dell (Dell Computers)
- Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA)
- John Mackey (Whole Foods)
- Joyce C. Hall (Hallmark)
- Rob Kalin (Etsy)
- Larry Ellison (Oracle)
- Dov Charney (American Apparel)
- David Neeleman (Jet Blue)
- Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla)
Learn more about how to become a CEO.
So, Is an MBA Worth It in the End?
An MBA can provide you with valuable skills, but the plain and simple fact is, you don’t need an MBA to be successful in business. There are numerous examples of men and women who have gone on to lead effective and influential businesses without an MBA. Many people who seek to transform the world through their business ideas place value more on life experience and attitude, not on specific degrees. As entrepreneur Christine Comaford explains, “An MBA doesn’t impress me. A GSD does. GSD = Gets Stuff Done.”
But let’s return to the original question: Is getting an MBA worth it? It might not be depending on what you want to do. For example, Guy Kawasaki says, “An MBA is a great degree for career paths like investment banking, finance, consulting, and large companies. An MBA is not necessarily the right path for starting a tech company. You should be building a prototype, not getting an MBA in that case.” So, again it will depend on the situation.
However, since you now know you don’t need one to be successful in business, you can be confident that a bachelor’s degree with proper life experience could very well suffice in many situations. More crucially, your education should continue, but it can continue more informally. John Maxwell explains that the first step to success is to “make a commitment to grow daily,” and that includes continuing to grow your knowledge.
The important thing is to know your options before diving into an MBA. Don’t feel pressured to look at business schools to get one just because everyone else has one. Getting an MBA needs to make sense for you and the vision you have for your life. If an MBA is a tool that gets you closer to this, go for it. In cases when it isn’t, you’ll want to try a different approach.
If you need help with that vision, read the following article: “How to Create a Vision for Your Life: A Must for Leaders.”
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- Scipioni, J. (2020, December 10). Elon Musk on the problem with corporate America: ‘Too many MBAs.’ CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/09/elon-musk-on-the-problem-with-corporate-america-too-many-mbas-.html
- Guide To Your Average MBA Salary | mba.com. (2023). https://www.mba.com/business-school-and-careers/salary-and-roi/guide-to-your-average-mba-salary
- Kowarski, I. (2022, April 1). 7 Hot Jobs for MBA Graduates. US News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/articles/hot-jobs-for-mba-graduates
- MBA Tuition Fees (2022/2023): Calculating the Cost of your Studies. (2023). https://www.mba.today/guide/fees#reference1
- Whitler, K. A. (2019, September 28). New Fortune 100 CEO Study: The Top Graduate Schools Attended By Fortune 100 CEOs. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimberlywhitler/2019/09/28/new-fortune-100-ceo-study-the-top-graduate-schools-attended-by-fortune-100-ceos/
- Do the Most Successful Startup Founders Have MBAs?. (2023). https://www.bschools.org/blog/mba-unicorn-startup-founders