Oftentimes, the more common something is, the less valuable it is.
This is not the case with MBAs.
The fact that more people than ever have a Master of Business Administration
degree actually makes it more valuable. That's because not having one in today's
business world can be a glaring omission.
However, an MBA is no longer enough to make your resume stand out. You
must set yourself apart in other ways, too.
Gaining a few years of work experience before earning an MBA is one way
to get an edge. Volunteer experience is also helpful.
"If you were thinking of an MBA 25 years back, you would have been in an
exclusive club," says Steve James. He's the executive director of a university
"There weren't as many programs, and you would have been truly differentiated,"
he says. "That's not the case anymore.
"It has moved to a necessity. You kind of have to have it, but it doesn't
differentiate you like it did because others around you have it. It's become
a baseline requirement, not... 'Wow, I'm standing taller than the others.'"
"There is a certain level of saturation," says Alex Sevilla. He's the assistant
dean and director of MBA programs at the University of Florida's Warrington
College of Business Administration. "There are more business schools offering
MBAs than ever before."
But MBA programs are popular for a reason. They're not just a fad. While
an MBA degree doesn't guarantee success, it can give you a big leg up in your
"MBA education is widespread because of its importance," says James. "To
move from middle to senior management, to move from being a specialist to
a generalist, the MBA is the most powerful kind of credential to have."
"The MBA is certainly a well known and well respected credential in the
corporate business world," says Sevilla. "It has been around for a number
of years, and it has a pretty well defined set of parameters as to what type
of value and learning it provides to individuals.
"It's a way to really make a statement to themselves and to the marketplace
and the industry that they're looking to join, that they're serious and they're
looking at this for the long haul," he adds. "I think one of the other nice
things about an MBA is its broad application, so you can... have many different
career opportunities after you complete the MBA."
The broad career choices set MBA degrees apart from other graduate degrees,
such as law, engineering and medicine. In those professions, you "...end up
being very specific very quickly," says Sevilla, "whereas an MBA, by its nature,
can be specific, but it also has a much broader context, which allows someone
to change their career as they move forward and move into different parts
of industry and even different job functions. I think that's a real asset
of the degree."
Different Reasons for Earning an MBA
MBAs are valuable because business is more complex than ever. Globalization
and the increase of trade between countries is a big part of that. The speed
of technological change also adds to the complexity of running organizations.
James says there are three main groups of people seeking MBAs:
1) Those in their early to mid 30s who have enjoyed career success, and
want to move ahead and set themselves apart from their peers. This group tends
to do part-time or online MBA programs.
2) Those in their mid 20s who want to strengthen their academic credentials
and focus on a specialty before entering the job market. This group tends
to study full time.
3) Those who want or need to switch careers. They are more common during
bad economic times. They study full time. "They're looking for a bridge to
another career," says James.
Julie Attebury decided to complete an MBA after raising her children. She
had previously earned a degree in biochemistry and had taken some business
"My husband is from a family of serial entrepreneurs, and I realized that
in order to be conversant in everything that they were doing I needed to have
some business education," she says. "My main reason was to have a broad knowledge
of business, to become more conversant with different things that were going
on in our families."
Attebury is now a business consultant for the Small Business Development
Center in Amarillo, Texas. She helps people start and grow their businesses.
Attebury says an MBA can provide a foundation for running your own business
or moving ahead as an employee in a company.
"You can use it as a baseline for entrepreneurship, or you can use it as
an entry into a company," she says. "[You can] use your work experience and
your MBA as an opportunity to get perhaps a new position or something beyond
an entry-level type of job."
Choosing an MBA Program
You'll need a bachelor's degree before applying to an MBA program. Many
MBA programs require at least two or three years of work experience, as well.
Many programs require students to take the Graduate Management Admission
Test (GMAT) as part of their admission requirements. The GMAT is a standardized
test that measures skills in quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning and
When choosing an MBA program, don't throw darts at a dartboard (unless
that helps you think).
"When thinking about where to go and do your degree, you've got to be thinking
about, 'How does the institution align to my particular circumstances?'" says
This means putting your research skills to good use. Research the reputations
of different MBA programs. Find out what they specialize in. Find out what
communities they're connected to. You want to make sure their specialties
match up with your interests, and that the communities they're connected to
are ones in which you want to work.
All of the praise for MBAs doesn't mean you absolutely must get an MBA
if you want a career in business. Success in the business world is possible
without those three letters after your name.
"There are many people who've been very successful and... do not have an
MBA," notes Sevilla.
In fact, there are some very successful business people who don't even
have an undergraduate degree. Famous examples include Microsoft's Bill Gates
and Apple's Steve Jobs.
So, an MBA isn't always essential. Hard work, great ideas, the right support
and a bit of luck have been enough for many business success stories. Still,
an MBA degree gives many people an edge.
"An MBA gives you a great baseline of some really important, fundamental
business skills that can be learned elsewhere, can be learned on the job,
can be learned from mentors and in different ways.... so it's not an absolute
requirement," says Sevilla. "But I think it makes the road a lot easier to
navigate, and I think it makes someone's understanding of who they are and
where they are most capable of being successful a lot clearer."