To MBA or not is still the question

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Here, then, are some of the plusses when considering the case for an MBA:

  • Experience in multiple disciplines, improved strategic focus and well-rounded skill set
  • The personal satisfaction of having more education
  • Wider networking opportunities
  • The potential for a higher salary

And now, the minuses:

  • The cost in time and money
  • The potential for an employer to feel threatened by a subordinate with better credentials
  • The potential that an employer will value hands-on experience over book learning
  • The fact that an MBA from a lesser-ranked school doesn't have the cachet (or door-opening power) of an MBA from a top-tier school

A ticket, not a free pass

In a survey of the MBA Class of 2004 by the Graduate Management Admission Council, 58% of new MBAs felt the value of their degree was 'outstanding or excellent'. But Ayse Tunca, in an essay, 'The Value of Today's MBA Degree' on the MBA Association website ( https://www.mbaassociation.org ), says, 'If you think that a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree will be your ticket to career success, think again. Getting an MBA will not guarantee you a sky-high salary and endless promotions. At best, it may serve as a tool to increase your employability.' Still, she says demand for qualified MBAs has never been higher than now.

Amy Bennett, a senior auditor for a major credit-card company, has found that to be true. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1994 and got a job as a senior tax consultant at Deloitte. After working for a while, she decided to get an MBA for two reasons: 'It was a personal goal. That was the biggest reason,' she says. 'Secondly, I wanted to move up and get out of the job I had.'

She earned her degree in 2001, with an internship at Chase the summer before because she wanted to explore the world of private banking. She says she thinks her MBA helped her get the job she got coming out of grad school.

Bennett went in for an interview and got hired the next day. She says, "If I had gone back to my old job, given our clientele, having an MBA would have put me on a higher playing field, but if I still had a job in my old field I'd be at the same salary I am now. And I think I might see further benefits down the road.' Another plus? She met her future husband in class.

Many of her classmates struggled to find jobs, however, because the economy in general in 2001 was sluggish. You can't treat an MBA degree as a panacea.

Brett Good, a district president for accounting recruiter firm Robert Half International, seconds Bennett's assessment. He says an MBA gives job candidates a leg up, but cautions, 'Don't go into a master's program thinking it's a golden ticket and that you'll be able to get any job you want. You'll be competing with others with similar, the same, or better credentials and will still need to sell yourself.'

The Bottom Line

With some 700 business schools in the U.S., Good's advice to potential MBA candidates is this: Do your homework. He says, "Research to see whether the program has ties to the industries you want to work in; some programs have more prestige or cachet but others still have value.'

That means assessing your goals, needs and resources. Find out whether your employer would underwrite all or part of the tuition. Then talk, a lot. Talk to students and graduates - even faculty - of the schools you're interested in. Talk to HR professionals in the industries you'd like to work in. Talk to your family and colleagues, especially a mentor if you have one, to find areas you should focus on.

Then start ruling out those programs that don't fit your needs, interests or skills.

One place to start is U.S. News & World Report, which publishes an annual guide to colleges and universities. Also visit All Business Schools ( https://www.allbusinessschools.com ), a site whose motto, 'Find the business school that's right for you,' is what it's all about.

To see complete results of the Global MBA Graduate Survey, visit https://www.gmac.com.

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