Factors To Weigh In Committing To An MBA
‘Put up or shut up.’
That’s what you’ve been telling yourself. For the past year, you’ve been thinking about heading back to school. Let’s face it: You’ve gone as far as you can. Admit it: You probably resent those MBAs streaming back to your office. They took two years off and ended up with a promotion. You slaved and steadied and got a few thank you’s and a 4% raise (if you’re lucky). Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
Of course, there are plenty of reasons why you keep putting off the decision. You’re tired. Who wants to spent their evenings and weekends poring over websites and online forums? Taking the GMAT is bound to suck up all your free time. And those essays can be pretty rigorous, you hear. Oh, and that doesn’t count the $50,000 a year in tuition you’d owe. Just easier to put it off, right?
Maybe, but eventually the day will come when you have to decide. And the longer you stay “comfortable,” the lower your odds for getting into a top full-time program. So before you dive into your research, you need to know what to look for. Recently, U.S. News & World Report published three articles to help you do just that.
In “Weight If Getting An MBA Makes Sense,” consultant (and Kellogg MBA) Stacy Blackman puts the financial investment component under the microscope, evaluating both the opportunity cost and the return. To do this, Blackman uses the example of an applicant who is deciding whether to leave a $70,000 a year job to accept an offer from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
It’s an expensive proposition, starting with foregoing up to two year’s income ($143,500 including a annual raise). She adds that tuition and costs will run roughly $200,000, between $64,000 annual tuition and $52,000 in expenses over two years (padding those numbers for tips, unexpected costs, fees, etc.). Even though this student will recoup $15,000 during an internship, Blackman projects the student to be $328,500 in hole between opportunity costs, tuition, and daily expenses.
Now, let’s say this student lands a consulting gig with a $160,000 salary with a $25,000 signing bonus (a bit generous considering the average starting consulting salary at Booth was $132,903 with an average signing bonus of $30,009, for the most recent graduating class). Based on Blackman’s calculations, this graduate will earn $529,400 over the next five years (with a 5% raise embedded).
Compare that to the scenario where this applicant had declined Booth and remained at her job. After seven years – the two years of business school and the five years post-graduate – this candidate would be earning $83,135…nearly half of her $160,000 starting post-MBA pay. Alas, over seven years, this student will have made $539,430. Technically, that’s $10,000 than she would’ve earned five years after graduate school. However, this number doesn’t factor in living costs ($52,000), which this student would’ve incurred over the first two years regardless of whether or not she enrolled in business school.
In other words, this student would re-coup her costs within 4.5 years of graduation max. And the benefits accelerate after that. At a 5% raise, the Booth MBA, in Blackman’s formula, would be earning $194,481 by her fifth year after graduation….a $111,000 difference than if she hadn’t returned to school (i.e. $83,135).
This example may be extreme, but it illustrates a point driven home by GMAC, which found that MBA graduates were earning $500,000 to $1 million dollars more than their peers who chose not to attend business school over a 20-year period.
Salary is one of four factors that U.S. News cites for measuring MBA programs if you’re a candidate. Bill Glick, dean of Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, advises students to look at the long-term picture. “Getting three years out or five years out is much better than getting at graduation,” Glick tells U.S. News. “Three and five years out means you got a good job, and you did something. You earned a pay raise, you earned a promotion, which to me says that you’ve learned something while you were in the MBA program that is making a difference.”
Time is another variable, with many European b-schools offering a one-year format that enables professionals to recover their opportunity costs sooner. Along with that, format is key, with executive and professional programs offering a path for higher-paid students to continue making money while also bolstering their career prospects. Cost of living plays a role too, with college towns like Bloomington, Indiana ($18,540) boasting lower annual costs than a Philadelphia ($29,584) or a Boston ($26,088). Of course, financial aid plays a role too, with programs like Harvard Business School and Rice known for their generous support of students.
How do you decide if now is the right time to return to business school? Blackman also recently authored a separate U.S. News article to answer that question. For one, Blackman says, you have a strong desire to switch careers, as she cites a client named “Sheila,” who was boxed into a legal job while aspiring to move into finance and management.
“Sheila had come to a point in her career where she knew what she wanted to work on for the rest of her professional life,” Blackman writes. “Though the CFA program is a tremendous resource, she had enough experience to know that she needed to develop the skills best provided by earning an MBA. Going to business school became the next logical step toward her objective of working in real estate banking at a Wall Street firm.”
For some companies, an MBA is a prerequisite for leadership, with leading brands like Goldman Sachs and McKinsey headlining the list. “While they hire employees with bachelor’s degrees for entry-level positions,” Blackman adds, “the understanding is that associates will work for a few years and then head to business school to earn the degree that will open doors to senior management and partner positions.”
Of course, the MBA is also an avenue for professionals who’ve hit a dead end, with Blackman adding that needing new skills and hitting a ceiling are other red flags that it’s time to start looking into an MBA. For Blackman, the first step is taking a fearless look at where you are and what you want. “Every individual’s needs and motivations are different,” she concludes. “When you map out your medium- and long-term professional goals, think about what gaps you have and whether an MBA could be that transformational experience that changes your career trajectory forever.”
To read the full advice, click on the U.S. News articles below.
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