An MBA is a significant investment, in terms of both time and money. But the rewards for MBA graduates can make for compelling reasons for undertaking an MBA program.
And the rewards can be more substantial than just a salary bump. An MBA can obviously help you advance in your career, but it can also help you develop an international network, get leadership skills, and even make a difference in the world.
Here are some of the most common reasons why people do an MBA.
1. To launch an international career
Perhaps the most common reason that people pursue MBA programs is that they can allow for substantial career shift.
“Typically changing sector, function and location are the three main changes MBA students are looking to make during or after the program,” says Rick Doyle, head of marketing for degree programs at ESMT Berlin.
Specifically, many use an MBA as a global springboard, to get some hands-on experience in a new country and then even stay in that country to work after graduation.
Indeed, doing an MBA in a new country means that students can be directly in touch with local firms, so that it’s easier to network, and, hopefully, land some job interviews. Doing an MBA in the place where you want to work also has the added benefits of helping you learn about a country’s culture and work customs as well.
Some locations that are popular among MBA applicants are the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, among others.
If you’re intending to work in the country where you study after graduation, make sure you brush up on the applicable visa rules.
2. To shift sectors or functional areas
Likewise, some students might use an MBA to transition into a new sector— whether it be financial services, consulting, or something else—or delve into a new functional area like operations management or business analytics.
Indeed, in a 2016 survey by GMAC, some 71 percent of prospective MBA students said they were interested in transitioning to a new industry after finishing their degree.
In this case, an MBA can allow students to build on their previous experience, and customize their learning, often through specializations or concentrations.
ESMT’s Rick Doyle says that an MBA can help students “explore new areas of business, develop new competencies and a new career plan, while working in an international environment, during their MBA”.
“By the end of the program, students develop managerial and cross-functional skills needed to branch out in new directions and to succeed professionally,” says Doyle.
Graduates of the MBA program at ESMT Berlin have included a Brazilian student who formerly worked in digital marketing in Germany, who went on to work at the consulting firm BCG in Brazil following graduation, and someone with US military experience who went on to work for Amazon in the UK.
3. To gain international exposure
With students and faculty from all over the world, an MBA program can be a great environment for gaining exposure to other cultures and perspectives within the classroom. Virginie Fougea, director of MBA recruitment and admissions at INSEAD Business School, says that this is a major draw for students who apply to her school’s MBA.
“We see that people looking for an MBA at INSEAD are looking for international exposure or looking to add an international component to their thinking processes and their career in general,” she says.
“By this I mean that they are looking to have in-the-classroom experience, case studies that apply everywhere in the world, or featuring companies from different countries with different thinking patterns.”
Fougea says the international experience of faculty and teaching staff is also something applicants are looking for.
Some business schools may also offer students the opportunity to get international experience through an internship or consulting project.
4. To gain new skills and knowledge
In the 2016 GMAC survey, the number one reason why prospective students wanted to pursue an MBA was that they felt they lacked the skills they needed to get the jobs they wanted.
Indeed, a recent survey of incoming MBA students at McGill found that some 57 percent were looking to gain new business skills or academic knowledge. “Often we’ll hear from people who say they have really strong technical skills, like an engineer, and what they’re looking to do is gain some business skills,” says Marie-Eve Roy, director of recruitment and marketing at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management.
“An MBA is the perfect platform to gain these skills.”
5. To be the boss
Another reason why people pursue MBAs is to climb the career ladder. Maybe you’ve reached a plateau at your current job, and it would take new skills or knowledge to get to the next level.
And, in the case of strong MBA programs, this seems to be an effective use of the degree. In the most recent Global MBA Ranking from the Financial Times, for example, over 80 percent of surveyed graduates from the London Business School reported that their current job titles were at the senior management level or above.
6. To grow your network
Doing a world-class MBA program will also put you in touch with a wide range of people, all over the world. From your cohort to your professors and even local businesses, in an MBA you’ll be connected with a huge, international community.
And this can be a primary driver for people looking to get an MBA. In the 2016 GMAC survey, for instance, “one of the main goals of people pursuing a full-time MBA program was to network.
Rick Doyle at ESMT agrees that students are interested in what kind of network they will be able to build from an MBA program and its business school.
“If they want to network in a certain business, in a certain industry, or if the university has connections to particular industry, they want to be able to network within that industry,” he says.
7. To get a pay raise
“And, of course, the salary increase is important,” says Doyle.
As well as offering significant opportunities for professional and personal growth, MBA programs offer a good chance for a raise post-graduation.
For those who have attended world-class MBA programs, pay bumps are verifiable, and substantial.
In the most recent Financial Times Global MBA ranking, for instance, MBA graduates from Rutgers Business School reported that three years after graduation, they had increased their salaries by 130 percent, on average. At some schools, the salary increase was even higher. Three years after completing their program, MBA grads from Mexico’s Ipade Business School increased their salary by 180 percent, on average, according to the Financial Times data.
8. To make a difference
Although landing leadership roles and getting better salaries are perennial reasons for getting an MBA, an increasing number of people are looking to leverage the degree towards making a difference in the world.
This is especially true among baby boomers. The 2016 GMAC survey found that almost one-third of baby boomers who were applying for MBA programs were doing so to transition into nonprofits or the government sector.
To meet this growing demand, some business schools are customizing their curriculum to include more classes in nonprofit management and even corporate social responsibility (CSR).
- Berlin Museum Island with TV Tower by Thomas Wolf CC BY-SA 3.0 (cropped)
- Skyline - Paris, France at night by Jim Trodel CC BY 2.0
- McGill Desautels by abdallah CC BY 2.0