A Master of Business Administration Degree can cost anywhere from $55,167 per year at Indiana University to nearly $120,000 per year at Wharton. That investment in tuition can lead to increased salaries after graduation, but it’s not a guarantee.

To decide if an MBA is worth it, you should have a clear picture of your career goals and a full understanding of the opportunity cost involved.

Benefits of MBA degrees

An MBA degree can make a huge difference in students’ career potential and future salary.

Higher salary potential

Many people pursue an MBA for improved earning potential, with many business professionals earning more than $100,000 annually. Of course, your salary depends on your area of expertise, company, location and more. PayScale data shows that the average MBA graduate earns around $92,000 nationally.

Greater opportunity to advance or change careers

Along with a salary increase, many MBA graduates enjoy improved access to leadership positions. MBA programs often focus on leadership and management skills to ensure that graduates can take that forward step professionally.

Employers are also looking to hire graduates with MBA degrees. The Graduate Management Admission Council found that 92 percent of surveyed recruiters plan to hire MBA graduates in 2022.

Ability to develop highly marketable skills

MBA programs equip business professionals with marketable and in-demand skills.

Programs specializing in finance, marketing and information technology teach skills like investment analysis, brand management and cybersecurity, respectively. These skills are necessary for high-paying roles like chief financial officer, management consultant and information technology manager.

In non-specialized MBA programs, students hone their communication and critical thinking skills, along with their networking and interpersonal abilities.

Learners also develop an understanding of the inner workings of businesses. They learn strategy and analytical skills, which can help them become more effective team and project managers. While other graduate degrees can provide students with many of these skills, MBA programs are tailored to develop well-rounded professionals.

MBA degree costs

An MBA degree isn’t right for everyone; depending on your financial and career situation, you may want to pursue a different type of education.

Tuition and other expenses

Over the course of a one-year or two-year MBA program, students could pay more than $200,000 to complete an MBA degree.

Private universities often cost more than public universities, and in-state tuition is typically cheaper than out-of-state tuition. Full-time or in-person programs can cost more than part-time or online programs.

For example, the tuition for an online MBA in finance from Louisiana State University is only $12,474 for the whole program. But the tuition for the MBA program at MIT is $80,400 per year.

Remember, an MBA program’s cost comes in addition to the amount students have already paid to earn a bachelor’s degree. That’s why many MBA students leave school with student loan debt.

If you work for an employer that will pay you more for getting an MBA or that doesn’t consider the quality of schools for promotion, getting an MBA from a less prestigious school is a no-brainer.

If you’re interested in getting an MBA to network and pursue high-paying jobs at prestigious firms, you may have to pay the premium for an MBA from an Ivy League program.

Fellowships and scholarships can help offset the cost of an MBA. According to University of Utah data, 80% of their 2022 graduating MBA class received a scholarship of $30,000 or more.

Another option is to sign up for a 529 plan in your name to save on state income taxes by passing your tuition payments through the account.

Time commitment

MBA programs often require a two-year commitment to intensive, full-time study. This can create challenges for parents, new graduates with school debt or professionals who cannot afford to lose their jobs. But many online and part-time MBA programs allow you to attend around existing work schedules.

Executive MBA programs are typically shorter than traditional MBA programs. They focus on existing professionals and allow those with real-world management experience to skip the basics and dive into more advanced topics.

Executive MBAs are often offered online with flexible timelines to accommodate students’ existing responsibilities.

What are some alternatives to MBA programs?

A traditional MBA is not always the answer. For some students, a different program can provide more suitable and accessible training.

Certificates and certifications

Many college certificates offer specialized training in an accelerated format, covering topics like project management, accounting and marketing. Students can develop focused skills and knowledge without committing to years of schooling.

Professionals looking to excel in their current role or quickly expand their skills may find certificates a better option than an MBA.

Certifications, on the other hand, come from industry organizations and help professionals demonstrate their qualifications. These credentials reflect a person’s skills within a specific field, such as a social media marketing or business administration certification. Certifications also cover vendor technologies and applications, which may help professionals land new or more advanced careers.

A different master’s degree

For students aiming for a specific field, a specialized master’s degree can provide more in-depth and focused training than an MBA.

While an MBA provides comprehensive training and marketable skills, specialized master’s programs delve into advanced concepts of one field, such as accounting, finance or marketing.

Mini MBAs

A mini MBA compresses a basic business education into one to six months of education — but they don’t provide a degree. These programs may focus on a group of core business skills or on specialized knowledge. Mini MBAs also cost considerably less than MBAs and require less experience for admission.

These crash courses in business can help new graduates quickly develop advanced business skills or allow experienced professionals to pick up specialized knowledge without sacrificing employment. While a mini MBA cannot match the depth of training in a traditional MBA, it can give business professionals a competitive advantage without the commitment of a full degree.

When is an MBA worth it?

Some career fields require an MBA, so pursuing this advanced degree makes sense if you have your heart set on working in a specific job. For example, you may need to earn an MBA if you want to become a financial manager or a computer and information systems manager, or if you want to climb the corporate ladder to become a top executive.

An MBA can lead to personal and professional benefits, but many people also choose this route for financial rewards. Eighty-seven percent of respondents in a GMAC alumni perspectives survey said their MBA increased their employability, and 68 percent of respondents found it financially rewarding.

Compare tuition costs for the MBA program you’re considering with the salary you might earn in your future career, which you can research on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Once you know what your MBA will cost and how much it might earn you, you can decide if the program is right for you.

Is an MBA worth it in 2022?

Tech CEOs like Tim Cook and the late Steve Jobs are famed for saying that a college degree isn’t necessary. But when it comes to hiring practices, their company Apple values MBAs and even has an internship program dedicated to recruiting MBA students.

Just like a bachelor’s degree, an MBA is a requirement for many jobs and levels of employment. While many programs are now online, reducing the networking benefit of attending an MBA program, having an MBA listed on your resume can still get your foot in the door.

If you’re not interested in an MBA for traditional corporate employment, an MBA may not be worth it for you in 2022. Free and paid online courses are so common now that you can learn marketing, business management, finance, technology, project management and more for a fraction of the cost of an MBA program.

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