The question of whether to pursue an MBA versus credible work experience has always been a consideration for business grads, and it's even more relevant today with the skyrocketing cost of higher education. While having an MBA may be a prerequisite for some roles, hiring managers are increasingly leaning towards credible experience over advanced degrees to find the best candidate. Many major companies including Google, Apple, and IBM have even removed the bachelor's degree requirement when hiring new talent, as more companies have experienced excellent candidacy from candidates with stronger work experience in place of stacked degrees. Pursuing an MBA is a major commitment of time, energy, and money; here are some points to consider before making the leap.
When considering an MBA program, tuition is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Depending on the business school and the academic pedigree, MBA tuition rates can be quite expensive. With the rising cost of tuition and the burden of financial aid and loans, taking on a graduate course load can leave students with a mountain of debt. Roles in areas such as finance may expect an MBA, but in other career areas, it may not elevate you enough to make sense financially. If an MBA does make sense for you, consider researching companies who provide generous tuition assistance or reimbursement to ease the burden.
Opportunity cost is defined as "A benefit, profit, or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else." On top of the financial investment, an advanced degree is an investment or your time, energy, and focus.
Standard MBAs take an average of two years to complete. Alternative options (online, weekend option, accelerated programs, etc.) may make the time investment shorter (or longer), but regardless, you're looking at a hefty time commitment. Due to the challenging course load, many candidates opt-out of working full-time during graduate school so they can dedicate time to their studies and group projects. The downside is that they're generally not earning relevant work experience. Factor in funds to buy books, energy to complete homework, and time spent away from family and friends to fully grasp the opportunity cost of acquiring an MBA.
Value of Experience
More companies are acknowledging the value of experience over higher education, especially in roles heavy on creativity. Employees learn hard and soft skills on the job that mold them into well-rounded individuals with stronger "office" skills than recent grads. A lecture series on negotiation will generally not teach someone as much as a few years of experience negotiating.
Differing Skill Sets
Some of the traits that make someone an excellent student don't hold equal value in the workforce. A straight-A student who is a brilliant test-taker may not have the collaboration or networking skills to succeed in the business world. While MBA coursework often includes group projects and collaboration, it doesn't replicate working across an org chart or under manic deadlines and changing priorities. While an MBA curriculum certainly teaches valuable skills such as time-management, organization, and subject-specific problem-solving, these skills would ideally be balanced with deeper experience typically earned on the job in areas like leadership, networking, collaboration, and innovation. This contributes to some hiring managers' preference for work experience over advanced degrees for certain roles.
Finding a balance between earning an MBA and gaining experience is certainly possible through part-time work, internships, and even volunteerism. Weigh all of the costs and tradeoffs, and consider reaching out to human resource experts in the career area you want to pursue to interview them about their thoughts on the value of an MBA. Take the long view and chart the course that's best for you.