Is an MBA Worth the Costs and Benefits of Earning One?

With four years of college and perhaps a few years of work experience under your belt, are you now contemplating getting an MBA or other master's degree in business and asking yourself if it's worth it? Compare the costs of pursuing this graduate degree with the benefits to your career, and you can decide for yourself.

How Much It Costs and How Long It Takes

Earning an MBA involves considerable time and money. Expect to spend at least two years in school after college if you choose to attend a full-time program. It will take you at least three years to graduate with an MBA if you attend school part-time.

It also is expensive, with tuition exceeding $60,000 for a two-year program, according to Top business schools can cost $100,000 or more. You may be able to reduce the cost with scholarships and other financial aid or if you work for an employer that offers tuition assistance or reimbursement. However, that means you will have to work while attending school.

While you may not need an undergraduate degree in business administration or a related subject to enter an MBA program—requirements vary by school—applicants who haven't studied business in college will have to take prerequisite business classes before they can begin graduate study. That is an added expense, and it will take you additional time to complete your graduate degree.

MBA Alumni Feel Earning Degree Is Rewarding

In a Graduate Management Admission Council survey of 10,882 alumni from 274 graduate business programs, 94% described their business school education as personally rewarding, 89% said it was professionally rewarding, and 73% reported that it was financially rewarding. Not surprisingly, employed alumni found it more rewarding than those who are unemployed.

Respondents agreed that their graduate education:

  • "Prepared them for leadership positions"
  • "Increased their earning power"
  • "Prepared them for their chosen careers"
  • "Developed their professional networks"
  • "Prepared them to work in culturally diverse organizations"
  • "Offered them opportunities for quicker career advancement"

How Much You Can Earn With an MBA

Earning an MBA may bring you a higher starting salary than you could get with just a bachelor's degree in business, according to the Winter 2017 Salary Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). The difference is more significant for some majors than for others. The following chart provides a look at starting salaries for four common majors for those with bachelor's degrees and those with master's degrees:

Major Bachelor's Degree MBA
Management Information Systems $59,642 $75,433
Logistics/Supply Chain $55,694 $68,445
Finance $55,609 $70,957
Accounting $54,838 $67,369

Source: Projected Top-Paid Business Bachelor's, Master's Grads, NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers), March 8, 2017.

Jobs and Career Advancement Opportunities

The Graduate Management Admission Council's survey of alumni indicates that 89% of business school grads are employed—79% for businesses and 10% self-employed. The survey further revealed that "almost two-thirds of alumni work for multinational companies, one-third work for companies with over 25,000 workers, 29% work for publicly traded companies, 19% work for Global Fortune 500 companies, 17% work for Global Fortune 100 companies, and 8% work at start-ups."

More than three-fourths of alumni are very satisfied or satisfied with their career progression. After gaining experience, many who graduated at least 15 years ago are now in C-Suite or other executive level positions.

The GMAC survey also reports that MBAs, in general, commonly work in the products and services, technology, and finance and accounting industries. More recent graduates have been finding jobs with technology and products and services companies while earlier ones found their place in the accounting and consulting industries. Graduates work in functions including general management, finance and accounting, and marketing and sales.

What Else You Need to Know

Once you decide to get your MBA, you will have several additional decisions to make. Choosing which school to attend is one of them. Not all business schools are of equal quality. There are several criteria you can use when picking a program. For example, see which schools rank best for job placement, which ones accept students with your GMAT score, and which ones have graduates with the lowest rate of debt. 

Decide whether you want to attend school full-time or part-time. If you are a recent college graduate, you may opt for an Early Career MBA, or if you are a seasoned executive, an Executive MBA (EMBA) may be right for you. An online program is an option for individuals who don't live near a university that offers an MBA program or who can't fit going to school into their busy schedule. Some traditional programs offer distance learning options.