yes no maybeI will give you a consultant answer – it depends.  But I won’t stop there.  I think too many people get an MBA or a Master’s degree for the wrong reasons and after they finish school, they are disappointed with the fact it didn’t yield the results they hoped.

Don’t make this costly mistake.  Do these four research steps before you apply for school.  They will help you objectively determine if and which MBA or Master’s degree is worth the investment of your time and money to advance your career.

  1. Have a good idea of what careers most interest you  It’s important to have some concrete ideas of what career you want at this moment in time.  It can change, but you need to know this to do this research and you need to be able to sell the story to the school when you apply.    For example, do you want a career in HR? Consulting? Finance?  Business Development?  Energy?
  2. Find out the education levels of senior executives in the career you want  You can do some Google searches and talk to people in your network or extended network.
    • Use Linkedin to find out if the people whom you respect and are ahead of you on the career path have an MBA or Master’s degree?
    • Talk to some of these people and ask if they think their advanced education helped them get to where they are in their career
    • Tell them your background and ask them if they think you need an advanced degree to get ahead.  If not, ask them what alternatives you can pursue instead?
    • If they have an advanced degree, make note of where they went for it.  Not all schools have the same reputation to help you with your career

    This will give you a better sense of whether you need an MBA or advanced degree to get ahead in the career you want.  On top of that, it gives you an excuse to make great contacts at senior levels that can help your career.

  3. Talk to alumni of the schools you want to apply to, especially if the school is not top tier  This is important because even if you find out from #2 that an advanced degree can help you, the tier of school you go to matters.   Be wary of marketing slogans from the thousands of no name business school out there.  They provide empty promises.    All over San Francisco, San Francisco University advertises their MBA program with “You can change the world from here.”  The only way you find out if that’s true is look at their alumni list and talk to some alumni.  Ask them two questions
    • How has the MBA from this school helped them in their career?
    • If they had to do it all over again, would they still get an MBA or go to the same school? why or why not?

    You will get much more from these real life answers than you will by paying attention to marketing slogans that are designed to motivate you to spend money with them.

  4. Can you switch careers without going to school?  A common reason people want an advanced degree is to switch careers.  In that situation, it is still worth some research to figure out if there are alternatives to school.  Some careers value real life experience over advanced education.  You could very well intern for six months and take some select courses and get further instead of going away to school for a year or two and spending $100K , only to find out you still need work experience in the field to get anywhere in that career.

Recently, I saw a resume where the person listed their undergraduate at Wharton in University of Pennsylvania and an online MBA degree from University of Phoenix.   My instinctive reaction was negative.    I know this is just my opinion but I thought I’d share it in case it helps.

I questioned this person’s judgment and whether he had a major fall in his career.  Why?  Because the Wharton undergraduate program is one of the top undergraduate business program in the US while University of Phoenix is frankly less than average, and anyone can get in.  Why would someone who already went to Wharton choose to get an online MBA degree like that? Why didn’t they apply to the top 20 MBAs? In my mind, it would have served him better to just leave out the online MBA part, as it raised more red flags and questions than it helped.

mba or no mbaAt the end of the day, whether and where you get an advanced degree is a major career decision.   If you going to commit upwards of $200K and possibly two years of your life in lost income/work experience (if you do full time) or lost time (if you do part time as your whole life will be on hold to make it happen), I think it is worth your time to do this research ahead of time to make sure that the path you choose can deliver what you hope for from an MBA or Master’s degree.

Your comments: Is this helpful as you advance in your career?  Share your comments and questions below and let’s have a discussion.

I am always in your corner.

– Lei

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