Is an Online MBA Worth It?

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Online MBAs can be enticing for those wishing to switch careers or substantially increase their salaries. However, before you jump into a program, you want to take some time and really consider if the investment is worth it.

Weigh the Reality: Do You Need an MBA?

MBAs are sort of a status symbol if you work in the business profession. They are a degree that can make you more powerful, more qualified, and better paid than perhaps you would be without. However, you have to remember that while that new reality happens for some who earn an MBA, it is not necessarily true for everyone. If you are considering applying for a Masters of Business Administration program (MBA) online, you want to spend some time reflecting before you take the leap and make that kind of financial investment.

Think About Your MBA from All Angles

The place to start is by thinking about whether you wish to advance in the company or non-profit you currently work for. Talk to your human resources department or your supervisor and ask them what job opportunities will be available to you if you earn an online MBA. They may tell you that the online MBA will open doors for you. On the other hand, they may tell you at that particular company or non-profit, online MBAs are nice but not an asset for career advancement. In some cases, they may even tell you that they would prefer you earn a traditional MBA. It is better to know that information up front.

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Will an MBA Help Your Career?

An online degree is tempting in many ways. You don't have to physically go to class, so you can continue to work full time and earn your degree. If you have a family or travel for work, you can schedule your coursework around your family or job, which is convenient. However, just because it is convenient doesn't necessarily mean it is the right choice for you. It may not help your career as much as you think.

MBAs have value to companies for a few reasons. Companies are seeking individuals who are critical thinkers and problem solvers, and this, in general, is what MBA programs are designed to teach you to do. Study the actual MBA curriculum for your prospective online program. Study it carefully and read all the course descriptions. Spend some time thinking about whether or not that new knowledge will be beneficial to you either in your current or desired future position.

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Another consideration is whether the specific MBA program you are looking at can land you the desired job. There are employers who care more about the fact that you earned an MBA and not as much about where you earned it from. On the other hand, more lucrative jobs like consulting positions will want to know where you earned your MBA. That is because in some jobs, there is value for the employer in where your MBA came from. They will want to use that as a marketing tool to recruit clients and bid on jobs. So before you make a decision, you need to do some research and determine what the job prospects may be for the particular program you are enrolling in. Ask questions about their graduate salaries and job prospects because this information will factor into your final decision.

How Cost-Effective is an MBA?

Another factor you need to consider when looking at an online MBA program is the cost. Just like any other college degree, there is a huge range of tuition costs for the degree. For example, US News and World Reports ranked Temple University's online MBA program the best of those surveyed. The tuition costs you will pay to Temple, not counting books or other fees, is $59,760. On the other hand, the University of Kansas program is only ranked #78 in the country and carries a price tag of $35,700. Then there are programs that may meet your needs though they aren't ranked, like Fitchburg State University with a bargain price of $12,500.

However, it isn't just the tuition costs you want to consider when trying to decide if an online MBA is worth it. You also want to consider how much of that cost you can afford to pay up front versus paying with a student loan. You have to consider the cost of paying the student loan payment against what your actual raise might be. Depending on the amount of debt you incur, the actual net raise you get from earning an online MBA may be minimal after you make the monthly student loan payment.

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Another financial issue to explore is how much your income may go up because you earn an MBA. Different MBAs, such as an MBA in International Business, may produce different earning potential. Furthermore, certain employers may only see value in your MBA if you graduate from a top-ten school. Often, completing an MBA from a top-rated program is what results in the most financial gains in your paycheck. Certain employers, for example, may prefer MBAs from traditional brick and mortar schools (even if your particular program was online). They may frown upon MBAs from for-profit colleges as well. It is not a bad idea to talk to human resources officers from different companies at job fairs or even over the phone to find out which schools and programs will give you a leg up.

Cost versus Benefits - is the Online MBA Worth It?

It is a complex decision to determine if an online MBA is worth it in terms of your career and financial future. You have to consider what you will get out of your MBA program regarding marketable knowledge and skills. However, you also need to consider how the school awarding the degree will be seen by employers. Like it or not, some bias still exists against online programs. There are also financial considerations. For example, how much increase in your salary can you realistically expect from earning an MBA? You will also want to consider how long it will take you to pay back the student loan if you can't afford to pay the tuition out of your paycheck. Online MBAs have value, but there are many factors that go into determining what that value actually may be.

By Rachel Tustin
December 2017
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