When an MBA isn’t worth it: How to tell what degree is best for you

When an MBA isn’t worth it: How to tell what degree is best for you

The Master of Business Administration, more commonly known as a MBA, is the world’s premier business degree.

And though it’s held by relatively few of our corporate leaders, it’s a degree gaining ground in Australia as our executive talent becomes more globally mobile.

For an ambitious manager, there are lots of positives to doing the degree. It can help catapult you into another industry, ease your path to senior management, and help you build lasting networks.

For this reason, plenty of the executives LeadingCompany speaks to describe doing an MBA as one of the big breaks in their career.

But despite its high profile, it’s not always the best path for everyone, says Professor Anne Rose-Smith.

Rose-Smith is the professor of management learning at the faculty of business and economics at Macquarie University. Previously, she oversaw the MBA at Sydney University as head of the school of management.

She says that for executives who’ve previously graduated from a business-oriented degree like a Bachelor of Commerce, the new skills they’ll pick up from an MBA could be limited.

“I would recommend that if a student wants to build on their knowledge obtained in an undergrad degree, a student with an undergraduate business degree taking up an MBA would be doing many of the same things again.

“If you have a Bachelor of Commerce or a Bachelor of Business, my advice would be to consider your field and where you want to go, and chose a specialised master’s degree instead.”

Some universities offer specialised MBAs, and these can be useful for adding an extra dimension to a broad business degree.

But traditional MBAs are, by their nature, intended to be generalist degrees, teaching soft skills like strategic thinking and public presentation.

“Masters degrees of any variety aren’t cheap,” Rose-Smith says. “Some can cost up to $100,000, and plenty of students fund this themselves.

“You have to know very clearly why you’re doing it, and what you want to learn. Knowing that can help you decide on which post-graduate qualification would be the most useful.”

MBA rankings aren’t the whole picture, she says, because they don’t typically consider what particular universities specialise in. And specialised post-graduate degrees, like a Masters of Applied Finance or a Masters of Marketing, are unlikely to be internationally ranked.

“The MBA is by far the world’s most popular Masters degree,” she says. “It’s certainly stood the test of time.

“But very little has changed in the original design of the MBA, which is intended to be a general management degree. It’s increasingly being undertaken by people with relatively little management experience.”

If an introduction isn’t what you need, it might pay off to look for something a little more specialised.

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