Going back to school for a Master Of Business Administration (MBA) can seem like the logical next step for anyone looking to move forward in a business environment. However, since MBAs come with sizable price tags - usually in the tens of thousands of dollars - you want to be sure that the degree will pay off for your career.

Is It Necessary?
It's crucial to consider your career trajectory: what do you want to do, particularly in the near future? Is an MBA specifically necessary for you to take the next step in your career? For many careers, particularly in banking or finance, it's difficult to advance beyond an entry-level position without the right degree on your financially-focused resume. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to time your MBA applications correctly - even if you aren't able to go to school full-time, you need to be able to commit the majority of your attention to your academic studies. Exactly how long you'll need to commit to the program differs, but if you can commit to studying full-time, you'll usually complete an MBA in one to two years. You need to ask yourself whether you can afford to spend that long outside of the workplace.

You will want to consider how far apart an MBA will set you from your competition. There are more than 150,000 MBAs earned annually these days, up from fewer than 5,000 MBAs awarded in 1960. Earning your MBA has become a box you need to check in many industries, and it's becoming common enough that you need to do something else to truly stand out. Business school is considered a good option during a down economy. Getting a degree can make you more marketable, while letting you avoid hunting for a job when the competition is highest. But that logic means that there may be more MBAs competing with you than ever before.

Getting into School
Before you get too far into the process of applying for admission, you need to consider whether you're a good candidate from the point of view of the admission officers. Most schools look for candidates who already have some work experience, especially over applicants who are fresh graduates from undergraduate programs. An MBA program isn't for an academic who wants to jump straight into graduate school; instead, it's for individuals who are deeply committed to a business career and are ready to go out and get their hands dirty. You'll want to look over the specifics of any program that you're considering and make sure that you're a match. If you're not a match, you may need to take steps to improve your fit for business school; this can range from bringing your test scores up to finding opportunities to prove your leadership abilities.

There's an extra consideration for the MBA process if you're an entrepreneur or planning to become one soon, in that business school may not be a practical option. The cost of an MBA means that it's not easy to make student loan payments while starting up a new venture and if you have an idea that you need to hurry to get to market first, taking two years for school can be equally problematic.

The Bottom Line
Beyond the question of whether you should get an MBA at all is the secondary matter of what type of MBA you should consider. A degree is an opportunity to specialize in one field of business. There are MBAs available in a wide variety of topics and for different industries. There are even MBAs suitable for entrepreneurs. Some majors boost value more than others, so make sure you do the necessary research to ensure that an MBA will help you and that you're getting the degree that will most benefit your career. If an MBA won't make it easier for you to reach your goals, it may be worth considering alternatives.

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