Conventional wisdom has always been that getting a master’s of business
administration (MBA) is a surefire path to career success. Prospective students
have fanciful (even somewhat fantastical) images of getting their MBA, and
immediately skyrocketing to the top of the ladder, and reaping the salary
rewards that come along with it.
While in some cases, holding a MBA does lead to a higher level of career success, in most cases students find that the path to the corner office is a bit more winding than the MBA program materials lead them to believe. And in some cases, students find that the MBA program isn’t quite what they expected – or interested in.
So how do you choose the right degree program, to ensure that you get the education that sets you on the path to your goals? Consider these factors when comparing programs:
Are you more interested in numbers or people?
Perhaps it’s an oversimplification, but MBA programs differ from leadership programs in large part thanks to their focus on numbers. MBA degree programs often focus on the quantitative aspects of business, areas such as financial applications, economics, accounting and marketing in terms of numbers, rather than creative ideas. Leadership degree programs, on the other hand, focus more on qualitative aspects of business, such as human resource, team management and leveraging human capital. Leadership programs tend to be more holistically based, incorporating ideas from the humanities, communication, human resources, while the courses you’ll find in business programs are more subject-focused, such as finance.
What is your background?
While both MBA and leadership programs welcome students from a broad array of backgrounds, students who earned an undergraduate degree in the humanities or liberal arts may find the courses in leadership to be more in line with their existing knowledge. Because MBA programs tend to be so numbers-based, those who do not have any knowledge or experience in those fields (like finance or accounting) might find themselves at a disadvantage, and may even have to take additional introductory level courses to get up to speed. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to get a MBA without some lower-level mathematics or business experience, it’s just an additional factor to consider and prospective students should carefully read the list of course requirements before enrolling.
What are your goals?
If you seek a career in a financial or capital management role, then a traditional MBA program with a specialization in that area is probably your best bet. However, if you want to learn skills that are transferable across a wide spectrum of roles and industries, a degree in leadership, or a specialization in leadership, may be a better fit. Some leadership programs allow specialization in a particular type of organization, such as a nonprofit or healthcare, but many programs take a more inclusive approach and provide knowledge that applies to nearly any situation.
Where are you in your career?
Hiring managers are often split down the middle on which degree they prefer candidates to hold, but in general, they agree that if you have some career experience and simply want to move into managerial roles, a leadership or management degree is a useful credential. The exception is those who wish to hold financial or capital management leadership positions, as they need the advanced technical knowledge supplied by MBA programs. Again, carefully evaluate the course requirements for the programs you’re considering and determine if the course content is relevant to your career goals.
Going back to school to earn any advanced degree is an investment in time and money, and while choosing to further your education is never a waste, choosing the right program is a better use of your time and money. Consider your existing knowledge and career goals when comparing programs and you’ll make the decision that’s most beneficial to you.
About the Author: Alexis Lane, 28, has chosen to continue her education in every aspect. She currently holds a BA in Business Management, a Real Estate License in the state of Florida and is presently working on her IT security degree.