Are you struggling with how to open up opportunities for yourself by improving your qualifications? So many really appealing career paths seem to require advance training and degrees just to get through the door for consideration. If you’re thinking about going back to formal education for a degree, then perhaps a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) might meet your needs.

Many mid-career professionals and business executives reach a career point and want to go beyond what they have learned on the job. An MBA is still a highly regarded credential in most industries and fields, but will it “pay off” for you? Do you really want to put in the time, effort, and money that an MBA requires? What benefits surround an MBA degree and how can you select a program that naturally fits your work/life requirements?

Having taught in several MBA university programs (15 years at San Francisco State University, among others), I have observed the career trajectories of many graduates—including my older son who is 15 years into his career—so I’ve seen how many have put their degree to use.

Generally speaking, you should accumulate five years of career/work experience before considering an advanced degree. Your career experience, to date, should enable you to better guide your reasons and desired outcomes, know a bit more about what most interests you, and where you think you would like to direct your next transition.

If any of this resonates, then there are several reasons to consider going for an MBA:

Expand the areas of expertise beyond your department or function.

You can learn other disciplines. A marketing/sales professional will become familiar with finance, accounting, technology platforms, management, international commerce, government regulations, and other disciplines as part of the program.

You get to “sample” in order to see what most appeals to you, and thereby leverage a transition into that field. Even more importantly, you will better understand and work directly with other professionals in those select domains, so you can engage in multi-functional teams and be better prepared for higher management roles – those that involve the supervision and guidance of others.

You get to see the whole picture from each perspective.

Develop strategic thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and real-world project experience.

Many of us become good at what a particular job requires, but we may not be growing and improving our management, decision-making, and problem solving capabilities. At the core of most MBA programs are case study and project-based learning assignments. Working with groups, you can hone critical thinking and practical applications associated with various business problems. Build your ability to understand what is important to know, the complexity of problems, and ways in which to evaluate alternatives for recommended action.

I have published several business case studies; yet there are hundreds of cases that are distributed on a universal platform. With a database of cases covering each aspect of business management in every field, creating a great pool of knowledge and experiential learning is an accessible component of every business school. In addition, there is a strong movement towards project-based learning.

Stanford University Design School, for example, pioneered and expanded a model where students work under faculty and industry advisors with the aim of providing real-world experience and critical thinking that leads to the development of viable solutions.

There are also industry-specific (Microsoft and Google, among many) contests and hackathons that are now being offered through MBA schools to accelerate the student experience, particularly in the areas of entrepreneurship and systems applications.

Connect with a cohort that becomes your life-long network.

Attending an MBA program with classroom and face-to-face group meetings, leads you to develop knowledge, relationships, and bond with your fellow students. In addition to the shared experience, you can find and select classmates who will become your life-long collaborative network.

The quality of the faculty is important for inspiration, knowledge transfer, and mentoring; however, it is your fellow students who can provide counsel and friendship — the true value of the MBA experience.

So, seek out alumni from MBA programs you may be considering. They can provide insight and advice as to how to get the most benefit from that exact track of study.

Is time a concern too?

Most MBA Schools now enable students to take matriculated coursework using flexible scheduling – evenings and weekends and online class offerings. So a student need not stop working to complete a degree. You can fit it into your lifestyle.

Even if you don’t choose an MBA program, consider reconnecting with your own undergraduate university for ongoing learning and development in your field.

As you develop your own plan for how to achieve your imagined ideal life, look at an MBA and other advanced degrees as one of several credentialing options that’ll help you on your way to becoming who you want to be.

Jeff Saperstein is a career transition coach, author, university teacher, consultant, and enabler for personal career planning.
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