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Despite the increasing range of management qualifications and executive education on offer, the reputation of the MBA (Master in Business Administration) as the premier international business qualification continues to grow. The supply of MBA courses is huge with thousands of programmes on offer, mainly in Europe and the US, but emerging markets in Asia, India and South America are increasingly important.
In this context, ambitious individuals who may be at the very start of their career are planning their progression to an MBA as a critical stage in their professional development. And as the number of MBAs grows, these individuals and employers recruiting senior executives want to know more about the benefits of the qualification and how to go about choosing the course that is right for them. The investment is significant considering tuition fees, opportunity costs and the personal sacrifices involved. So what can you expect in return?
Skills and knowledge
The financial return in terms of salary increases and the impact on career progression are perhaps the most obvious benefits. Evidence from the Association of MBAs’ Careers Survey shows that MBA students can expect their salary to increase by around 20 per cent on graduation and by 53 per cent within 3-5 years of graduation. Employers continue to value the MBA as a guarantee of all-round business skills and knowledge at a strategic level.
A key reason for the MBA’s continuing success is that it has evolved and developed over time to keep pace with changes in business and to reflect the skills needs of senior managers and chief executives. Importantly, the MBA is positioned as a post-experience qualification and this is its key strength when compared to other qualifications. MBA students are expected and encouraged to bring different experiences to the course, to share them and apply them to different business contexts. The course offers a powerful mix of structured learning and the practical application of knowledge and skills. For employers of MBAs, this is the most compelling feature of the qualification.
Career choices for MBAs cover a range of roles and industries. The most popular careers continue to be in finance, consulting and strategic management but increasingly, the MBA is attractive to people working in all sectors and can open up a range of career opportunities. A typical MBA class will include a mix of students with backgrounds in the private and public sector, and representing a diverse range of professions and experience. As business needs become more complex, the scope of the managerial role is broadening. Increasingly, and particularly in small and medium-sized companies, senior managers are required to take on wider strategic responsibilities including IT, HR, corporate governance and risk management. Technical skills and experience alone are unlikely to be sufficient at this level. Employers expect members of their top team to understand and contribute to all aspects of the business and to be good managers. And the purpose of the MBA programme is to develop these skills at a strategic level, enhancing previous experience and filling the knowledge gaps.
MBA study is an enriching experience. You will be intellectually challenged, working with top academics and students. On an accredited MBA programme the student cohort will typically include individuals from over 25 different countries. You will be able to plug into new business networks: MBA graduates say that the contacts they make at business schools and through the Association of MBAs are among the most valuable aspects of the MBA experience. Above all, you will gain confidence and will experience the excitement and stimulation that comes with new learning in a challenging environment.
So where to start? Before rushing to apply to the nearest business school, be aware of the commitment you are making and make sure your friends and family are behind you – their support during the course will be crucial. Next, be clear about your reasons for doing the course and, if possible, discuss these with your employer. Are you looking for promotion within your organisation or are you seeking a career move? Are you interested in specialising in a particular area or are you thinking of setting up your own business? What can you afford and will you get any support from your employer? The answer to these questions will help you to identify the most appropriate MBA programme for you. There is plenty of guidance and information on www.mbaworld.com .
There are thousands of business schools worldwide offering MBA programmes. While rankings give an indication of the relative positioning of business schools, you should also make sure that any business school you are considering is accredited by the Association of MBAs. The Association of MBAs is widely recognised as the independent global standard for the qualification and accredits 135 business schools worldwide. The one or two year full-time MBA is still popular, but you can also choose from a range of part-time and distance learning programmes which, if accredited by the Association, will deliver the same benefits and allow you to work while studying.
To enrol as a student you must have a degree and at least three years’ work experience in business or a managerial function. Some schools will also require you to complete the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) as a pre-requisite for enrolment on the course and will specify the minimum score you need for admission. This demanding computerised test assesses numerical and written skills, so if you lack confidence in these areas get some help in preparing for the test as soon as possible.
All the evidence shows that investment in an MBA can bring significant returns to individuals and to organisations. For repositioning yourself in the job market, widening your horizons and bringing improvements to your business, there is no better qualification.
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