Is an MBA Worth It?

Portrait of a woman

Worth is Not a Simple Financial Calculation

If you recognised yourself in one of these motivational personas, please take this opportunity to introduce yourself to a member of our Talent Acquisition professionals. We would be happy to learn more about what is inspiring you to consider an MBA: mba@unisg.ch

At some point when considering an MBA, you will ask yourself: Is an MBA worth it? In asking this, you are likely saying: For the price, what value do I get? This type of formulation, which focuses on the cost, quickly leads to Return on Investment (ROI) calculations. Average post-MBA base salary is widely reported under Career Services & Employer Alliance rules by major schools, enabling apples-to-apples comparisons between different programmes. It is also a major component of ranking methodology. Average salary data carries 40% weight in the Financial Times ranking, for example.

While averages are widely used in the MBA world, they can cloud the real picture for each individual attempting to use this data to project their own financial ROI. We looked at the highest post-MBA Base Salaries achieved by Full-time graduates each year between 2015 and 2019. Over this five-year span, the most represented industry was Manufacturing. Exactly one third of the top salaries, including the highest overall, were in manufacturing. In this same study, Financial Services salaries were outnumbered by Healthcare, Technology and Consulting salaries. These are the five industries we most commonly see our graduates enter. Calculating your own financial ROI will depend greatly on which industry, function and country you work in, along with things like your seniority level and any especially desirable skills sought by a company, such as technology or language skills.

Boiling worth down to a salary calculation is one way to assess value, but it doesn’t capture many of the underlying motivations for doing an MBA. Through Customer Journey research and years of speaking with our applicants, we have identified a set of personas characterised by different motivations to get an MBA. Applicants who align with each of these personas will assess worth in a different way. Here we introduce you to three of them and illustrate how they measure worth.

Charlie Change

This persona wants to make a change in his or her career. Successfully making the desired change is the most important criterion for assessing the value of the MBA. We traditionally define changes in three ways: Industry, Function and Country. Some people change all three. For example, someone working in Energy (Industry) as an Engineer (Function) in Germany (Country) may change to working in Manufacturing (Industry) as an Internal Consultant (Function) in Switzerland (Country). It’s worth it if they can use the MBA to make changes.

Simone Skills

This persona wants to improve certain skills. In some cases this means working on perceived deficiencies in Marketing or Finance. In other cases, this means honing things you are already good at, such as delivering presentations or synthesizing a complex set of information into concise and structured thoughts. Whether you want to round out your profile with new skills or sharpen an area of specialty, these people are assessing worth based on the degree to which they develop their skills. Worth is directly tied to both the learning process and the ongoing ability to put new skills into action.

Boris Bored

This persona wants to immerse him or herself into a challenging environment. The provocative name does not signal that this person is a slacker. The reality is quite the opposite. Some applicants find themselves under stimulated at work or in their peer groups. They want to surround themselves with a group of people from whom they can learn and be challenged by. They feel kinship with other highly motivated, diverse and interesting people also seeking this type of environment. Thus, worth is related to the culture and network of the MBA. This network is something you are a part of for life, so there is no need to think about a fixed payback period.

As you can see, the answer to the question, ‘Is an MBA worth it?’ depends on what is inspiring your desire for further education. Maybe you identify with all three personas. Many applicants do. This makes an assessment of worth even more complex. The unifying point is that none of these personas use ROI or maximization of salary as their main way to measure worth. Of course, every applicant has a fiscal reality and who wouldn’t like to increase their salary. Nevertheless, money doesn’t drive everyone’s decision to do an MBA.

In addition to identifying with these personas, many applicants are motivated by a deep personal purpose. Maybe you want to challenge an existing status quo in your industry. Maybe you want to be a role model for others from your cultural, religious or socioeconomic background. Maybe there’s an impact you want to make on a specific global issue. In all these cases, and many more, an MBA can be a platform that enables you to do that. It may take years to realise the value of the MBA, but many alumni look back and recognize that attending their MBA programme contributed to their ability to fulfil a personal purpose. In summary, when asking yourself, ‘Is an MBA worth it?’ you should first understand how you will measure worth. This will enable you to research programmes in a more focused way, and better evaluate which ones can help you achieve the short-term and long-term goals you dream for yourself.