The reasons for wanting an MBA are as numerous and varied as the MBA candidates themselves. Students can be from a business background, or from engineering, sales, government, non-profit and even artistic backgrounds. They can be recent graduates, successful top executives or anywhere in between. There are men and women, single, married or divorced. They work full-time, part-time or co-op or not at all. What draws this diverse group of people to MBA programs, and why you may want an MBA, is a culmination of several aspects.
Perhaps most popularly, an MBA is a credential. To climb the corporate ladder, some positions may require an MBA, and it looks good on a resume even if its not required. In my own search for information about programs and preparation, I’ve heard stories of companies recruiting specifically out of MBA schools, because those companies target a specific caliber of people that tend to inhabit the halls of MBA programs. While every MBA graduate may not fit the profile, more often than not they have acquired a certain way of thinking, a certain skill set, etc., that make them appealing on the basis of their MBA degree. Some people have admittedly pursued their MBA just to “check the box”, meaning it was something they felt necessary in their career, but not much else. While this is a reality for many people, I think it’s a shame to consider such a unique experience as anything less than a good opportunity.
To pursue an MBA is to pursue further education. Especially for people holding non-business undergrad degrees, an MBA is an opportunity to learn the concepts and fundamentals of business. Executive MBAs are less detailed in this way, catering to what is most important to someone of executive status, but nevertheless, provide a business framework for their students. Combining accounting and finance classes with management and strategy classes, an MBA is different than an undergrad degree in business in the approach and focus.
Further education can mean a lot of things. For many entrepreneurs, an MBA provides skills and practice in writing business plans, executing finance meetings and managing people. For engineers, the finance, accounting and management aspects may help them become engineering managers. MBAs can be a means of gaining the knowledge to advance in your career, or a means of changing professions altogether.
Most MBA programs require or strongly recommend some work experience before applying, because the concepts are easier to grasp with some experience in the background. A student in his 50’s once explained to me his observation of the younger students; those with no experience struggled significantly, those with a few years experience struggled much less, and those with upwards of 10 or 15 years of experience rarely struggled, and actually significantly contributed to the class. Without real-world context, the material is challenging and intangible, and just a few years of experience makes a big difference.
Because many companies re-imburse partially or fully for further education, some people may pursue an MBA simply because they can. Likewise, some schools offer legacy programs, so children of MBA recipients may blindly follow in their parents’ footsteps. They may not recognize all the benefits going into it; some people just like doing something to keep their minds fresh, or pursue the latest craze, and “MBA” is certainly a popular buzzword. This is a little bit like “checking the box” but less consciously so.
A benefit often overlooked is that your MBA classmates may become some of the strongest connections in your network. MBA programs bring together people with several things in common: drive, ambition, intelligence and experience, to name a few. Working with teams on homework and projects, discussing study material and exchanging “war stories” almost automatically form bonds between MBA candidates, and many students keep in contact with one another long after they have completed their programs. These people can help you find jobs, advise on your latest business or career problems, and provide additional contacts to help you accomplish your goals. Interestingly enough, the people that do understand this benefit of MBAs often look forward to them for this reason, myself included. I am excited about the prospect of meeting people a bit more ambitious, experienced and interesting than my regular crowd, who make great party guests but poor mentors. Being a single woman, I am a bit hopeful I may meet the man of my dreams over the course of the program. Why not, right?
There are many more reasons why specific people pursue MBAs, but generally, they are sought as resume builders, further education (either for advancement or career change) and a source of strong networks of successful business people.