An MBA is a long-term financial investment, so here are three questions to ask when trying to decide whether going to business school makes financial sense: Will the degree result in a significant salary bump? Will the degree help me switch careers? Will the degree help me get to a leadership position faster?
While it can be daunting to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to earn an MBA, most business school graduates experience a substantial salary increase. The vast majority report having greater job satisfaction and the ability to advance quickly and, therefore, earn more in shorter time.
The Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT exam, gathered input from b-school alumni worldwide in late fall 2015 to shed light on the issue of return on investment for its “2016 Alumni Perspectives Survey Report“, released in February.
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Among the 14,279 business school alumni who participated in the survey, 75 percent say their graduate management education was financially rewarding, and 93 percent say they would pursue the degree again if given the choice. Although graduates considered three main areas when assessing their return on investment – expansion of knowledge/skills, personal development, salary increase – we’ll stick to just the financial aspect for this post.
Calculating the return on investment requires a simple formula. It’s the return acquired from an investment minus the cost of the investment, divided by the cost of the investment. Students of two-year MBA programs typically have the largest investment expense because they miss two years of employment. They need to recoup the cost of the MBA degree plus the opportunity cost in order to get a positive return on their investment.
Let’s consider the applicant who currently earns $70,000 a year and has landed a seat at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Tuition and expenses for the two-year MBA program at Booth will be about $200,000. She earns $15,000 during her summer internship, and her first year post-MBA salary in management consulting is $160,000 plus a signing bonus of $25,000.
This student’s opportunity cost – $143,500 in salary over two years – plus out-of-pocket expenses for tuition, etc. totaling $200,000, minus internship earnings, equals a total investment of $328,500. If she had not gone to business school and earned a typical annual salary increase of 5 percent, five years later she would be bringing home just more than $85,000 annually and would have earned $386,795 during that five years.
If she does the MBA, forgoes salary for two years, and earns at minimum a 5 percent increase over starting salary annually, she will earn $185,000 her first year and at least $529,400 for those same five years. More often, periodic bonuses and larger-than-average salary bumps mean that alumni frequently recoup their business school investment less than four years after graduation, GMAC reports.
GMAC found that more than 20 years after graduation, business school alumni earn a median cumulative base salary of $2.5 million. This is $500,000 more in cumulative base salary than they would earn if they did not go to graduate business school and consistently received 5 percent annual salary increases, and nearly $1 million more than if they did not go to business school and consistently received 3 percent annual salary increases over 20 years, the GMAC report says.
Prospective students should consider payback time with projected cumulative growth, and average growth rate, when looking at return on investment as a motivating factor for pursuing an MBA. But keep in mind, the value of the MBA degree varies widely depending on your post-graduation plans, as well as the brand ?of the business school where you earn the degree.
When it comes to deciding whether business school makes sense for you, remember that the choices you make – ranging from the cost of the city you decide to live in, the field you move into, the school you choose – will all impact your financial return on investment.
Your personal return on investment, however, is something quite different. Having the ability to transition into nonprofit PR marketing or some other lower-paying but more personally rewarding job may be well worth it – and that kind of personal satisfaction cannot be measured in dollars and cents.