As a business professional eyeing advancement into company leadership roles, you might be contemplating graduate school. Aside from work experience, which you are already gaining, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or other master’s degree is one of the biggest qualifications that can affect your career advancement opportunities. Earning a graduate degree is not an express requirement for most management roles, including even senior-level jobs like chief executive. However, getting your master’s degree can help you rise above the competition, expand and focus your skills and boost your resumé to get the leadership job you want.
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Education Requirements for Business Management Roles
A bachelor’s degree from a four-year school is the minimum amount of education required for most business and finance roles and most management roles, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Technically, the academic knowledge you gain from earning a four-year degree is all the formal college studies you need to qualify for most business, financial and management occupations. The further skills and knowledge you glean from years in the workforce are what makes you suitable for promotion to mid-level and finally senior-level roles.
However, just because there are no outside credentialing bodies insisting that all business managers have a master’s degree doesn’t mean that company leadership won’t give preference to candidates with a graduate-level education. In fact, the BLS acknowledges that “many businesses” today expect aspiring managers to earn a master’s degree.
The Case for Graduate School
If a master’s degree isn’t absolutely required for most management jobs, why are MBAs and similar degrees so popular? It’s true that graduate school is costly and time-consuming, with a rigorous curriculum. However, there are numerous reasons why so many established career professionals voluntarily invest two years of study and tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to earn a master’s degree in business.
Often, business professionals gain or improve some of their most marketable skills through an MBA degree program. Leadership skills are just one type of skills business students gain during grad school. Many other types of soft skills needed for effective management practices, like communication and teamwork, are also emphasized in MBA programs. Of course, students also learn specialized skills that help them perform better in other business functions, too.
Part of the motivation for earning a master’s degree is financial. While graduate degrees aren’t required for most management careers, those workers who have them often enjoy a wage premium, the BLS reported. For some occupations, that salary boost can be huge. For example, the median annual wage for financial managers who have a master’s degree, $110,000, is 41 percent more than that of financial managers with only a bachelor’s degree. Marketing and sales managers see a 38 percent increase in the median wage with a master’s degree compared to a bachelor’s degree. General managers and operations managers also enjoy a wage premium for going to graduate school. The extra earning potential from having a master’s degree is also significant in many non-management business roles, like accountant, auditor, human resources specialist, market research analyst, marketing specialist and financial services sales agent. When your graduate degree results in a salary increase of $20,000, $30,000 or even $80,000 per year, the benefits of earning your MBA can quickly make up for the tuition costs.
At some of the top business schools in the country, the price tag for earning your MBA is over $200,000 – but there are many strategies you can use to reduce your tuition cost, even at pricy and prestigious schools, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Graduate Studies in Business and Finance
If you do want to move forward with earning a graduate degree, you have options. The MBA is the most conventional graduate program for business professionals, but it is also the most general. Though most MBA programs allow students to choose an area of specialization or concentration in which to build more focused skills, the degree as a whole has a fairly broad scope. Other master’s degree programs in business, like the Master of Accounting or Master of Finance programs, are more specialized. Many of these programs can be finished in half the time it takes to earn a traditional MBA.
Another graduate education option for business professionals is the graduate certificate. These programs are even shorter and more focused than a specialized master’s degree program, often requiring just four to eight courses rather than 30, or as many as 60, college credits. Though they don’t award a full degree, graduate certificate programs are ideal for students who want to quickly develop specialized new skills as they change career paths or expand into new niches.
Fortunately, advancing your education doesn’t have to mean committing 100 percent to your studies. In fact, 58.2 percent of MBA students study part-time alongside their work and family obligations. Part-time MBA students typically graduate in three to four years.