MBA Starting to Look Like Bad Business Deal

“There are officially too many MBAs,” The Atlantic declared in 2013, citing research that showed while business schools are handing out more diplomas than ever before, pay for graduates had stagnated.

Universities now hand out 74 percent more business degrees than they did a decade ago, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that pay for young MBAs has dipped 4.6 percent since the recession, while the cost of tuition has risen by 24 percent in the last year alone. From a financial perspective, going back to school for an MBA – especially if it’s not from a top-tier school like Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton – is starting to look like a bad business deal. Diploma inflation may be eroding the overall value of a business degree.

Should I Go Back to School for an MBA?

Money isn’t the only factor driving this major professional decision. The desire to learn new skills, to switch industries, and to gain a whole new network are also important factors. For young professionals who find themselves at a career crossroads, deciding what’s next – and whether the next move should include an MBA or a similar master’s degree – can be a complex and emotional decision.

Age is a big factor, too. At 25, most of us have no idea what we want to do next. As Frederic Kerrest argues in Mashable, getting an MBA is much more valuable when you know exactly what you want to do with it. Kerrest waited until his late 20s to head back to school, and only did so when he knew he needed to augment his existing skillset and expand his network in order to found a successful startup.

As a solopreneur myself without an MBA, I can also attest to the fact that you don’t need an MBA to start a successful business. For more proof, just look at Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, and Richard Branson. That said, if you’re returning to school for reasons that make sense for your career advancement (maybe you’re an undergrad Psych major and need to expand your financial and accounting acumen in order to make the leap to owning a viable business) investing in an MBA or another master’s degree could be a wise use of your time and money.

If you’ve asked yourself if you should go back to school for an MBA, there’s a good chance that just about everyone in your life is offering you their two cents on this decision. Should you get your degree now or wait? If you do get a degree, is a Master of Finance or Marketing a better option compared with an MBA? What about night school or an executive MBA degree? With so many options to consider, ask yourself the following questions:

Why Do I Want to Go Back to School?

Are you at a career crossroads and simply not sure what to do next, or do you have a clear plan for integrating a business degree into your professional future? As Kerrest argues in his Mashable article, if you’re going to invest in a business school degree, it’s better to do so with a clear vision for your future and how the skills you’re learning or network you’re cultivating will best serve you moving forward. With more research, you may find that the skills you want to learn are actually better learned in a finance degree.

Do I Feel Stuck at My Current Company?

Shifting industries is never easy, especially if you want to do a professional 180 and switch to an entirely different field. If you’re stuck in a rut with a company you hate, it’s natural to fear leaving, given the lack of career prospects these days, and worry that an MBA is the only way out.

However, you have other options. You can look at other degree options, or even look for a mentor for some real-life lessons. Take a look at your former co-workers; has anyone left your current company within the last year that could provide strategic guidance on carving out a new industry niche? Can you leverage these contacts for informational interviews at a company that’s more closely aligned with your new career goals?

Do I Need a New Network?

Yes, top-tier business schools are undoubtedly fertile grounds for cultivating a new professional network, but they’re not the only place you can make new contacts. Even if you are just at your first or second job, don’t assume that you are not well-connected.

Business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore recommends making a list of everyone you know and then expanding this list to friends of friends. Compare this with where you want to be, whether that’s a city halfway across the country or a different company right down the street. Who can put you in touch with someone that’s already where you want to be? You may be surprised by just how strong your network actually is!

Bottom Line

Whether you ultimately decide to return to school for an advanced degree or heed the call of the entrepreneurial spirit and strike out on your own, remember no decision is set in stone. Job-hopping is the new norm, and the average millennial may have 15 (or more!) jobs in their lifetime. There’s always room for change!

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.