How to maximize the value of an MBA
If you’re looking to get a leg up on the competition, earning an MBA and adding it to your academic credentials can help push you into a higher income bracket: The median weekly income for people with a master’s degree is $234 higher than for those with a four-year degree, and the unemployment rate is a full percentage point lower, federal statistics show.
But according to Michael Bevis, PhD, director of academic affairs for University of Phoenix and an instructor in the MBA program at the Chicago Campus, you can’t just sit back and expect your master’s degree to land you a dream job.
“You’ve got to leverage the skills you are learning while you’re going to school to gain real-life experience that will show employers you have the skills to help them,” Bevis says.
Here, he offers four ways to maximize your MBA:
Select a specific concentration.
Bevis emphasizes to his students that adding a specific focus to your MBA, such as accounting or management, “is going to set you apart from myriad other students who are graduating with a [general] MBA.” Adding a concentration requires taking more classes than you would for a standard MBA, but doing so can make you more attractive to prospective employers.
Although he had worked in the financial world, Bevis says that when he was earning his MBA, he acquired concentrations in accounting and marketing. The extra credits opened doors he hadn’t expected, he says, and helped him transition into teaching. “In order to teach at the college level, you have to have a combination of practical experience and college coursework,” he points out.
Practice what you learn in your courses in your day job.
Students who work full time while earning an MBA can test what they’re learning in school in their current professions, which can help them gain experience and perhaps even impress their employers.
Bevis notes how one of his students had felt like his job as an electrician had limited advancement opportunities. But after learning in a marketing course how to promote a business by using QR codes — bar codes that mobile phones can read to link to websites — the student suggested to his boss that the company use a code on its vans to advertise company services.
Shortly after the student’s idea was put into effect, he was promoted to a manager-level position in the business office.
Volunteer at a nonprofit.
For those with no opportunity to put their new skills to use at a job, Bevis encourages working with local nonprofits to gain real-world experience.
“I have my students engage in what we call ‘service learning,’’’ Bevis says, in which they volunteer to work with local nonprofits that can benefit from the students’ MBA skills.
After students gain experience, such as setting up financial statements for a small nonprofit, they then can describe what they did in job interviews and explain how they can help their prospective employer.
Learn from pros.
“Many students want to start their own businesses, but they don’t know how to apply their new learning to make that happen,” Bevis explains. By talking with professionals who have years of experience creating and running businesses, MBA students can begin to see how what they’re learning in their coursework might be applied to launching an actual company.
At his campus, Bevis partnered with the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, an independent organization that connects entrepreneurs with students, giving them the opportunity to network with professionals, get their questions answered and hear lectures by people who were once in their shoes.
“This type of in-person networking and mentoring makes a huge difference,” Bevis says.