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The Value of an MBA Even with the Rise of the Specialized Master’s

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In recent years, there’s been a media frenzy about the decline of MBA applications. The Wall Street Journal wrote about American business schools struggling to lure young professionals, while Fortune wrote about MBA applications declining even at the most elite institutions. The consensus is that MBA applications are trending down (Financial Times) while specialized masters programs are growing more popular.

So, the question is, “Is an MBA still worth it or is an MBA just an outdated degree that’s losing its luster in favor of other options?”

At Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, both the MBA and the specialized masters play an important role at the school. They offer measurable ROI to business professionals and are sought after by top employers. Both programs offer value that will depend on the perspective and interest of the applicants. Ultimately, it is about how the program will enable the applicants to improve his/her probability of success. However, just because some specialized masters programs are shorter or require fewer credits than a traditional two-year MBA does not automatically make them a better choice. There’s a reason why more and more cutting-edge tech companies are hiring MBAs, and they’re not the only ones.

The value of an MBA is difficult to overstate. The key is to know what you’re getting into and what you’re getting out of it.

The Value of an MBA

One has to be careful when comparing an MBA with a specialized master’s degree. Often times it is like comparing apples to oranges.  These degrees serve different purposes when it comes to learning objectives. The MBA is about understanding the cross-functions of business.  For example, when you push the finance lever, how does it impact your strategy, marketing or supply chain? The MBA gives you a bird’s eye view of the entire enterprise where everything is interrelated. Your thinking becomes holistic instead of narrower.  On the other hand, a specialized master’s enables you to learn and focus on specific skills such as finance, marketing or operations just to name a few, with the goal of making you a subject matter expert (SME) in one area that can prepare you to enhance one function of the entire system.

Of course, there are also obvious differences such as program duration, tuition, pedagogy and outside of class experiences. An MBA cannot be accurately compared to any other type of educational experience because it is wholly unique. It’s not just the two-year duration, expense, or special three-letter acronym; it’s the entire package that makes the Georgetown McDonough MBA so valuable—everything from access to resources to the MBA summer internship, global learning options, the MBA Career Center, and alumni impact.

Enhanced Marketability

Anjelique Parnell, a 2019 MBA at Georgetown McDonough.

Earning your MBA is all about enhancing your marketability. While both a specialized master’s and an MBA expand your knowledge set and help grow your career faster, the wide breadth of the MBA curriculum opens up very diverse opportunities vs. aiming to make you a subject matter expert. For Anjelique Parnell, a 2019 MBA at Georgetown McDonough, this meant the difference between pigeonholing herself in HR and becoming a versatile job candidate in a range of industries and functions.

“With my MBA, I’ve been able to leverage my existing HR skill set and passion while also being able to understand business from all angles,” said Anjelique. “For example, I now understand and have experience in operations, finance, and accounting, all of which I’d never done before. That’s provided me with a ton of flexibility and new opportunities for my career. Now, I can pull out different cards in my deck and play up different experiences, and I feel confident doing it.”

Even if you want to stay in your current career field, an MBA is valuable in helping connect the dots and understanding the nuances of a business or organization in a more strategic way, which makes you a more attractive candidate. You also become more marketable because the skills you learn aren’t so narrow.  You can pursue a variety of career paths that you might not have originally thought applied to your interests, while feeling more confident in all general management areas, even if a particular area is not where you eventually want to work.

During Georgetown McDonough’s Full-time MBA, you’ll have learning opportunities and client-centered work in a range of industries and job functions. You’ll also be able to choose from more than 100 elective course offerings to customize your academic experience to what you really want. This will give you the best chance for future success.

“If you aspire to be in a leadership position,” explained Anjelique, “then an MBA will allow you to specialize while also increasing the breadth of your knowledge, skills, and abilities, which makes you a more effective leader and a better partner wherever you end up.”

Well-Rounded Skillset/Knowledge

In a masters program, your coursework is typically very focused on a specific thematic subject area. It’s designed for people who know the specific industry area in which they’re looking to advance. On the other hand, an MBA covers the full breadth of business. You learn everything from strategy to marketing, accounting, HR, finance, and more.

According to Anjelique, this was the deciding factor between getting her master’s and her MBA. For a while, she was on the fence, but in the end, she realized that the MBA would not only be more valuable in helping her perform her job, but would open up new possibilities and potential careers in the future.

“To be an effective HR advisor, you need to understand business,” said Anjelique. “Even if you’re advising clients on people strategy or training a workforce, you need to understand how the business or organization works. The MBA is helping me be more well-rounded and see a broader view of business than just the HR portion.”

For example, before her MBA, Anjelique thought she had no interest in finance. She didn’t enjoy it and didn’t think she’d be good at it. In fact, she had a very negative outlook and looked at that part of the MBA curriculum as a formality to survive. But, once she started classes, she discovered that it was really interesting. It helped her learn to think more strategically, and she ended up using her finance skills in other classes, during case interviews, and even during her internship.

“The other class that made a huge difference in my MBA experience was Leadership Communication, one of the core courses in the program focused on building leadership skills,” remembered Anjelique. “I’m more of an introvert, but that class helped bring me out of my comfort zone and gave me far more confidence when it comes to public speaking and talking about a variety of business issues. By the time I finished the course, I unexpectedly found my voice and discovered that I had the ability to sit in a room with executives, and seasoned subject matter experts, and provide valuable guidance and insight.”

More than the Classroom

But it’s not just the courses that make a Georgetown McDonough MBA valuable. If that were the case, you could just enhance your specialized master’s program with courses in different specialty areas. It’s everything else that comes along with the MBA outside of the classroom such as specific MBA internships, clubs, global treks, and more.

Some outside the classroom opportunities at Georgetown McDonough include:

  • Access to over 40 clubs and 350 board positions, which you can use to enhance your leadership skills.
  • Access to a range of industry-specific MBA case competitions that will teach you how to assess problems and pitch solutions to industry experts.
  • Multiple MBA consulting experiences including the Global Business Experience (GBE), an international consulting project, and other optional consulting experiences where you’ll learn to solve real-world client problems.
  • Global learning experiences in locations around the world where you’ll make lasting connections and learn from global executives in business, government, and non-profit sectors.

“I am passionate about talent management and leadership development, which made a master’s degree in those areas incredibly attractive, but what I realized I wanted was an environment where I could expose myself to various career paths, learn about other business functions, and build a broader business network,” said Anjelique. “So, when I chose to pursue my MBA, suddenly I was thrown into a community where I could be my authentic self and have access to a myriad of resources to pursue everything that interested me inside and outside the classroom. For example, I’m highly involved in admissions as a student ambassador, and I took a trip to Tanzania as part of the first-ever Black MBA trip trek to Africa. Both experiences have been instrumental in contributing to my career.”

According to Daniel Couladis, the associate director of career curricula and communication at the MBA Career Center, you’ll also have access to recruiters and alumni. These outside-of-the-classroom resources can be the basis of your entire future career network and career opportunities.

“The primary advantage of an MBA program at Georgetown McDonough is that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to discover your target industry and get in front of your target companies through outside and inside support,” said Daniel. “It’s a high value-add for MBAs because they can take advantage of all those pieces to build deeper relationships and prepare for the future.”

Internship Experience

A large part of those outside the classroom opportunities can be summed up in the summer internship. In a traditional two-year MBA program, the summer internship is a built-in part of the experience. It may or may not be the case in a shorter program. In many yearlong master’s programs, you won’t have a summer off to intern for eight to ten weeks, and that can be a valuable missed opportunity. The MBA internship allows you to try out your hand in an industry and at a company that you may want to work for in the future without making a huge commitment. It’s a chance to gain a broader set of experiences so that you can make a better choice when it comes to actually accepting your job post-graduation.

“A lot of students come into an MBA not knowing what they want to do,” Daniel explained. “The internship allows candidates to gain real-world experience, enhance their resume, and improve their skills. It’s a risk-free way to try a new career, and if it doesn’t work out, you can finish up your second year of the MBA program learning about another area geared toward your interests.”

There are many exciting future opportunities that can arise from an internship whether you decide to continue working with that company in the future or try your hand in a different industry or at a different company. No matter what, you’ll walk away with valuable contacts and experience that you can use throughout your career.

Involved Career Center

In addition, MBA students have access to a variety of career resources from conferences to industry coaching, alumni networking, recruiter relationships, career path treks, and more. While all Georgetown McDonough students have access to similar resources no matter what educational path they choose, there are many opportunities that are available only for MBA students and have a high probability of success.

For example, at Georgetown McDonough, MBA students have their own career center: the MBA Career Center. This highly specialized career center was designed with MBA students in mind and offers an entire “career experience.”

  1. Before MBAs Arrive on Campus

Even before MBA students arrive on the Georgetown McDonough campus they are preparing for their future career. The MBA Career Center is highly involved with students from the moment they accept their admissions. From that point on, students work with career coaches, alumni, companies, and recruiters to gain the best chance of landing a job at their target company.

“One of the things that we do in the early stages of our MBA program is to have our students participate in a job search course that’s all about communication,” said Daniel. “We spend a lot of time, in the beginning, working with students on their job search, helping them get better at communicating, networking, structuring their resume, and more. This is preparation that begins even before the MBA begins and is a selling point of the Georgetown McDonough MBA program.

  1. During School

Once MBA students are into their program, they continue to work with the MBA Career Center in a variety of ways all focused on the ultimate goal of landing the ideal career. There are career conferences, career fairs, and other events targeted specifically at MBA students. At these events, Georgetown McDonough brings in companies that are sometimes only, looking for an MBA graduate. This increases the probability of success by narrowing the field.

“What’s great about our MBA Career Center is that we have an industry practice leader coaching model,” explained Daniel. “Our coaches aren’t generic, but they manage the relationships with employers and alumni in specific industries, so MBA students can have deeper and more valuable relationships. This is reflected in our career treks, where students travel domestically and internationally to network with alumni and executives in specific industries such as finance, consulting, technology, energy, entrepreneurship, healthcare, marketing, and real estate.”

It’s a high-value add that gives an MBA graduate another leg up on their competition.

  1. After Graduation

Finally, even after graduation, all graduates of Georgetown McDonough still retain their access to the resources and network that they built during school. This means that at any time, as an alumnus you can contact the school for additional career coaching and help including job postings, mentorship opportunities, resume and cover letter reviews, and more.

There are also a myriad of alumni events and engagements held all over the world where 190,000 Georgetown Alumni and 24,000 McDonough Alumni can get together to have meaningful and productive conversations. The best part is that this network is ever growing and available no matter where you work, live, vacation, or visit.

While the specialized master’s degree might be on the rise, the MBA is in no way shape or form obsolete. The Full-time MBA program still has value, particularly for career switchers and those looking to expand their network and opportunities in new directions. Learn more about how an MBA could benefit you by visiting the Georgetown McDonough website.

Kelly Vo
Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and topics related to personal development. She has been working in the MBA space for the past four years in research, interview, and writing roles.