An MBA is a valuable but expensive investment, especially given today’s ballooning higher education costs. It’s not a commitment most people can afford to take lightly. If you’re considering getting your Master’s degree to develop a marketing executive career, it’s important to be strategic about when and where you commit a huge amount of effort and money to make the most of your investment. It’s the best way to make your MBA a catapult, rather than a staircase, to higher-level jobs and salary tiers.
An MBA is not required to be a successful marketer or businessperson. Indeed, there’s no shortage of extremely successful individuals in recent history who have little to no college education. However, those individuals tend to be the exception; not the rule. Even with the high costs of college education today, an MBA is still extremely valuable to marketing professionals of any kind. People who get an MBA typically earn around $50,000 more per year within two years of graduating compared to when they begin getting their Master’s. And an MBA can certainly help you stand out to a marketing executive recruiter. Even at prestigious schools with expensive programs, it’s easy to see how the investment can quickly pay off.
The Ideal MBA Scenario for Marketers
The exact perfect time to head back to school will vary widely from person to person. You’ll have to consider a lot of factors to determine what’s best for you. But after engaging, interviewing and working with hundreds of successful marketing leaders over the years as a marketing executive recruiter, there’s a definite pattern I’ve noticed for MBA acquisition that seems to lead to the most opportunities and career growth. In short, it looks like this:
- Go to college and get a Bachelor’s degree in a field relevant to your desired discipline. Marketing, Business, and Communications degrees are obvious choices. Other options like Journalism, Statistics, Computer Science, or even Psychology and English are viable alternatives. Be sure to do well and get good grades! Your GPA typically won’t have a long-term impact on your job opportunities, but it can impact the quality of your first job and affect the caliber of MBA program you’re able to attend.
- Spend a few years working in the “real world;” I recommend between three and five; about long enough to earn your first promotion. This gives you an opportunity to get some hands-on experience with life in a business environment and better understand its nuances. This will give you you get a better idea of where your talents, interests, and passions lie. All that experience will give you important context and greatly enhance the value of your MBA education.
- Head back to grad school with a few substantial years of business and marketing experience under your belt. Choose a school with a good program based on what you learned about yourself and your goals after a few years as a professional.
The Goldilocks Effect
The advantage of taking this strategy is that it puts your higher education at a time in your life that is “just right.” It’s not so early that your education loses meaning, and not so late that it’s a major intrusion into your life.
Many students will opt to hop right into their MBA program immediately after completing their undergrad. This has become an especially popular trend lately. Staying in school often appears more appealing than jumping headlong into an uncertain job market. I don’t necessarily think that this is a critical mistake. But I do believe that most individuals who get an MBA without a few years working exclusively in the marketing world won’t be able to get the maximum value out of their degree. There’s simply too much nuance and firsthand experience that a classroom can’t accurately explain.
The advantage of taking this strategy is that it puts your higher education at a time in your life that is “just right.”
On the other hand, waiting an extended period of time also makes going to grad school a challenge. For most ambitious marketers, getting an MBA will mean juggling a busy work life with the new addition of school responsibilities. You’ll often be sacrificing most of your nights and weekends for two years. That’s difficult enough in the best of situations; and the additional responsibilities that tend to accumulate through life will make it even harder. Most people growing their marketing executive career will find it much easier to get their MBA if they’re not also simultaneously nurturing a marriage, raising children, and taking care of a home.
Of course, it’s not necessarily “bad” to get an MBA right after undergrad. And it’s certainly not impossible to get an MBA even when managing a dozen other even more important responsibilities. But in most cases, the optimal path lies at a time when you have several years of professional experience but aren’t yet bound by the myriad obligations that life tends to pile on you.