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Is an MBA Worth It?

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The Master of Business Administration is a graduate level degree that one obtains if they are interested in understanding and becoming a leader in the business world. The majority of MBA programs are either 1 or 2 years. However, there exist programs that last for longer than and any program can be modified for an individual that has to deal with factors that affect the amount of time that he or she can commit to a program. This sample essay looks at MBA programs from several different universities (Harvard, Columbia, and Ohio State) and makes a comparison of each. It also looks at features ranging from tuition cost, acceptance rate, employment status after graduation, average base salary, and generalized academics.

Analytical view of obtaining an MBA

The reasons for obtaining an MBA differ from case to case. However, perhaps the most sought after reason a person gets their MBA is to advance their current career and fast track their climb on the corporate ladder. Whatever the reason, a person who obtains an MBA should consider his or her options and select a program that not only highlights their specific attributes but also will help to develop the skills that are most important to that individual’s growth into a leader in their industry of choice.

There are a variety of different programs that a person can attend for obtaining this degree. There are programs offered online and ones offered in a traditional campus setting. There are some that will land you a job right after college, and some take some career building. There are those that are accelerated and are obtained quickly, and then there are those that take longer to obtain and are spread over the course of several years. Some of the best four-year universities offer MBA programs that, as one would expect, are the most sought after programs in the world. When choosing what program is right for an individual, there are several important questions to ask before blindly applying to a program. 

Some of the most important issues to bear in mind when analyzing an MBA program are the cost, the convenience, the caliber, and the accessibility. Cost can be best looked at regarding how much one would pay to be in the program. Is the price of a very highly regarded program worth deterring someone from selecting to attend that university; can an individual afford to go to that university? Convenience can be measured in some different ways. However, there are items that are much more relevant when speaking about the convenience of a program. It is not simply a question of amenities that one would receive or the commute to the program.

Some of the other important factors to consider are: does the University offer online courses, are there accelerated programs, will the school help students to find internships during the program, etc. One of the most important factors to consider when applying to a business school is the caliber of the program. In the most basic sense, this asks what is the reputation of the university as a whole and that of its business program. Another factor that can be quite influential to consider is the average salary of graduates of the program in question.

For example, it might not be worth attending a program that will cost over $50,000 a year to see that the average salary for a graduate is $60,000. Finally, one should consider the accessibility of a program before attending it or even applying for it. Does the program have certain required entrance scores that they expect their applicants to possess? What are the acceptance rates for particular programs? As one can plainly see, just the process of figuring out what programs an individual should apply for can be quite daunting, however, this is one of the most important steps in choosing a program that is right for the individual (GMAT).

Researching MBA programs

The question of where an individual should apply to can be, as stated, quite daunting. Fortunately, there exist some sources that can provide very helpful information to a person that is attempting to enter business school. One such resource is the US News and World Report's business school rankings released yearly. This list gives a basic breakdown of some of the top MBA programs in the nation. Though the site requests a user to sign up to receive the full amount of information, the free publically viewable information is still quite useful.

The data presented from this list allows a person to look at some of the most important factors of a business program. A person can examine the tuition for a full-time student, the number of students enrolled in that program, the number of applicants received and accepted from the previous year, a small description of the program, and even the percentage of graduates that find employment immediately following graduation (Best Business Schools). This is just an example of some of the tools that a person can use when attempting to find the appropriate program for his or her best interest in obtaining his or her MBA.

As mentioned, the types of programs that a business school offers are different compared to other universities. Three four-year universities that offer accredited business programs are the Harvard University Business School, Columbia University Business School, and The Max M. Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University. Two of these programs are private institutions (Harvard and Columbia), and one is a public university (Ohio State). There are several differences between each of these programs, and it is worth breaking down each school compared to the criterion that was mentioned above of cost, convenience, caliber, and accessibility. 

The cream of the crop: Harvard Business School

Located in Soldiers Field Boston, Harvard University’s school of business is considered by many to be the top MBA program in the nation or even the world. With such high levels of credibility come some very harsh realities. The program is quite expensive. Being a private institution, the tuition price does not change for an applicant that is applying from within Massachusetts. The price of tuition for a full-time student is $51,200 per year. However, for such a steep price, the connections that one can receive from attending a program at Harvard University are well worth the admission.

Aside from guaranteeing a high salary right out of school, this is another reason why Harvard’s business program is one of the most applied to business schools. In this past year, Harvard’s business program has 9134 applicants apply to it. Of those applied, only 11% saw acceptance to the program, meaning that 1013 applicants were accepted. Further, of this 11% accepted to the program of the original 9134 applicants, 89% enrolled in the program giving the grand total of new full-time students to the institution last year at 905. The total number of students enrolled in the program in Harvard’s business school was at 1,808 as of last year. Of those enrolled, 37.4% were female, and 62.6% were male (Harvard University). 

The programs offered at the Harvard business school are aimed to focus on a student’s expertise in a particular field of business. Some of the departments or concentrations that the business school offers are: accounting, entrepreneurship, finance, general management, leadership, marketing, sports business, public policy, public administration, technology, and much more. The point of having these concentrations is for a student to be able to focus their interests into a narrow field. By doing this, the student will be learning and applying their knowledge to a field they are interested in and passionate about. From a financial point of view, this allows the student to not waste their money when taking classes from the business school. Regarding the application process, the school has a rather nontraditional approach to reviewing applicants. There are no required entry scores for applicants to Harvard’s business school. 

Right on their website, they make this clear. They state, “When the Admissions Board looks at our transcripts, we are looking at the whole picture- not just your GPA. We take into account where you went to school, the course that you took and your performance….There is no minimum GPA to apply, although our students usually have strong undergraduate records,” (Harvard). The same holds true for test scores. The official school website has no required score on the GRE or GMAT for an applicant.

They note,

“there is no minimum GMAT or GRE to apply, and we do not have a bias toward one test or the other. If you look at our class profile, you can see that we have a wide range of GMAT scores in the current first-year class,” (Harvard).


Obviously, as one of the most prestigious schools in the nation, those that are generally accepted fall into the upper end of both transcripts and test scores. However, the school does look into more than the standard application. As one of the best schools in the nation, they realize that not all successful individuals fall into the same mold and they know sometimes brilliant individuals may be poor test takers or lacked the traditional classroom model of a successful student.

On the opposite side of considering applying and paying for this program is the end product of getting an MBA from Harvard’s business school. Those that are accepted and choose to attend the school have brilliant futures usually. According to the most recent data, 83.2% of those that graduate from Harvard Business School have employment at graduation. Additionally, the average base salary for a graduate is $121,785. As is plainly seen, the program clearly deserves its credibility as it provides many opportunities for its graduates and the average base salary covers the cost of attendance in roughly the first few years. However, there are some imposing cons to this school (Harvard University).

Being one of the top business schools in the nation is fantastic; however, there are some serious drawbacks to attending Harvard University’s business school. With such a high cost of tuition, paying for the program before gaining employment is not an easy endeavor. Though the school has financial aid and many receive help for it, the cost of attending still is very high. Though most individuals in the program find employment right out of graduation, those that do not have a mountain of debt to pay back when they do not have a high paying job to cover their expenses.

The other major drawback to this program is the very low acceptance rate. As noted, around 90% of those that apply to the program do not get in. For this 90%, the cost of application is not reimbursed. They are simply out several hundred dollars and the many hours that it took to fill out the application and gain letters of recommendation and potentially the time they spent interviewing at the school. The pros and cons should be carefully weighed in both the application process and attendance to this particular MBA program. 

Another monster in the field: Columbia University

Columbia University’s business school is another top-level program. Located in New York, New York this private institution offers a wide variety of different concentrations for the students that are accepted and attend the MBA program. As with Harvard University, Columbia is a private institution and offers a single, base rate tuition for those that wish to attend the program. The price of full-time enrollment in Columbia’s business program is $55,868 per year with an additional $2,482 a year in required fees. Additionally, Columbia offers only full-time enrollment, meaning that a student is all in with the program and cannot take classes part time. Being one of the other best-known programs in the nation brings a large number of applicants to the program each year.

Last year, 6669 students applied for admission to Columbia’s MBA program. Of the total number applying for enrollment, about 16%, or 1062, of the total applicants were accepted into the program. Further, of this 16% of accepted students, about 71% choice to enroll in the University. Of the 1,264 total student body within the program, the gender distribution is as follows: 37% of students are female, and 63% of students are male (Columbia University).

Like Harvard University, Columbia’s business program does not follow a traditional set of standards for those that are applying for admission to the University. Their website specifically notes that applying students do not have to have a minimum test score on the GMAT or GRE or an overall GPA. It is unofficially implied that as a top-level school, only the most accomplished students will be admitted, and these are the students that score the highest in both areas for the most part. Additionally, the application process has a flat rate of $250 for all those that apply to the program (Columbia).

The University offers a wide variety of departments within its MBA program that, like any other program, allows for its students to be able to focus their interest to be applied to their future professional lives. Some of the areas of academic focus that Columbia offers include: real estate, consulting, not-for-profit management, international business, and quantitative analysis/statistical and operations research. For those that do gain acceptance to the school’s business program, the end product is also very positive. Of those that graduate from the program, 75.3% find full-time employment right out of school. Additionally, the average base salary for a graduate of this particular program is $113,340 a year. Clearly, the network of connections that this program provides its students allows for the possibility of making very important business connections that pay off in the real business world (Columbia University).

Is the value of the MBA less than the value of the name?

There are some areas of concern with this program, however. The largest concern, as with almost all MBA programs, is the status of employment after graduation. Though 75% is a superb percentage of post-graduate employment, that odd man out of every four students will not be content not to have a job after completing a program that cost over $57,000 a year. The breakdown of genders in the program is of some slight concern as well.

The number of males is almost twice as high as that of females, and this could be some cause for concern for the applying female students (though the program would clearly deny any and all traces of gender discrimination in the application process). Finally, this school faces a downside that most top-level programs have to deal with. The number of accepted to applied students is quite low. The vast majority of those that apply to this program are rejected. For those that do not gain acceptance into this program, they have wasted many hours of preparation both orally and written and lost a few hundred dollars to application fees. These are some of the problems that face a highly regarded, private University’s business program. 

The Max M. Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University- Columbus is fundamentally different than the other two mentioned MBA programs. This business school is not a private institution. Instead, it is a state school and is subject to some key differences. As a state school, Ohio State’s business program offers both full-time and part-time enrollment where the latter has a much higher acceptance rate. As of last year, the school had 748 apply for full-time enrollment and saw roughly 27%, or 200 people, of the applicants, get accepted as full-time students.

For part-time applicants, the number of applicants went down, and the acceptance rate went up. Only 303 students applied for part-time enrollment and about 65%, or 197 people, of the applicants gained acceptance to the program. These numbers are both significantly higher than that of the private institutions; however, the credibility of the state school’s program is slightly lower than the private institution’s reputations. The tuition breakdown is also different for this program (Ohio State University). 

For a state school, the tuition can be varied based on those that apply. Basically, for an individual that lives in the same state as a state’s school, there is a discount in the price of admission per year. For a student that enrolls for full-time and lives in-state, tuition is $25,680 per year, whereas out-of-state students have to pay $42,405 per year.  There is also a difference for those that are only enrolled as part-time students. Further, this can be broken down into out-of-state and in-state for the part-timers as well. A part-time student that lives in-state has to pay $856 per credit, while an out-of-state part-time student must pay $1,414 per credit. As one can plainly see, the cost of a state school is far less expensive than that of a private institution. In addition to these tuition costs, all students have to pay $1,395 a year in additional fees (Ohio State University).

Since the school lacks some of the prestigious that the other mentioned programs possess, there is a slight dip in the end product numbers. Graduates of this program see a slightly lower rate of pay and employment considering that this is a state school. The average base salary of a graduate of the business program is $84,396. In addition to this, the school had a rate of 71.2% of graduates having employment immediately following graduation. As expected, these numbers are slightly lower than the extremely notable private schools mentioned above (Ohio State University).

A quick dropoff rate spells trouble for MBA students

With a drop in prestigious comes a drop in expectations of those that apply to the program. For Ohio State’s business program, there are slightly more lax standards on those that apply for enrollment. Though the website for the school does not directly state a required GPA for applicants, it does note that they must possess a credited four-year degree of some kind (BA, BS, etc.). Additionally, the test scores are not expressly stated, but an idea is given as to what they expect from an applicant. The school notes, in the notice of average GMAT score,

“80 percent of the students we admit score in the 600-720 range,” (Ohio State).

The academic focuses that this program provides are similar to that of many other MBA programs. Some of the areas that the school offers concentrations in are: portfolio management, supply chain management/ logistics, manufacturing and technology management, and management information systems. These areas of focus allow the potential student to focus and figure out what he or she is best suited for in the professional world. The aims of the focus are there to have the student take classes that are relevant to their area of interest and save the student money from taking unnecessary classes (Ohio State University). 

There are some downsides to going to this particular program. First, as a state school, it loses some of the credibility that a private institution has. Additionally, the gender breakdown favors men over women in a 3:1 ratio. The programs in the school have a lower rate of employment after graduation by close to 5% as well. Finally, the amount of income that one can see decreases dramatically from the average base salary of the private programs. These drops all are expected when one examines a state school instead of two of the top level MBA programs in the nation. 

When looking into acquiring an MBA, there are usually two major reasons that attract people into starting the process, and they are money and employment. When looking at money, there are two major breakdowns for understanding the importance of an MBA. The first is the increase in average salary. Figures 1 and 2 show the graphical difference over the last three years of those that have acquired an MBA compared to those that simply have an undergraduate degree. As one can plainly see, there is a large gap in the amount that one will see as their expected annual salary. The average man will see a roughly $46,905 increase in annual earnings from obtaining their MBA.  Additionally, one can notice that the average salary for someone with an MBA increases with each year in figure 1. 

The other major point to examine is the long-term money earned from having an MBA. Figure 3 shows the correlation that exists between education and lifetime earnings. In general, an individual with a master degree will make half a million dollars more than a person that has acquired just their bachelor degree and almost a million dollars more than a person that possess an Associates degree. The other major factor for someone to get an MBA is the battle for employment. Figure 4 shows just how important this can be. The figure shows that as the level of one’s education increases, the national average unemployment decreases. Additionally, this figure also makes note to the increased weekly earnings that higher-level education provides an individual.  

In general, when an individual shows interest in obtaining their MBA, there are several important questions that they should ask. What do they want to focus on when obtaining their MBA, what is their financial situation for getting into and paying for the different programs, and what are they looking to do with their degree after graduation? These questions help to shape the types of programs that an individual can realistically apply to and hope to be accepting into. A person should not be afraid to apply for top-level programs, however there is no shame with applying to a state school in a less credited university. The recommendation made to anyone thinking of applying to an MBA program can be summarized as this: first understand what it is you want to do and how much time you can commit to doing it, then apply to a program that you can realistically be accepted into when attempting to obtain your MBA.

Works Cited

Best Business Schools, . "Best Business Schools." U.S. News Education Grad Schools. U.S. News, n.d. Web. 9 Nov 2012. <http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/mba-rankings>. 

Columbia, . "Application Requirements ." Columbia Business School. Columbia Business School, n.d. Web. 9 Nov 2012. <http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/mba/admissions/applynow/apprequirements

Columbia University, . "Columbia University." U.S. News Education Grad Schools. U.S. News, n.d. Web. 9 Nov 2012. <http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/business-school-01148>. 

GMAT, . "Why B-School." Official Website of the GMAT. MBA.com, n.d. Web. 9 Nov 2012. <http://www.mba.com/why-b-school.asp&xgt;. 

Harvard, . "Written Application: Introduce Yourself." Harvard Business School. Harvard University, n.d. Web. 9 Nov 2012. <http://www.hbs.edu/mba/admissions/application-process/Pages/written-application-introduce-yourself.asp&xgt;. 

Harvard University, . "Harvard University." U.S. News Education Grad Schools. U.S. News, n.d. Web. 9 Nov 2012. <http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/business-school-01110>. 

Ohio State, . "Test Scores." The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. The Ohio State University, n.d. Web. 9 Nov 2012. <http://www.cob.ohio-state.edu/ftmba/admissions/requirements/test-scores/>. 

Ohio State University, . "Ohio State University (Fisher)." U.S. News Education Grad Schools. U.S. News, n.d. Web. 9 Nov 2012. <http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/max-m-fisher-college-of-business-01174>. 



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