The business master’s degree is the most popular master’s degree in the United States—and it’s topped the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) list of most-obtained master’s degrees for much of the past decade.
The NCES reported in 2022 that nearly a fourth (23 percent) of master’s degrees earned during the 2019–2020 academic year were in business. Employment website Indeed ranks the Master of Business Administration (MBA) as the master’s degree in highest demand.
Considering the popularity of graduate business education, prospective students might wonder: Is an MBA worth it for me? An MBA can provide a variety of benefits, such as increased earnings, enhanced employability, and a positive return on investment.
Key MBA Benefits
An MBA is a graduate degree that covers a broad range of business disciplines, with many programs also offering students the opportunity to specialize in a particular subject area. The master’s program can be a good choice for individuals who want to advance in their current careers or explore new positions or industries.
What Is an MBA?
MBA programs typically feature courses and projects that explore the following subjects:
Some students choose to complete a joint or dual-degree MBA program, earning an advanced degree in an area such as law, medicine, public policy, or nursing in addition to an MBA.
What Are the Benefits of an MBA?
Earning an MBA can provide students with a host of benefits that include the potential for greater earnings, a broader professional network, and additional career opportunities.
A 2022 report from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) states that 72 percent of those earning master’s degrees in business believe it increases their salary potential, for example, and 68 percent say it helped them reach their financial goals.
The median starting salary for all new MBA hires was $115,000 in 2022, according to the GMAC. By comparison, the median annual salary for all jobs in the United States in May 2021 was $45,760, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In 2022 the GMAC noted that an MBA degree can lead to $3 million more in earnings over the lifetime of a graduate compared with the lifetime earnings of individuals who have only a bachelor’s degree.
Strong salary potential isn’t the only benefit of an MBA, however. Other positive outcomes from earning an MBA can include:
Holding an MBA can elevate job candidates’ status in the eyes of recruiters.
In 2022, the GMAC reported that nearly nine in 10 hiring professionals (87 percent) indicated they were highly confident or confident that a graduate business education helps employees succeed in their organizations. Recruiters list business master’s graduates’ communication skills, strategic thinking, and versatility as reasons for that confidence.
Return on Investment
The GMAC reported in 2022 that more than 85 percent of those earning master’s degrees in business believed it provided a good return on their investment. When indicating whether an MBA is worth it, the majority of these graduates gave high marks to their degree program for developing their knowledge and skills in leadership development and cultural diversity issues, for example.
The opportunity to establish a variety of professional relationships is another benefit of an MBA. The collaborative, project-based nature of the typical MBA program allows students to foster relationships with other students as well as instructors. Enrolling in an MBA program also can help students forge connections with the program’s alumni.
Among the business master’s alumni the GMAC surveyed for their 2022 report, 76 percent indicated their degree helped them broaden their professional network.
Not only can MBA programs help build knowledge in subjects specific to business, they also can help develop soft skills. These skills transfer to any type of professional role and are beneficial for advancing to high-level positions. Through their coursework and collaboration with their peers, MBA students can hone skills in:
- Analytical thinking
- Critical thinking
- Time management
MBA programs generally go beyond providing basic business knowledge to building an understanding of how to approach real-world workplace scenarios. Through case studies and capstone projects, these programs can help students hone the expertise that employers respect.
That appreciation for the value of a graduate degree in business is driving employers’ plans to maintain or expand their hiring of these alumni in the coming years. In the United States, 97 percent of employers reported in 2022 that they expect this hiring to increase or remain stable in the next five years, according to the GMAC.
Pursuing an MBA can help students gain the skills they are likely to need as industries shift to accommodate the ever-changing business climate. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2020, for example, that 50 percent of employees would need to upskill in the next five years. Many of the skills the report indicated will be a necessity for professionals in the future—such as creativity, leadership, and analytical thinking—are those that MBA programs can help students strengthen.
General MBA vs. MBA Specializations
Students who pursue an MBA can typically select a general or specialized degree. A general MBA offers a broad education in a variety of advanced business topics. MBA specializations build generalized business knowledge, but they also feature programming geared toward a specific subject area.
The general MBA path can lead to any of a broad range of business roles. MBA specializations may not provide the same breadth of career opportunities, but generally they can open more doors in their particular fields.
General MBA vs. MBA Specialization: Which to Choose?
The decision about whether to pursue a general MBA or a specialized MBA typically boils down to an individual’s career goals, education timeline, and desired skills. Following is a look at each of these considerations:
Students who want to keep their career options open might find that a general MBA is the better choice. A general MBA also can help those still deciding what career path best suits them.
For students who already have pinpointed a career they want to pivot toward or advance in, an MBA specialization may be the better option. This focused degree can provide graduates with a leg up to advance in a particular field.
Earning a general MBA may take students longer if they choose to take a variety of electives that broaden their scope of knowledge. For students who have determined what career path they want to pursue, zeroing in on that area with a specialized MBA degree may save them time by allowing them to focus more exclusively on one facet of business.
Students who seek a broad base of knowledge or are still narrowing down their options can benefit from the wide range of concepts that a general MBA explores. On the other hand, MBA specializations can provide career-specific skills for students seeking to advance in a particular industry or pivot to a selected field.
Benefits of an MBA in Finance
When considering whether an MBA is worth it, it’s helpful to learn about the options available for those choosing an MBA specialization—and the benefits of pursuing those specializations. According to Indeed, one of the MBA concentrations that offers the highest earning potential is finance.
What Is an MBA in Finance?
An MBA in finance focuses on subjects related to business and finance. Courses and projects typically cover the following areas:
- Business management
- Financial analysis
- Financial planning
- Market trading
- Financial ethics
Why Choose an MBA in Finance?
A finance-focused MBA degree can be particularly helpful for those interested in pursuing leadership roles in the financial industry, a field in which the BLS reports above-average wages and projects about 715,100 new jobs between 2021 and 2031. The median annual salary for all business and financial occupations in May 2021 was $76,570, according to the BLS.
Some roles that an MBA in finance can prepare students for include:
Chief Financial Officer
Chief financial officers (CFOs) are top executives who lead their companies’ accounting, budgeting, and business planning activities. The median annual salary for this role in August 2022 was about $140,800, according to Payscale.
As leaders of corporate finance teams, finance directors oversee strategic financial planning, accounting, and financial analysis and projections. Finance directors’ median annual salary in August 2022 was about $116,500, according to Payscale.
Senior Financial Analyst
Senior financial analysts’ responsibilities can include managing teams of analysts. That work involves assigning tasks, analyzing risk, compiling data, reviewing reports, and presenting analysis findings to corporate leaders. Payscale reports that the median annual salary for this role was approximately $83,500 in August 2022.
Benefits of an MBA in International Business
An MBA in international business can prepare students to become corporate leaders in today’s global business landscape. The degree also is among those that Indeed lists as high-paying MBA concentrations. It can provide a solid foundation to advance in a variety of careers that entail working on an international scale.
What Is an MBA in International Business?
International business MBA programs emphasize global and multicultural business operations. Courses and projects typically cover the following topics from an international perspective:
- Emerging economies
- Corporate ethics
- Marketing management
- Global markets
- Business culture
Why Choose an MBA in International Business?
Expertise in international business is important, as many organizations are shifting toward global operations. In 2020, a report from international hiring firm Globalization Partners and media organization CFO showed that nearly half of businesses surveyed were planning to expand globally within the next year.
An MBA in international business can provide candidates with an advantage in seeking any of a variety of high-level roles, such as:
As leaders of their organizations’ sales teams, sales directors establish sales goals, train sales representatives, and analyze sales data. In May 2021, their median annual salary was $127,490, according to the BLS.
Operations directors typically lead a variety of departments or sites within an organization. They develop policies, manage day-to-day activities, and create plans for staffing and use of materials. The median annual salary for this position in May 2021 was $97,970, according to BLS data.
Organizational efficiency is the goal of management analysts, who advise companies about ways to increase profits by lowering their costs and increasing their revenue. The BLS indicates the median annual salary for management analysts in May 2021 was $93,000.
Benefits of an MBA in Hospitality Business Management
Earning an MBA in hospitality business management can equip students to advance in a rapidly evolving field. When considering whether this MBA is worth it, it’s important to note that the hospitality industry is one of the world’s largest. It includes a broad range of venues, such as:
- Cruise lines
- Theme parks
- Entertainment venues
What Is an MBA in Hospitality Business Management?
Courses in hospitality business management MBA programs generally focus on how to lead staff activities and business operations at venues where customers go to relax and have fun. Typical courses cover topics such as:
- Hospitality business operations
- Service management
- International tourism strategy
- Revenue management
- Strategic marketing
Why Choose an MBA in Hospitality Business Management?
The hospitality industry is large—and poised for further growth as it rebounds from the impact of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Industry report provider ReportLinker predicts that the worldwide hospitality market will reach $4.5 trillion in 2022, increasing from about $4 trillion the year prior. By 2026, the report projects, the market will reach $6.7 trillion.
With an MBA in hospitality business management, professionals can lead efforts to manage the changes that the industry is experiencing. Hospitality venues are recovering after widespread shutdowns and adapting to the increasingly digital nature of planning for recreational activities. The degree can help graduates advance to roles such as:
Director of Food and Beverage
As executives who oversee all of a company’s food and beverage operations, directors of food and beverage manage activities such as:
- Menu selection
- Products and supplies purchases
- Menu design
- Guest services
Payscale reports that the median annual salary for this role was about $71,000 in August 2022, with the top 10 percent of annual salaries exceeding $109,000.
Restaurant managers lead restaurants’ day-to-day operations. They hire, train, and schedule staff and work to ensure high-quality food and service are provided to guests. These professionals also track daily sales and purchasing. The median annual salary for this role in August 2022 was about $48,500, with the top 10 percent of annual salaries exceeding $61,000, according to Payscale.
Hotel managers hire, train, and lead employees at hotels. They ensure that the facility meets safety and maintenance standards and that invoicing is up to date. The median annual salary for hotel managers was $49,500 in August 2022, according to Payscale, with the top 10 percent of salaries exceeding $95,000.
Benefits of an MBA in Marketing
Another MBA specialization with strong earning potential is marketing. An MBA in marketing can provide students with the sales and marketing skills to advance in a field that the BLS projects will have faster-than-average growth between 2021 and 2031.
What Is an MBA in Marketing?
An MBA in marketing focuses on topics related to building brands, attracting customers, and demonstrating the value of products and services. A typical marketing MBA program offers courses in subjects such as:
- International marketing management
- New product marketing
- Marketing promotions
- Consumer trends
- Marketing research
Why Choose an MBA in Marketing?
Marketing is a rapidly growing field. The BLS projects, for example, that advertising, promotions, and marketing manager positions will grow by 10 percent between 2021 and 2031, compared with 5 percent growth projected for all occupations. This growth translates to about 33,700 new jobs created in that period. The following are some key leadership roles that an MBA in marketing can prepare students to pursue:
Marketing directors establish high-level organizational policy and lead a company’s marketing team. They hire and train marketing staff and determine the scope of the team’s work. These professionals direct marketing campaigns and develop concepts and project budgets. In August 2022, Payscale reports, the median annual salary for this role was about $92,700.
Business Development Manager
Identifying opportunities to attract new customers is at the heart of the business development manager role. These professionals determine the best ways to target potential customers and develop approaches to foster current customer relationships and seek referrals. The median annual salary for this position was about $76,400 in August 2022, according to Payscale.
Working on strategy and pricing, marketing managers are responsible for balancing profit with product promotion and customer satisfaction. They monitor trends that indicate a need for a new product or service, providing input about in-demand features and creating promotional plans. Payscale reports that marketing managers’ median annual salary in August 2022 was approximately $90,000.
Discover How an MBA Can Benefit Your Career
For many students, an MBA is worth it—offering benefits such as greater earnings, enhanced employability, and a strong return on investment. Whether you’re considering a general MBA or an MBA in an in-demand specialization, explore the Washington State University Online Master of Business Administration program.
With WSU’s Online MBA, you can pursue the general option or select from four concentrations: Finance, Hospitality Business Management, International Business, or Marketing. You also can develop the international experience that is so valuable in today’s business environment by opting for field study abroad. In addition to these benefits, the program offers the flexibility of online coursework.
Explore how WSU’s Online MBA program can help you achieve your business leadership goals.