Is a Graduate Business Degree Necessary If You Studied Business in College?
Binghamton University, where I recently visited, has one of the better organized undergraduate business degree programs around. Yet when I asked a panel of excellent students and a dean if they believed that they would need a graduate business degree for career success, the dean said that they would, in order to advance further in their careers. In some ways I could quickly agree. In others I was not so sure.
A good undergraduate business degree program such as Binghamton’s combines classroom instruction, career and professional development programs, real-life problem solving opportunities and work experiences to offer the best possible preparation for full-time entry-level employment after graduation. A graduate should leave with a business degree that not only provides a skill set, but also a degree of confidence and a network that will support them for life.
But will these graduates really need a graduate business degree, or some equivalent?
- They will, if they want to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Prospective CPAs must earn 150 credits, mostly in business subjects, to practice in the state where they want to work. Depending on the number of credits earned towards a Bachelors degree in Accounting, the additional credits to sit the exam might be earned through a Masters degree in Accounting or through an MBA in Accounting and/or Finance. Those who have an undergraduate business specialty outside of Accounting may need to go the MBA route to switch into accounting.
- They will, if they want to change functions within their company. It’s quite common for Bachelors degree holders in areas such as Accounting or Information Systems to earn the MBA in another specialty if that will help them advance within their current employer. Some functions within a larger organization such as Human Resources or Information Systems are considered “staff” positions. They might be important and necessary for the firm, but are not likely to be a path to general management. Executives who advance to general management tend to come from the Finance, Marketing or Production Management functions of their company as well as their previous employers.
- They will, if it is the best way to take the advanced courses that they have not already taken in their field. Some business schools will offer masters degrees in traditional business disciplines such as Finance or Marketing that require fewer credits than the MBA, and the school might be conveniently located or offer the on-campus program as an online option. Other schools, while equally convenient, might only offer the advanced courses only as a concentration within the MBA.
- They will, if their employer is willing to invest in them. While it appears to be rarer for an employer to subsidize an advanced degree versus shorter training and certificate programs, it may invest through the duration of graduate business degree when an employee has strong potential.
Some might read this and be tempted to add: “They will, if they want to work for a ‘better’ employer,” whatever they believe that means. In some cases that’s true. Some of the most desired employers recruit at a limited number of schools. While a young professional’s undergraduate school might not have been a “target school,” for their desired employer, the right MBA program might help to open a door, presuming they get in. But sometimes that program requires a full-time commitment to education as opposed to a part-time or executive program where the student may remain employed. Such an experience is not exactly risk free, even for those who get into the very best graduate business schools.
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