Is the MBA the New Bachelor’s Degree?

Is the MBA the New Bachelor’s Degree?

By Kerry Knapp
Monster Contributing Writer

With MBAs growing steadily in popularity, more and more employers are requiring them as a matter of course, even outside traditional management-business-finance circles. In return, undergraduate degrees may be losing luster.

Could undergraduate degrees be destined for the same fate as high-school diplomas, quickly skipped over at job interviews? Has the MBA become “the new bachelor’s degree”?

The answer, it seems, is a resounding … “Depends!”

Two recruiters, two perspectives

According to Recruitment Supervisor Cindy Schwartz of Quantum Management Services, “MBAs have replaced the value that bachelor's degrees used to hold. However, they’re no guarantee of greater marketability in the workforce. You need relevant experience coupled with the right education to stand out among the competition.”

Gregg Blachford, McGill University’s Director, Career Planning Service, has a similar view. “Automatically requiring an MBA may be a cheap and easy way to hire, and some employers do that. But they’re not getting a full range of candidates. Good employers look more broadly and won’t exclude good candidates based on their degree alone.”

Our two recruitment specialists appear to agree that MBAs must be part of a complete skill package to deliver true value. Naturally, that applies to other degrees as well. The kind of degree you need to bring to the table will depend on your personal situation.

Taking a closer look

Answer the following questions to determine whether the MBA is the new bachelor’s degree for you!

What’s your field? Experts agree an MBA is most valuable if you’re in finance, business or management. In other fields, a bachelor’s degree may be perfectly sufficient to build a successful career.

What are your career goals? If you’ve set your sights on being a manager or entrepreneur, a bachelor’s degree may not give you the edge you need. An MBA delivers not only extra skills and know-how, but also an invaluable network of business contacts.

What do employers think? If every employer in your industry requires an MBA—whether it’s justified or not—your choice is clear. It’s no use swimming against the current. Watch out, though: in some positions, particularly middle management, an MBA may make you over-qualified and work against you.

Where do you work? If you’re based in one of Canada’s larger cities or willing to relocate there, an MBA is more likely to be an asset. If you live in a smaller town with few head offices, a bachelor’s may well be all you need.

What other initials have you got? In some industries, a professional designation (like CA for accountants, MRAIC for architects, etc.) in combination with a bachelor’s degree can provide a better return on investment than an MBA.

What else do you have to offer? One significant plus for MBA holders is what it says about them. Schwartz and Blachford believe that a master’s degree can show you have drive, discipline and perseverance. But they also agree that “employers don’t look solely for MBAs but for a combination of factors, including soft skills—leadership, communications, interpersonal skills, etc.—as evidenced by student activities and volunteer work.” Take stock of what you bring to the table and see where you stand.

Making the call

Deciding to do an MBA is a big decision, involving a huge investment of time, energy and money. While MBA tuitions in Canada average around $23,000, top-ranking schools like Rotman, Ivey or Queen’s can charge up to $60,000. And while an MBA can give your salary a boost, it no longer guarantees a $100,000+ salary like it used to.

Above all, remember that an MBA will only serve you well if it takes you where you want to go. As Blachford says, “If you do an MBA, make sure you know why you’re doing it and what your goal is.” Graduates’ expectations are high, and the degree may not always deliver. So if you go for it, do it for the experience and not just the benefits.