MBA Degree Overview
A widely-demanded credential in financial services is the MBA. The key question is how necessary it is.
Many jobs for which an MBA is either required or strongly advised do not really need it. Rather, it frequently is used as a filter to reduce the candidate pool to a manageable size, weeding out (though not necessarily with complete success) less qualified applicants. Indeed, in many respects, requiring the MBA for certain jobs is an alternative to administering a standardized test as a screening device.
The fact of life is that, without an MBA, you are somewhat limited in your career prospects, especially if you expect to work in major corporations.

Quality of MBA Programs
The quality of MBA programs varies widely, even among those accredited by such bodies as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). For example, accredited programs can offer vastly different amounts of classroom instruction, ranging from 33 to 60 credit hours (see "Some MBAs are more equal than others," Financial Times, 5/3/2010).
Online MBA programs can seem attractive for the student who is budget-constrained, time-constrained, or who needs maximum scheduling flexibility. However, online MBA programs offer highly limited interaction with instructors and fellow students compared to traditional in-classroom MBA programs, and such interactions are often a key component of the learning experience.

Return on Investment for an MBA

The December 10, 2008 edition of The Wall Street Journal ran an article about the return on investment (ROI) from attending an executive MBA (EMBA) program. The concept is equally valid (and important) for evaluating conventional full-time MBA programs. The calculations developed for the WSJ article depend on these assumptions:
- The MBA program attended and its cost
- The amount of tuition and fees paid by your employer
- The increase in salary that you can expect from graduating the program, based on median results from other respondents
The median results reported by graduates of a given program must be adjusted in light of your own circumstances. Moreover, your own analysis should be conducted on an after-tax basis. Any salary increase attributable to receiving an MBA will be reduced by income and payroll taxes, whereas your expenditure on tuition and fees is likely to be non-deductible.
One of the chief findings in this article is that lesser-known, less-renowned executive MBA programs often offer the best ROI. What the article fails to say, however, is whether the ROI will differ based on where you work. That is, these programs that are less-renowned nationally may have strong local reputations, and the ROI results may be skewed if their graduates are thus overwhelmingly local. In other words, if you travel cross-country to go to one of these high ROI programs, you may not get the same results back in your home region as do the local attendees. That is another factor that should have been controlled for, difficult as it is. Despite all these caveats, this article is a useful reminder that you should engage in detailed empirical analysis of the costs and benefits of augmenting your credentials, be it through a regular MBA, an executive MBA, or other means.

MBA Program Reform and Rethinking
The HBS Alumni Bulletin (from the Harvard Business School) reports in its September 2008 issue that major MBA program are radically rethinking their curricula. The article contends that increasing numbers of academics, alumni, students and companies are all dissatisfied with the general quality of MBA education, even in elite programs. The author claims that in the 1960s and 1970s MBA programs generally imparted cutting-edge knowledge, but that it's been largely downhill from there.
The author quotes a partner at a top consulting firm who asserts that a bright young associate with five years' experience at his firm would advance just as quickly by staying put, as by getting an MBA. This anecdote, however, conflicts with the general trend by which employers (especially top consulting firms) increasingly insist upon the MBA as the admission ticket to the best jobs.
This points out that there are some organizations that buck the trend, like that unnamed consulting firm. When considering whether to pursue an MBA yourself, first research closely the sort of employers and career paths that interest you most. Look for related job postings and see what academic credentials are required, and what are simply recommended. Only after you do that can you make a truly informed choice about whether an MBA really will enhance your career prospects. And remember, there are no guarantees and plenty of exceptions to every rule.