Investing in yourself

SIM PING KHUAN assesses the intrinsic value of an MBA degree.


By Sim Ping Khuan, The Business Times

SIM PING KHUAN assesses the intrinsic value of an MBA degree.

PERHAPS you believe that the glamour of earning a Masters of Business Administration degree from a top-notch business school can really jump-start your business career. Or maybe you think that the training you receive from a prestigious and comprehensive MBA programme will prepare you well for your future endeavours. You may have also read the success stories from the prospectuses of some swanky business schools, and you think that you can be a success story yourself in time to come.

And if you have calculated the costs and decided that an MBA is definitely worth your time, effort and money, then it is time to prepare for your journey towards an MBA degree. You will face an array of MBA programmes and schools to choose from, and you will need to carefully examine your options to decide exactly which best caters to your academic needs and your career aspirations.

We look at why an MBA might be useful.

MBAs are arguably the most highly sought-after, but also some of the costliest, degrees in the education market. Financing is often the greatest obstacle to those who wish to pursue the MBA degree, as enrolling in a full-time MBA course will mean sacrificing one or two years' worth of job income, on top of forking out tens of thousands of dollars for the course itself.

In Singapore, the competition for the handful of scholarships available for MBA students is intense. In the US, MBA students are often expected to self-finance their education, even when the rest of their postgraduate counterparts can usually find ample financial assistance from universities.

Earning a good MBA degree is not just about paying the premium to look good and add a glow to your CV. Before earning the prestige and recognition an MBA brings, you will have to work hard throughout the duration of the course. A solid and rigorous MBA programme can indeed prepare you for your future career in the business or management sector.

Most MBA programmes offered by the brand-name schools usually have academically demanding curriculums. You will be expected to be proficient in market analysis and business economics. At the same time, through your association with your fellow MBA students, you can also pick up all the soft skills like marketing and networking.

Ng Choon Peng, who graduated from the Ross School of Business in the University of Michigan, says he had 'no regrets' spending two years pursuing his MBA degree, as the certification, and the two years of training attached to it, opens up doors for him to the corporate world. Mr Ng, who was previously aMajor in an armour battalion in the Singapore Armed forces, is now a sales/marketing director in Janssen-Cilag (Singapore), a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. He says that the MBA degree enabled him to make a smooth career transition from the military to the pharmaceutical industry. 'During my MBA course, I served an internship with a biotechnology company, which I performed well. After this, I received several good job offers from companies, and this was how I got my first break into the pharmaceutical industry.'

In particular, he says that the rigorous MBA education he received stood him in good stead. 'In my MBA course, we had to learn the hard skills', in which we were taught the core principles of marketing, among others. But the knowledge we received is not everything. We had to know how to get things done, and the MBA course at Michigan emphasized more on the practical application of knowledge. We were trained on our soft skills' such as networking and leadership. I believe my MBA certification has also validated my leadership position in the Singapore Armed Forces.'

Mr Ng considers his MBA education as a huge investment. He says that it is also difficult to determine whether the MBA education is worth the cost, in terms of the financial returns through bigger pay packets in the years to come. He does not feel the need to calculate the value of his education down to the last dollar and cent. 'The opportunity cost of an MBA education is great,' he says, but he adds that the education as a whole has added value to his life. If we focus only on the financial aspect of an MBA education, I think we will be missing the point.'

If you do get accepted into a prestigious MBA course, there will be additional privileges that come along with your MBA certification. First, you can get to network with some of the top young business minds in the region. So, while you will be busy during meal times crunching statistics, economic reviews and business cases, you may well be lunching with the future CEOs of some of Asia's most successful organisations.

Second, if you earn an MBA degree from reputable institutions like University of Michigan Ross School of Business, ESSEC, or an Ivy League university, it will set you apart from the rest of your peers. For example, if you have a Harvard MBA degree, it will signal to potential employers that you have not only been through a really strong MBA programme but that you have also passed through that university's stringent admission screening process. In a sense, if you have Harvard's stamp of approval, most employers will find it hard to doubt your business aptitude, ability and credibility.

Having said that, it is not easy to get admitted into a prestigious MBA course. NUS Business School and Nanyang Business School are both reputed to have highly competitive applicant pools, while Harvard Business School, with only an 11 per cent acceptance rate, is probably the most selective business school in the Ivy League. A concerted combination of a strong Grade Point Average (GPA) in university, an excellent Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) score, and sterling recommendations from university professors and employers will play an important part in your MBA admission process.

Recruitment firms and HR professionals feel that the glossy MBA degrees are not a substitute for a proven track record and experience. Still, despite the debate over the actual value of MBA degrees and arguments that MBA programmes are overhyped and costly, there is little doubt that MBA programmes still have pretty much to offer and will indeed add to the graduate's knowledge, increase his exposure and improve his career prospects. So, the best way is to think of an MBA education as an investment in yourself.

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