The Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA), a certification now more than a century old, is the most popular master’s degree, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, 185,222 master’s degrees in business were conferred, equal to nearly one-quarter of all master’s-level degrees granted that year. For comparison, the second-most popular master’s degree—education—resulted in 146,561 graduates.
The trend in the number of education degrees lagging behind business degrees is a relatively new theme. Prior to the 2010-2011 school year, education consistently took the lead. But the past six years have seen even greater emphasis on the importance of the MBA. It’s become the most successful degree over the past half-century, Fortune reported, and for good reason.
Companies seek out MBA grads
Demand for MBA holders always seems to be rising. According to the 2016 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report, 88 percent of corporate recruiter respondents said they plan to hire MBA graduates in 20163. In 2015, 80 percent of respondents actually did hire recent MBA grads.
In addition to having more doors open to MBA holders, the survey also found that the typical recent graduate may be in for a sizeable salary. Respondents said they planned to give new hires who have MBAs a median base salary of $105,000. This compares to 2015’s actual median base salary of $100,000.
Online job board company Monster reported that many postings on its site include the “MBA preferred” criterion. What many employers are looking for is a unique way of thinking and a specific skillset, Leslie Zurburg, human resources manager at Williams-Sonoma, told Monster.
“We are looking for the 50,000-foot view—the strategic thinker who takes an analytical approach,” she said.
When hiring managers see those three letters following a job applicant’s name, they know that person is a hard worker who is capable of looking at both the long- and short-term outcomes of a situation—a skill not everyone possesses, but every business needs.
“If you have a smaller company and you’re looking for directors, it would be a good idea to look for someone with a background as an entrepreneur,” Olubunmi Faleye, a professor at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business in Boston, told the Wall Street Journal.
A research paper written by Faleye, along with Wilson Kung and Jerry T. Parwada of the University of New South Wales in Australia, and Gloria Yuan Tian of the University of Lethbridge, Calgary Campus, in Canada, explained the benefit of having an entrepreneur involved on a board of directors, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Smaller companies are likely to see rising stock prices, positive revenue-growth rates and increasing long-term value nearly immediately after bringing an entrepreneur onto its board.
Professional problem solvers
Companies searching for the perfect candidate with an MBA are looking for more than just the initial boost to their business, though. According to the Corporate Recruiters Survey, the most common reason U.S. employers say they want MBA grads is for succession planning—67 percent of respondents indicated this reason.
Another 56 percent said MBAs would help their companies grow. Business acumen and innovative thinking were primary rationales for 55 and 52 percent of respondents, respectively.
Close to half said they sought out MBA grads for the simple reason that they know from experience how beneficial these hires are for the company.
“[MBAs have] professional training in problem solving,” John Pantano, the CEO and president of Radianse, a Massachusetts-based startup that provides hospitals with tools to track patients, doctors and staff, explained to Monster. “They know how to frame problems, ask questions and collect data.”
A graduate student’s training in problem solving and critical thinking is sought after by so many employers from such diverse industries, because it’s highly applicable to nearly any career path. U.S. News & World Report explained that some of the best business jobs like to see MBA applicants because they are capable of making tough, intelligent decisions.
For example, compliance officers and business operations managers can be found in just about any industry. What these industries all have in common is the need to keep their operations running smoothly and, most importantly, legally. Compliance officers help with the latter; business operations managers with the former. But either role can be filled with the right MBA.
Other industries covet MBAs because they are trained in difficult financial and other quantitative subjects. Harvard Business Review (HBR) pointed out that leadership and organizational skills have only made their way into most MBA programs in recent years, as a response to the growing need for interpersonal skills.
“The harder skills of finance and supply chain management and accounting and so on, I think those have become more standardized in management education, have become kind of what you think of as a hygiene factor: Everybody ought to know this,” Stanford Dean Garth Saloner said in an interview with McKinsey & Company.
He also noted that these math-related subjects don’t differ much between programs: Math is math, regardless of who’s teaching it. However, it’s the interpersonal skills that will set a candidate apart from his or her peers—and it’s those skills that will propel career growth in the future.
“The soft-skill sets, the real leadership, the ability to work with others and through others to execute—that is still in very scarce supply,” Saloner continued.
Personal growth complements career growth
Applying to a company with an MBA in hand from a well-respected institution like Northeastern University is certainly a good way to get a leg up on the competition, but there are many additional reasons to pursue this degree, HBR pointed out.
Upon leaving graduate school, a student doesn’t just have a new skillset. MBAs also have a new support network, filled with connections: professors, classmates and alumni, all of whom are eager to help their fellow colleagues out in the form of advice, references and job tips.
Forbes pointed out that grad school can also give a student exposure to lessons that are difficult to come by on your own or in undergraduate school. For example, it’s common for accomplished professionals to speak to a classroom full of MBA students about what brought them success.
Additionally, the professors will push students to think in new ways, explore problems they’ve never heard of, and in the end, many graduates find they have gained greater insight and understanding into important issues.
Pursuing an MBA isn’t for everyone, and it’s not a guarantee for success or salary increase. But in today’s job market, it has become abundantly clear that earning an MBA online or in the classroom is certainly an investment most people would be smart to make.