Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs have never failed to prompt debate. They’ve been talked about since their early 20th century development in America—when industrialisation triggered an increased desire for systematic approaches to management—to their decline after the recession in 2008. With the business sector coming under heavy fire, MBA programs were ripe for criticism; although this has since stabilised, there’s still been much discussion about whether taking up such a course is worth the risk. In this post, we look at some of the things you will need to consider in order to decide whether an MBA is the right choice for you and your budget.

Will You Get a Return on Your Investment?

Typically, an MBA is an incredibly costly program, so it’s wise to carefully consider if you’re likely to get a return on your investment. Assessing whether an MBA’s value is worth the cost is an inexact science, but most calculations show that top notch courses are still an effective way into the world of business. Thanks to their post-recession reassessment, there has been an obligation to update and expand program syllabi; meaning that an MBA today can still make the right graduates attractive to a range of employers in the constantly evolving business sector. It is important to emphasise however, that an MBA is a serious commitment, and one that should be undertaken with absolute certainty.

Do MBAs Make Unrealistic Promises?

Commonly, business courses promise increased career prospects and unfortunately there has been a recent increase in online MBA programs (some that aren’t officially recognised) making such claims. In reality, the majority of these offer few job opportunities and should be avoided.

Accept that getting into a program within a high ranking university is vital. In his book The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman says, “Business schools don't create successful people. They simply accept them, then take credit for their success”. This comical way of summing up the relationship between attentive scholar and business school demonstrates a way to check which program suits you, and find one that flaunts people you respect as alumni. The big hitters in the US are Harvard Business School, closely followed by the University of Pennsylvania. In the UK, London Business School and the University of Cambridge’s Judge Campus are the highest ranking. In Canada, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia both have great reputations and slightly lower fees.

Having said that, it’s a discouraging fact that future employers will care about your success on the program only as much as the name of the school you attended. Therefore it’s unwise to focus too much on the prices of schools at this early stage. The harsh truth is that low value MBA programs, especially those online aren’t trustworthy, whereas well-respected and consequently more expensive MBA courses offer genuinely favourable circumstances.

Alleviating the Cost of Business Study

Big business study costs big money, so unless you’re funded by family it’s important to have another income while you’re studying. Given the intensity of the program, working part-time shifts to subsidise study costs are a rare sight. A more realistic option would be to plan on specifically saving, possibly looking for supplemental sources of income outside of a full-time job a year or two prior to commencing your study. Getting the company you already work for to sponsor your MBA is another good plan of action, so be sure to discuss this with your superiors and find out if that’s an option.

Should you consider studying an MBA program part-time? There are pros and cons, and some believe that it’s a good investment. You must research the specific schools you plan on applying to though, in order to find out how much freedom you can get from the onslaught of study time. Many disgruntled students have described how full time hours are often expected of part time courses, which suggests that part time study could be a false economy. It’d be helpful to try and get in touch with anyone at your desired school who’s studying MBA part time, and get a sense of their experience.

Student Economy in the Fast Lane

You will have to adapt by shopping at cheaper supermarkets and cutting down on luxuries. Don’t worry, this demanding course will considerably decrease the time available to spend on self indulgence anyway!

Once you are on the MBA course and living as a business student, this is when you can consider your tight budget and prepare to live frugally. Living in a shared house will save you lots of money. Staying afloat and avoiding debt will be dependent on the community and associates you connect with while studying, so be supportive of fellow students and future colleagues and above all, enjoy saving together. Bear in mind that the experience of studying an MBA will be enhanced by the networking opportunities it will give you, so use what time you do have to take part in relevant business clubs and networking events.

Once you are on the MBA course and living as a business student, this is when you can consider your tight budget and prepare to live frugally.

Is it Possible to Do an MBA on a Tight Budget?

Despite studying an MBA on a shoestring budget being challenging, it’s worth remembering to treat business as a communal, commercial activity rather than your own personal occupation. In order to be successful in the business world, you will be spending a high percentage of your time and decision making in a team situation. The world has changed, and tomorrow’s business sector will hopefully continue to increase in responsibility and teamwork, leaving the vicious aspects of capitalism in the past.

If an MBA feels like the right route for you to take, seriously confront this career choice and decide whether it will be affordable as a long term investment. If it still feels appropriate, go for it. Believe in yourself and be prepared to commit to the course that will give you a chance to join and be successful in the business elite.

If an MBA feels like the right route for you to take, seriously confront this career choice and decide whether it will be affordable as a long term investment.

About the Author: As well as being a published author, Dan Petley has worked in the education sector supporting students with emotional and behavioural difficulties, a role that has required him to mentor students in choosing a suitable career path and applying to the correct courses. He also works with freelance artists in building a recognisable public identity through writing statements, biographies and funding applications.