Ready for a career change? How an MBA degree could help

BY Kara DriscollApril 29, 2021, 3:00 AM
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When Adriana Bokel Herde began pursuing an MBA degree, she was working in human resources at a top U.S. health care company. Within one year of graduation, she had jumped to an executive role at a startup.

“Getting your MBA can be a vehicle of change,” Bokel Herde says. “It’s gaining the confidence to be bolder. You have that differentiator.”

Bokel Herde enrolled in a hybrid online MBA program at the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2015. While in school, the then HR professional tailored her degree to focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. And after graduating in 2017, Bokel Herde’s experiences at Sloan inspired her to jump into executive roles at fast-growing companies and startups. Today she serves as the chief people officer at Pegasystems, an American software company based in Cambridge, Mass.

Bokel Herde’s experience underscores the varied ways an online MBA degree can lead a professional to build on their current career trajectory or change industries altogether. Like Bokel Herde, many professionals who pursue an online MBA find that the flexible format allows them to progress in their industry while gaining practical skills—like strategic thinking, communication skills, and versatility—to qualify for a promotion or transition to a new career.

Approximately 76% of MBA graduates are satisfied with their career progression, according to a survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council. The survey, conducted in 2018, is widely referenced within the business school community. 

As MBA graduates gain more job experience, they tend to rise to higher job levels, according to the survey. Of those surveyed, 49% of newer graduates—who completed their degrees in 2016 or 2017—found themselves in mid-level roles, while 23% were already working in senior-level positions. 

“You meet people in your program that open new opportunities up to you. They also open companies or hire other people that they’ve met through the MBA program,” Bokel Herde says. “It’s that networking component.”

Online MBAs serve professionals looking to grow in various industries

Overall, MBA grads flock to sectors such as finance, consulting, technology, accounting, and industrial products and services after completing their degree. MBA programs that typically incorporate at least some type of an online component see 14% to 16% of grads going into the technology industry and 11% to 12% working in health care. At the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, part-time MBA graduates are most likely to enter roles in finance and consulting, according to data from an alumni survey.

Business school administrators say both technology and health care offer considerable growth opportunities for professionals with an MBA.

Online and traditional MBA programs can serve professionals looking to pivot to a new industry or transition to a leadership role, according to Walter Davis, faculty director of MBA programs and professor of management at the University of Mississippi School of Business Administration

“We see a lot of health care professionals, ranging from doctors to nurses, who have an interest in health care administration and see a value in this type of degree,” Davis says.

Many professionals with degrees and experience in marketing, financial management, and project management make up a large percentage of MBA students at Ole Miss, Davis says. But there’s a rising cohort of students with backgrounds in military service, engineering, and other fields unrelated to business management.

“We’re seeing many students who don’t have a traditional business background, and they’re wanting a business degree,” Davis says. “It can be a really good option for someone with a specialized background, perhaps other than business. But they want to move on or move up within their organization. This is their chance to do so.”

Online MBAs often lead to career changes, career advancement  

While online MBAs are growing in popularity among all adults, the flexibility of online programs typically attracts an established professional. The average online MBA student is usually in his or her late-twenties to mid-thirties and holds a full-time position.

MBA-level students are often eager to enter the job market or make a career change, says Lorna Patches, executive director of the Professional Resource Center at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics. She has experience in relationship management with Fortune 100 companies, and often works with students to ensure their MBA experience sets them up for career success

With an increase in online MBA programs, Patches says, prospective MBA students must do their research to find a reputable program that works for their individual needs—and is accredited. The three top accrediting agencies for MBA programs are the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE).

“You want to be able to access a robust network of alumni and students, and you want to have great people helping you learn throughout the program,” Patches says. “Find a program with a curriculum that meets your needs. If you are interested in health care, there is a program for that. If you are interested in focusing on supply chain management, find a program that is tailored to that.”