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MBA for the career and salary win

MBA

Tired of the corporate lifestyle, Margo Schlossberg yearned to start her own business. The lessons she learned while earning her MBA degree serve her daily, the Vienna, Va.-based owner of KuraDesign Handbags says.

"My brain is trained to think about what the core problem is, and then look outside for additional problems -- just as the diagram in my strategic management class taught us," she says.

Schlossberg, like many students with several years of work experience, places a great deal of importance on earning an MBA degree. A recent poll of prospective MBA students finds that older students primarily seek a full MBA, while younger graduates -- particularly those in their mid-20s who lack work experience -- often seek master's degrees.

Demand remains strong for MBA degrees

The Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the test for admission into more than 5,300 graduate management programs around the world, surveyed more than 16,000 prospective business school applicants who registered on mba.com in 2011. The site is the online portal into the Graduate Management Admissions Test.

Among the key findings of the 2012 Prospective Student Survey:

  • Demand remains steady for MBA degrees: 55 percent of applicants were only interested in a master's of business administration degree, while 18 percent sought only a master's degree.
  • Younger students seek master's degrees: More than half the applicants to management, finance or accounting programs were age 24 or younger.
  • Increased career and salary opportunities are leading factors for motivation to earn an MBA degree.
  • Paying for the high cost of earning an MBA degree is the primary concern for all applicants, regardless of age or gender.

Michelle Sparkman-Renz, director of research communications for the GMAC, says that candidates in their later 20s and older are most often interested in earning an MBA degree because they have the work history required for admission into most business schools. Younger students, she says, are leading to a rise in master's in management programs because they simply don't have the lengthy professional work history.

"The growth for master's programs is because of the youth swell and youths interested in business," Sparkman-Renz says. A lot of younger candidates are women who don't have work experience. It fits within the traditional profile of who is likely to be in an MBA program."

Business school applicants who are 27 and older, Sparkman-Renz says, are battle-tested survivors of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. They have made it through, and they are interested in advancing their careers.

Motivations for MBA degree candidates

More than 60 percent of students polled in the 2012 Prospective Student Survey say that the chance for a better job, increased salary potential, and the opportunity to use and demonstrate their knowledge and skills were primary factors in their decisions to seek an MBA degree. More than half the students polled said they wanted to earn an MBA degree to have a greater level of personal satisfaction with their careers.

The GMAC expanded the 2012 poll to include questions about job opportunity and salary potential, categories which trumped all other factors for students seeking masters in business administration degrees, Sparkman-Renz says.

"The current job market speaks to the conditions and the environment that sets some of the conditions for students to make their decisions," she says. "The desire of growing job opportunities and growing their salary potential speaks to the tough economic times and the value attributed to a business degree to help them stay above others in the job market."

Paying for an MBA degree causes consternation

Almost half of all business school applicants worried about meeting the tremendous financial obligations of an MBA degree program -- a factor that largely affects their decision of choosing a school. Students are more hesitant to take on a heavy debt load as well and expected to lean on personal savings and financial support from their parents rather than rely on loans, grants, scholarships or fellowships. Degree costs vary by school, but the average cost for an MBA is between $80,000 and $130,000 -- a hefty sum to be sure.

"When asked about what reservations they have, it is universal that money and debt were the number one concerns by region, by gender and by age," Sparkman-Renz says. "Funding definitely has an impact on the decision-making of students in general and also where they want to go."

Many prospective students were interested in online MBA degree programs. Among the main factors for pursuing an online MBA degree were quality, convenience of class schedules, and course type. Students interested in online degree programs also were much less interested in the school's national ranking and job placement, Sparkman-Renz says.

More than a quarter of a million GMAT exams -- 258,192 -- were delivered to prospective students during the 2011 testing year, the third-highest level ever.