Want to Be a Master Of the Universe? Sorry, You Still Need to Get Your MBA

There has been a consistent and conspicuous decline in the number of MBA applicants over the past four years both in the United States and abroad. It is a trend that is yet again reflected in 2013’s data, with 62% of U.S. business schools having reported receiving fewer applications this year. Admittedly, this decline follows the sharp increase in application rates that emerged in 2008 and 2009 as a result of the recession. Yet this trend is nevertheless notable and it should force us to ask ourselves whether or not attaining an MBA is worth it anymore, and why so many Americans have decided that it isn’t.

With jobs in almost all sectors steadily becoming more available, albeit rather sluggishly, American college graduates are eager to immediately enter the work force to seize the jobs that are available and to begin paying off debts accumulated from student loans. For those interested in working in the financial sector, if substantial jobs are available without a business degree — which they often are not — then real-world experience largely functions as an equal educational experience as business school.

A previous job in a similar position to which one is applying is indeed an impressive credential for advancing one’s career. However, one must obtain this job first. And although the application rates of the nation’s business schools have decreased, the crop of MBAs matriculating each year from top programs has remained consistent. A student entering the economic workforce for the first time will not have the telling credential of a business degree that others will, and this omission is a liability.

Perhaps the skills and experiences that are collected over the course of an official business school education are not singular and may be replicated, if not trumped, by the skills and experiences that are collected in the workforce. Regardless, an MBA is often a necessary credential in the eyes of the nation’s top firms, banks, and companies.

There are simply too many other students who are earning their MBAs for one to responsibly forgo that process if one wants to pursue a career in business. Although it might no longer offer students the same advantage over their competitors that it used to, an MBA’s absence is both visible and curious. With higher education becoming increasingly available, a trend supported by the increasingly myriad student-loan and financial-aid options, a graduate degree is no longer an overwhelmingly impressive qualification, but rather an expectation.

It is not for the hopeful employee to determine the worth of a specific qualification — it is the power of the employer to do so. There is no doubt that many of the nation’s top employers in finance expect and appreciate seeing an MBA on their applicants’ resumes. Earning an MBA behooves almost all eager future businessmen and women and, despite its hefty price tag, is a well-paid investment once exploited in the private sector.