Is An MBA Worth It (In Australia)?

There are no shortcuts, but there are tailwinds.

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Last updated: May 2nd, 2024

is an mba worth it australia

Last updated: May 2nd, 2024

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Getting an MBA can feel like a necessary rite of passage if you plan to pursue executive roles — but is it worth the time and expense? While business schools may no longer be a ‘boy’s club’ due to cheaper and more accessible programs on the market, it’s fair to say the MBA has lost its lustre.

That’s because the implied path to success is less clear-cut.

The journey from MBA graduate to ‘big four’ consulting firm employee to CFO is now a cliché rather than a norm.

Hiring managers recognise that a business school education doesn’t necessarily translate into commercial acumen and strong leadership skills.

Still, there are cases where an MBA can help you rise through the ranks – if you select a quality program and have a smart career strategy.

Did you Know?

More than 30 Australian universities offer an MBA program. Up to 80% of students in some MBA courses are international students.

What’s An MBA?

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a postgraduate degree that provides you with a broad base of skills that you need to run a large business. It often includes experiential field trips or work placements.

Typical areas of study in top MBA programs include:

  • Business strategy and leadership.
  • Finance and the economy.
  • Design / systems thinking.
  • Governance and ESG.
  • Marketing and customers.
  • Technology, industry 4.0 and digital trends.
  • Data analytics and decision-making.

What’s An Executive MBA?

Some universities also offer what’s known as a Global or Executive MBA (EMBA).

These programs include similar coursework but are specifically targeted at senior managers and executives who are unable (or unwilling) to take time off work.

EMBAs, therefore, are usually designed to fit around full-time work.

Furthermore, while MBAs focus on creating a broad base of business acumen through an immersive experience, EMBAs focus more narrowly on leadership skills.

(Related: What Are The Hardest Jobs In The World?)

EMBAs can limit networking upsides as they offer fewer electives and encourage a cohort-based study model where you interact with the same group of peers throughout the program.

Expert Tip.

Adding an EMBA to your resume could look like an incongruous attempt to revive a stagnating mid-management career. Ensure that the degree aligns with your career trajectory and that you’re in a position to leverage your new skills.

Is An Online MBA Worth It?

No.

Even though technology has created a new niche of “affordable” MBAs, often marketed as “An MBA you can finally afford”, remember that the name of the business school you attend determines which doors open for you and which do not.

MBA students who graduate from prestigious business schools benefit from the following:

  • An improved personal brand.
  • Strong professional network of high performers (more on this shortly).

Expert Tip.

Don’t fall into the sales pitch of online MBAs that promise you “the same education as elite MBA schools”. Corporate recruiters and hiring managers will not view these degrees in the same light.

How To Apply For An MBA Program?

Prepare to jump through a few hoops.

MBA programs – especially those offered by top-tier business schools like the AGSM – have considerable barriers to entry.

(This is good news – I’ll explain why shortly).

As well as having a bachelor’s degree and some work experience, business schools will ask you to submit an essay that explains your motivations.

For example:

  • QUT’s MBA program requires a minimum of three years work experience, including at least one year as a manager. QUT also asks applicants to explain how they’ll balance their work, study and life commitments and to describe their ‘leadership philosophy’.
  • Macquarie University expects applicants to have a bachelor’s qualification with a WAM of 6.5 and 3 years of full-time experience at a managerial level.

Important!

Top-tier universities may request that you submit a GMAT score above 650. This test is administered online by the Graduate Management Admission Council, and is designed to test your cognitive abilities. A high score increases the likelihood of your application being accepted. The test costs USD$250 and is available on MBA.com.

How Long Does An MBA Take To Complete?

Most MBA programs offered by Australian universities can be completed in two years, but there are accelerated programs that condense learning across one.

For example:

  • University of New South Wales’ top-rated Australian Graduate School of Management MBA program can be completed in one year, studying full-time on campus, with a 24-month ‘extension’ version where the second year includes an internship and research project.
  • Deakin University’s MBA takes 1.5 years full-time, delivered face-to-face and online.
  • Monash University offers a Global Executive MBA with an intensive 15-month program, with a series of one-week residential modules often held across weekends — three of which happen overseas.

Important!

Many universities offer flexible options so you can complete an MBA degree part-time.

How Much Does An MBA Cost In Australia?

In Australia, an MBA degree requires an investment of between $40,000 and almost $100,000. Costs vary significantly, depending on which university is delivering the program.

Business SchoolFull-Time MBA Fees
Melbourne University$84,000
Macquarie University$84,000
AGSM$81,720
University of Queensland$80,208
Sydney University$76,500
Bond University$65,530
Western University$47,164
Australian Institute Of Management$40,440

Expert Tip.

EMBAs tend to be about 25% more expensive than equivalent MBA programs from the same university. For instance, the Executive MBA from The University of Melbourne — Australia’s top-ranked institution in the global QS World University Rankings — is $119, 700.

Can I ask my employer to pay for my MBA?

Yes, but this depends on your performance and the employer.

As a rule of thumb, you must be a high-potential employee (HiPo) at an ASX-listed company or equivalent business with a global reach.

Major consulting firms like McKinsey and Bain, for example, typically expect an MBA degree as a pre-requisite for a promotion to a Senior Consultant, and will make generous contributions towards fees in exchange for extended service.

The typical arrangement is: we’ll cover your MBA fees if you return to the firm for at least 2 years immediately after your studies.

Speak to your employer about co-funding your study via a professional development budget. You’ll have a stronger case if the company has identified you as a HiPo and sees you in its succession plans.

In addition to contribution towards MBA fees, you could negotiate using paid time for study or to attend field trips.

Expert Tip.

Universities are not created equal. An MBA from AIM is not the same product as an MBA from AGSM. They differ in terms of structure, areas of study, reputation, faculty expertise, industry focus and calibre of companies offering work placements. Balance fees against potential rewards, many of which are tied to prestige as much as the content of the program.

What Does An MBA Give You (That You Can’t Get Elsewhere)?

Beyond the know-how gleaned through coursework, there are two good reasons to apply for an MBA program:

  • You grow professionally by gaining exposure to new ideas, engaging with peers and creating new networks.
  • Your perceived market value increases as a result of having a business qualification.

Expert Tip.

Start with a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and be honest about what attributes or skills you need to get there. An MBA is just one means to an end—don’t be fooled into thinking it will give your career direction.

3 Key Benefits Of An MBA Degree:

  • ‘Ticking a box’ to be eligible for a dream job or promotion. Some executive roles might mandate or tacitly expect an MBA. Be aware that holding an MBA signals a certain level of ambition that could make you less attractive for positions where it’s seen as overkill.
  • Being able to quickly pivot into a business-focused career. Let’s say you’re a high performer who’s been promoted through technical expertise in a niche field, but you want to move into executive management roles or entrepreneurship. The strategic nature of an MBA means you can apply learnings across almost every industry or business type.
  • Having a universally portable degree. Employers and recruiters around the world understand how an MBA shapes a person’s skills, which can be useful if you want to work overseas. Australian business schools are also well-regarded, especially within the Oceania region.  

Important!

Your fellow graduate business school students become your network, so be aware of the company you keep. For instance, University of Sydney MBA alumni and now MD of IBM Australia Nicholas Flood recently shared on LinkedIn to his 7,500+ followers how he returned to the university to speak with its MBA and EMBA cohort about AI adoption.

Does An MBA Degree Actually Improve Your Salary?

Global research finds the average MBA graduate increases their salary by as much as 77%, with many Australian MBA graduates capable of earning considerably above $150K post-graduation.

There are always caveats.

Income boosts from an MBA may be more substantial in industries like financial services, or with employers such as multinationals or large consulting firms.

One study found that in Australia, those with a master’s degree can attract salaries up to 30% higher than people with a bachelor’s degree.

But such figures should be taken with a grain of salt, because postgraduate students are more likely to be older and have more experience — which can be a more significant factor in increased earning potential.

A 2022 report on graduate outcomes in Australia, based on a sample of more than 130,000 recent graduates, found the median salary for postgraduate coursework graduates was $91,600.

Important!

Given that a median represents the middle of a range, it’s helpful to remember that 50% of graduates earn less than this figure. 

The Case Against MBA Programs.

Why do MBAs get stigmatised in the mainstream media?

The Runaway success of MBA-less a few tech entrepreneurs is partly to blame. After all, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg don’t have MBAs and appear to be doing OK.

(Related: 7 Tips For Mastering Your Executive Presence).

But when we sidestep survivor bias, we can recognise that a business degree is not a magic wand that is guaranteed to improve your salary or save a sinking career:

  • An MBA doesnt guarantee success or a higher wage. So, it’s not simply a matter of weighing up the potential career advancement and income gains against the cost of the MBA.
  • Qualifications are just one facet of your suitability for high-paying leadership positions. What will actually impress employers and recruiters will vary and depth of experience and personal brand can often be more important than a postgraduate degree.
  • MBAs can be viewed as too conventional or an act of self-aggrandisement. Your choice to do an MBA may indicate a poor culture fit within some agile or progressive workplace cultures.

(Related: Aussie Public Holidays You Must Know About).

An MBA Degree Is Not A Silver Bullet.

Be pragmatic about how the qualification will help you reach your specific career goals:

  • Be crystal clear about the kind of role you want to hold, and the type of organisations you want to work for. Then research the backgrounds, experiences, networks and qualifications of those you aspire to emulate, or people favoured by your dream company.
  • Evaluate your professional development needs. What’s holding you back right now? What future skills will be in demand? What soft skills do you need to work on? Then, search out the best match for efficiently building the attributes you need.

For instance, it is possible that you might get more ROI by hiring a communications coach to help you become more articulate and persuasive.

(Related: Complete Guide to Setting Career Goals).

How To Make The Most Of An MBA Program.

Your choice of business school and your mindset will greatly impact the level of ROI you obtain from your MBA degree.

MBA graduates who get the most from their programs:

  • Choose a business school with high barriers to entry. Prioritise business schools with strong name recognition, where you’ll rub shoulders with high performers and become part of alumni that’s going places.
  • Pursue skills that align with career aspirations. Don’t study to find a purpose — study to realise a goal. Choose program components based on their ability to prepare you for a specific career direction.
  • Obtain buy-in from your family. Studying for an MBA takes effort. You’ll need to pare back on personal hobbies and have the support of your partner to ensure you can continue to manage your household responsibly.

Final Thoughts On The Value Of An MBA In Australia.

Graduate business school education covers more than just business theory. It teaches you to demonstrate a growth mindset, improve your confidence, and – hopefully – helps you make your way into the right networks.

  • Business school graduates tend to rave about their MBA experience.
  • Meanwhile, people who have never studied a graduate degree in business tend to be more sceptical.

Who is right?

The classic rhetoric around MBAs gives the impression it’s the best shortcut to upper-level positions. And it’s somewhat true. For some jobs, an MBA may be a prerequisite for getting your foot in the door.

Yet, a lack of an MBA won’t necessarily limit your ability to land an executive role – if you have strong communication, leadership, and finance skills backed up by the commercial acumen you gained on the job.

Steven

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