A woman wearing glasses reads from an open textbook. She's sitting at a table in a library. In the background are fellow students, also sitting with open books, and a lecturer in a suit, who is standing and talking.
An MBA is a tremendous commitment of time, money and work, but it can also greatly progress your career and complement your existing skill sets. — Getty Images/FatCamera

A Master of Business Administration tops Indeed’s list of the most in-demand advanced degrees. It’s also the most pursued. So, what, exactly, is this degree employers want and students strive for?

What is an MBA?

An MBA is verification of an advanced business education. It certifies a command of subjects such as finance, economics, accounting and ethics. MBA curricula equip students to lead an organization, contribute to a team and manage strategically.

In addition, MBA programs include a specific emphasis on a discipline of the student’s choice. Among the myriad available concentrations are international affairs, homeland security, health care administration, corporate innovation and entrepreneurship. Considering the aforementioned popularity of MBAs, the choice of discipline is an opportunity to separate oneself from the crowd by choosing a specialty that is in demand.

In addition to certifying your knowledge, an MBA announces the investment you’ve made. The time (often two years), money (tuition alone can total $150,000 at a top school) and effort you’ve spent mastering both the broad concepts and the fine details speak volumes about your level of commitment.

An MBA can be the differentiator that gets your resume a closer read or identifies you within your organization as having management potential. An MBA can impart the skills and knowledge necessary to launch your own business or supply you with the connections necessary to reboot a stalled career.

An MBA can be achieved in several ways, the most common being:

  • Full-time in-person attendance at a business school. As of 2016, there were 517 schools in the U.S. with AACSB accreditation. Some offer joint degrees, allowing students to pursue a legal, medical, international studies or other degree simultaneously with an MBA, typically in three years.
  • Part-time, either online or in-person. Keeping a day job doesn’t mean forgoing an advanced degree. According to U.S. News and World Report, many prestigious business schools offer part-time MBA options. While this track may take longer, maintaining an income stream while attending school could be the only practical plan.
  • Executive MBA. The way to go if you can manage it. Like part-time programs, Executive MBA programs are offered by top-level institutions and are structured for those with full-time jobs. Classes take place evenings and weekends and are often paid for by an employer.

[Read more: Do You Need an MBA? The Best MBA Programs Available]

In addition to certifying your knowledge, an MBA announces the investment you’ve made.

Who should get an MBA?

There are no easy answers here. There are arguments for and against spending the time and treasure required to earn an MBA, especially one from a top-tier institution. Ultimately, the decision requires some soul-searching, some gut-checking and some complex calculating. It’s an individual decision, and a tough one at that. Here are some circumstances that make pursuing an MBA worth considering:

  • You have a sponsor. If your employer is willing to pay your tuition and you can do the extra work, an MBA could mean greatly increased salary and broadened opportunities. Be sure to check the fine print; your employer most likely wants (and deserves) some guarantees in return for sponsoring your advanced education.
  • It’s about the knowledge. If your motivation is not the MBA itself, but the information you will garner in pursuit of it, why not get the acumen and the degree? In addition to the skills required to run a successful business, future entrepreneurs may find business school opens valuable networking opportunities. If this is your scenario, put your calculator away. It’s impossible to put a dollar value on any of that.

[Read more: How to Get a Degree in Entrepreneurship]

  • The timing is right—even if the times are all wrong. If you’ve always wanted an MBA and you have the means, pursuit of it might be your personal pandemic silver lining. You wouldn’t be alone. According to Bloomberg, those who have lost jobs or had hours curtailed due to the coronavirus have caused a surge in the number of MBA program applications.
  • The math works. The decision to pursue an MBA could be as easy as adding up the costs—tuition, room and board, lost wages—and subtracting them from the expected increase in salary. If you have a long career ahead, it could be a straightforward and very beneficial calculation.

No matter your current circumstance, pursuing an MBA is a big decision, with big consequences. Sorry to say, there’s no reason to expect it will be an easy one.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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