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Will an MBA or Advanced Degree Help You Thrive in the Recession?

One Student's View

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Janice, from Santa Monica, CA, will be graduating this semester (Fall 2009), with an Economics degree. So far, most students graduating with an economics degree, or within her business department, are leaning towards internships or returning to school immediately.

I recently had the chance to interview Janice to get her thoughts on earning an MBA or another advanced degree during a recession. Here's what she had to say.

Can you tell us a little bit about the degree you are currently pursuing?

I recently graduated with an economics degree, which is pretty versatile compared to that of business management, yet requires the understanding of the same basic fundamentals. It is the upper level courses that get exciting when you see everything come together. Obviously, I cannot speak for all business departments but I feel that in economics you really pull all the information you’ve learned in the past and begin to apply them. Courses such as econometrics, money, and banking make me want to return for an MBA.

Are you worried about finding a job after graduation?

The current state of our economy has definitely made me rethink my next steps. I think you have to be concerned about finding a job that relates to the degree you’ve been working so hard to attain, and it is an unfortunate time for graduates because the demand for labor is already greater than what is available. Those who have experience, or have sharpened their skills in more than one area, will probably have the best luck; for others, they’ll have to settle for less desirable jobs. There are jobs out there, but it’s just more competitive and the wages are low. In turn, high wage jobs tend to be work that very few will fight for, and so many students will continue school to defer loans or avoid taking a job seen as a waste of time.

A lot of students in your position are considering returning to school immediately after graduation? Are you considering this path as well?

I’m definitely planning on taking a brief break for some R&R, but will then begin to prepare to take the GMAT, in the fall. It is important to open as many doors as you can right now since there is still a great amount of uncertainty as to when the economy will thrive again. It makes sense to further my education now. I have worked in the service industry since I was a teenager, preparing me in many regards, but now, I would like a job that puts all my hard work to use. I’m not looking for a dream job, just something that challenges my mind, since I have acquired all I can from the service industry, and it is now time to move on. If I can’t find a job that stimulates and challenges me, I’d prefer to return to school.

In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of staying in school during a recession?

The pros probably outweigh the cons in my mind, right now, although I’ve been eager to finish and enter a job that challenges and stimulates my mind in some way. The recession has enlightened those who have previously fallen behind with technological advancements, or simply cut corners, and we’ve seen their jobs dissipate. The same can be applied to students if there is an area you didn’t quite master, or seems important to seek further, as it will benefit you in the long run to continue your education. Those who simply cheated their way through will eventually fall behind.

The only con I can think of would be if you’ve never really had a job, or if you have only had a job working for a relative or family friend. In those cases, returning to school right away may not be the best approach. There is a lot that can be learned in these jobs. You may not realize it or be able to label what you’re learning before you sit in a business class but you’re gaining a lot of knowledge that can’t be taught sitting in a classroom.

Are you worried about getting into grad school now that admissions are becoming more competitive?

Now, more than ever, I find that it will definitely be harder to get into grad schools that are known for their academia. I will have to work that much harder to achieve a high GMAT score, and am planning to take more calculus courses at a community college in the mean time, to try and have a more competitive edge. I think the current economic climate will result in making everyone work harder to get what they want.

Are you worried about taking on additional debt to get an advanced degree?

Any debt from education can be seen as an investment, in my mind. So far, I have kept my student debts to a minimum, but grad school tends to be much pricier. Though I am not thrilled to run a deficit, I do however think that it may be the best alternative to killing yourself for a job that doesn’t contribute to your overall career. If you’re serious, and work hard, the debt shouldn’t be such a burden. A lot of students graduate and do get a great job but squander the money towards frivolous things when they could have been greatly reducing their debt. That’s where their financial issue stems from, otherwise it should be a great investment towards their future.

Do you have any tips or advice for the many students who are in your current position?

Any job can provide you with skills to be applied in the future, but not getting stuck there once you’ve acquired all that you can is tricky. If you don’t have any experience, it may be difficult to find a job right now that suits what you’re looking for after graduation. You should be open-minded and look for a job in a related industry that can help you acquire the necessary skills for the future. Chances are, you’ll be starting at the bottom anyway, the key is to get a jumpstart and just keep moving forward.
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