An MBA, or Master of Business Administration, is one of the most economically and socially valuable degrees you can pursue. MBA graduates are faced with a multitude of employment opportunities after finishing school. Yet they can also find it difficult to get a lot of value out of their MBA compared to more rigid degree paths, like those for STEM careers or trade schools.

Today, let’s go over how you can maximize your MBA’s value before school and right after graduation.

Things You Can Do While Still At School

Even while you are still finishing your MBA, there are things you can do to maximize your success at school and increase the value of your MBA after you graduate.

Network, Network, Network!

First and foremost, making networking one of your biggest priorities is critical. Any MBA degree’s ultimate value, and the success of the degree holder themselves, is predicated on the network of the individual. Put another way, your MBA’s academic value is second to the social connections you can make while in the university environment.

This isn’t true for all degrees, of course. STEM degrees that focus on hard sciences have a lot of value for their raw academic rigor and the knowledge they impart to their students. But MBA degrees, while being academically valuable, are also extremely sought after because those who hold them have connections in the business world.

We’re not just talking about your colleagues or peers; faculty members or mentors that you might have picked up while earning your MBA are super important once you get into the real world and look for a job. In business, knowing who might be looking for someone with your qualifications or who can team up with you for your startup idea is necessary for long-term success.

Thankfully, many MBA curriculums are designed with all this in mind, implementing workshops and group projects to teach students how to coordinate with one another.

But outside the academic curriculum, you should also be networking every chance you get. This means joining student clubs or on-campus organizations, participating in class competitions, or being a representative for a Greek organization at your school. You can also (and would benefit from) assuming leadership roles whenever possible, as you’ll gain more contacts this way than if you are another follower.

Be prepared to break out an address book or keep a detailed file of all your connections and everyone’s contact information. Once you graduate, you’ll be glad that you remembered to stay in touch with all your friends and business school peers. It’ll make finding a job after graduation that much easier and will help you reach greater heights of success.

Practice Leadership

Speaking of leadership, we would strongly recommend practicing it whenever you can. While not everyone can be a natural leader, everyone can learn certain leadership skills that allow them to become managers in their field or organization. While skilled workers of any discipline have their own value, leaders are much rarer and thus much more valuable.

Getting an MBA automatically places you above those with just a bachelor’s degree in business. Even consider the full name of the MBA: a Master of Business Administration. True to the curriculum of most of these programs, an MBA will teach you how to manage other people and head business organizations capably.

Practicing these skills while you aren’t in a full hypercompetitive business environment is crucial if you aren’t a natural leader. You can do this by becoming the leader of a student organization or heading up a class project. The point of all this practice is that you’ll be better prepared to be a leader in your job after graduation than if you let your leadership skills stagnate while in school.

Internships

Another big thing you can do to maximize your MBA value while in school is to pursue internships opportunities. Internships may not pay you a stipend the way a teaching assistantship will, but they have extra benefits for MBA students.

Namely, they give you practical work experience directly related to your field of business and they allow you extra networking opportunities. In many cases, places you intern while at will offer you a job after you graduate depending on how impressed they are with your skills and dedication.

Even if you don’t get an automatic job offer from your internship after you receive your degree, you’ll still be able to place that on your résumé as valuable work experience. This then makes it that much easier for you to get callbacks and interviews for other positions. In this day and age, most worthwhile employers want people with some experience, even for starting positions. Internships are one of the ways to qualify for these requirements without technically having held a paid job in the business sphere before.

Earn Certificates

An MBA qualifies you to do a lot, but one thing it doesn’t always do is give you very specific skills that certain jobs might want from an applicant. Many universities allow their students to pursue and complete certificates highlighting certain skills or qualifications they can then put on their resume. These are things like certain types of computer programming or networking, administrative skills, second languages, and more.

Prioritize Relevant/Interesting Classes

Finally, while you are still earning your MBA, we would recommend prioritizing relevant or interesting classes that you feel personally invested in. Depending on the MBA program you are enrolled in, you may also be able to specialize your degree in a certain concentration, like leadership or finance.

The reason we’d recommend prioritizing interesting classes is so you can better understand what field of business you want to go into after you graduate. Business is one of the broadest subjects you can possibly study while at school. But while this versatility is a strength in terms of your employment opportunities, having a concentration, or at least a general idea of what you want to do, will make your after-graduation job search much more manageable.

More importantly, most people aren’t satisfied by just collecting a paycheck every day. They want to do something that at least interests them tangentially. To that end, taking classes that focus on your interests may allow you to tailor your degree to a specialty that will interest you are the long-term.

This will give you better personal value from your MBA degree. But there’s also a chance that it will result in greater monetary returns over time since you’ll be more invested in your career and will, theoretically, put that much more effort forward toward progress.

After Graduation Strategies

Once you graduate with your MBA in hand, there are other ways you can maximize its value and get the most bang for your buck.

Use Your Alumni Network

Practically every university that offers a halfway decent MBA program also has an extensive alumni network that spans the United States and beyond. This alumni network is one of the softer but incredibly valuable perks of attending a university in the first place.

Think of it has a built-in network of colleagues and peers you can rely on even if you haven’t met most of the members in person. The majority of alumni networks have their own websites, organizations, charities, events and other special things that distinguish them from other networks. You can use these to meet new people, find other professionals in your field, and possibly even find employment after graduation.

In fact, many alumni networks try to recruit exclusively from within their own graduate school whenever possible. People have a tendency to choose people from the “in-group” whenever they can, and college graduates are a good standard when other groups aren’t available. It doesn’t necessarily make sense from a logical point, but a Harvard graduate is more likely to hire another Harvard graduate, all other things on an application being equal.

You can and should use this to your advantage as much as possible. The job market is competitive, even for a versatile field like business. Use your alumni network to get job interviews, network and come up with business partnerships and opportunities, and find mentors that can guide you along your career path. Just like with networking, a big part of the value of any MBA is the social opportunity it provides.

Pay Off Debt Quickly

It’s a very good idea to pay off as much of your student debt as quickly as you can as soon as you get steady employment. While it may be especially tempting to buy all the luxury items you’ve been thinking about while at school (especially if you went straight into college after high school), we’d urge you to resist this temptation.

Student debt piles up quickly but can quickly vanish into the back of your mind while you are finishing your studies. As soon as you graduate and find steady employment, you’re required to start paying off those loans at a certain minimum amount.

Yet paying only the minimum amount is not always the best idea depending on your interest rate and other details of your contract. In many cases, you’ll end up paying exorbitantly more for your student loans if you only pay the minimum amount instead of aggressively paying down that debt.

Paying down your debt hard and fast doesn’t necessarily increase the amount of money you make from your MBA in the short term. But it does increase your lifetime earnings from the MBA and allows you to benefit from extra value in later years.

This timeframe doesn’t even have to be all that long, comparatively. It’s entirely possible to live frugally and on a tight budget to pay off your student debt from six years of college within a decade or less. It all depends on your financial skills, how much money you make from your career, and any promotions you receive over the following decade.

Even paying slightly more than the minimum amount on your loans is a good idea in the long term. Plus, it affects your credit score and will allow you to take out the loans, like the kind you need for a house, that much more quickly and reliably.

Focus on a Sector You Care About

Related to our earlier tip about choosing classes you’re interested in, we’d also stress that you should focus on a business sector or industry you’ll enjoy spending time in once you have your MBA. Business opportunities come in all types and industries, ranging from finance to computers to farming to manufacturing and much more. With all these choices available, many MBA graduates simply find the first job that’ll accept their application and start working.

If you have the time and self-understanding, it’s a great idea to look for a sphere or industry that you personally appreciate. If you already have a concentration for your MBA, like finance, then you’ve already got a place to start looking: MBA jobs in the finance sector.

While it’s true that some business industries offer greater lifetime financial returns than others, you can’t always replace the personal value that working in a field you enjoy brings to your life. Remember, you’re going to spend the majority of your adult years working around eight hours a day five days a week. In our opinion, it’s a much better deal to take a slightly lesser paycheck while working at a place or in an industry you appreciate than it is to make more money but be miserable for most of the week.

Conclusion

All in all, an MBA is one of the degrees that truly exemplifies the phrase: you get out of it what you put into it. It’s not like a STEM degree, where an engineer can get a degree and immediately start making six figures if he or she gets tired at the right company. MBA degree holders can find great success, but only if they focus on curating a great network of peers and are proactive when it comes to new business opportunities and advancement.

Follow the above tips, and you’ll be much more likely to get a lot of value out of your MBA both before you graduate and right after. Good luck!

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