Planning for Your MBA

The MBA degree is one of the world's most popular and beneficial educational credentials. The MBA is commonly referred to as a "business" degree, but some of today's best MBA programs actually prepare students for careers in business, government and not-for-profit organizations.

Understanding the benefits of an MBA education and selecting the right MBA program for your goals are important decisions. Follow the links below for general information and resources that can help you plan for your MBA education.

Benefits of an MBA

An MBA education offers the opportunity to gain the knowledge and experience needed to build a new set of possibilities for your future -- it's a way of getting from where you are to where you want to be. A variety of surveys of MBA students indicate that students generally pursue an MBA to achieve one or more of the following goals:

  • Increase knowledge of management
  • Develop management skills
  • Increase career choices and opportunities
  • Improve personally
  • Increase earning power

These benefits are becoming even more important because the world is changing. It is getting bigger, better, tougher and faster - and MBA programs are changing to meet the challenges. Two major changes in MBA education are "early career MBA opportunities" and "experiential learning." The Willamette MBA is a national leader in both these areas.

MBA - When to Go

If the knowledge and experience you will gain from an MBA is required for the career you desire and your career goals are clear - then you should begin your MBA education as soon as possible. Why? Because, financially and professionally, the return on investment of an MBA is highest early in your career. Completing your MBA early in your career provides the professional tools you need to succeed and expand the time over which you can earn higher salaries related to your successful performance and your MBA credential.

On the other hand, if you're not sure you're ready for an MBA, it's probably best to wait until you have a clear interest in graduate management education. Work experience can help you identify your interests and make your MBA education more meaningful. People with work experience generally pursue their MBA when they feel it's time to make a transition that supports goals of career change or advancement. A good question to ask yourself is "where will I grow the most in the next 21 months? Will I grow more toward my goals by working at my job for the next 21 months -- or will I grow more toward my goals by completing my MBA in the next 21 months?

Previous Work Experience

If you would like to pursue an MBA to prepare for your first management position, you can do it. If you would like to pursue your MBA to achieve early career change or career advancement after one or more years of work experience, you can do that, too.

In fact, some MBA programs (including Willamette University's Full-Time MBA) are specifically designed to provide both the knowledge and the real-world resume of experience needed for early career transition to your first management position, career change or career advancement.

If you are ready to pursue an MBA early in your career, choose a program with a curriculum that provides multiple opportunities to build real-world work experience (internships, consulting projects with real clients, etc.). MBA programs that provide real-world work experiences offer the added benefit of building your professional resume while you complete your degree. This is especially important for early career MBA students, because employers generally look for evidence of what a student "can do" as well as what a student "knows" when they hire a new MBA.

If you prefer to work before you pursue your MBA, you can do that, too. As you plan for the right time to begin your MBA studies, remember the return on investment of a graduate degree is generally greatest when the degree is completed early in your career.

Work experience requirements vary with individual MBA programs.Some MBA programs are designed for students with significant work experience who are seeking career change or advancement - and some MBA programs are designed for students seeking an early career MBA for career entry or change. The important point is to choose the program that is designed for you.

One more thought about the words "work experience." The MBA industry usually defines work experience as the number of months or years of full-time professional work experience after completion of the bachelor degree.

Another point to remember is "experience is relative." -- a person who has worked five years may have "five years of experience" or they may actually have "one year of experience five times."

Undergraduate Majors

Most MBA programs enroll students from all areas of undergraduate study, including liberal arts and sciences, social sciences, engineering, education, business, etc. Your undergraduate degree develops your overall communication, analytical and problem solving skills. A good MBA program will enhance those skills and develop your knowledge of management and real-world experience.

Choosing an MBA Early in Your Career

MBA programs designed for students seeking their first professional position or career change provide excellent opportunities to invest in your professional future. Look for multiple opportunities to build the real-world work experience employers value (class projects, consulting projects and internships with real clients). This is especially important because employers generally look for evidence of what a student "can do" as well as what a student "knows" when they hire a new MBA.

Full-Time MBA vs. Evening/Weekend MBA Programs

The decision to attend a full-time program or an evening/weekend program) should be based on your career goals.

Full-Time: If you are interested in career entry or career change, your goals will be best supported by the structure and services of a full-time program. Full-time programs provide the opportunity to build a new resume of experiences through internships, projects, etc., and are more likely to provide the array of career services that will help you in your job search.

Willamette University's Atkinson Graduate School of Management offers five full-time MBA formats: Early Career MBA, MBA for Career Change, BA/MBA, MBA/JD, and an Accelerated MBA at the Salem campus. The Willamette full-time MBA formats provide the knowledge, experiences and career services needed to prepare for career entry, change or advancement. All formats of the Willamette MBA are accredited by AACSB International.

Evening/Weekend: These programs are generally referred to as Part-time MBA programs, PMBA programs (MBA for Professionals), or FEMBA programs (Fully Employed MBA). In most cases, these programs are designed for people who are fully employed while completing their MBA. Evening/weekend MBA students are usually seeking managerial growth or career advancement with their current employer. Evening/weekend programs rarely offer internship experiences, intensive class consulting projects or career services because their students are already employed.

Willamette University's Atkinson Graduate School of Management offers a the MBA for Professionals program designed for practicing managers with a bachelor degree and at least 3 years of post bachelor degree professional work experience. Willamette MBA for Professionals programs are available at WU's Portland Center (located in The Pearl) and in Salem at Willamette's main campus. Willamette's Professional MBA program is accredited by AACSB International.

Choosing Your MBA School

There are more than 800 MBA programs in the US and many others internationally. The program you select is important to your future because your professional opportunities will be determined not by the MBA credential, but by your ability to apply the knowledge and tools you develop and the experience you build during your graduate program. Consider the following:

  • What are your career goals?
  • What areas of interest does the curriculum include?
  • What teaching methods are used and how do you learn best?
  • How does the experience enhance your leadership, teamwork and communication skills?
  • What opportunities will you have to build your work experience while in the program?
  • What career services and co-curricular programs are available?
  • Where is the school located and where do you want to work/live after graduate school?
  • Is the school accredited by AACSB International? AACSB accreditation is the hallmark of excellence in MBA education world wide.

MBA Costs and Value

An MBA is a personal and financial investment in your future. Like most investments, an MBA requires energy and dollars in exchange for long-term benefits.

Costs for an MBA include tuition, books and fees. Costs for full-time programs also include the opportunity cost of lost income for the period of schooling. The MBA is not a guarantee and opportunities will vary with the economy… but two recent surveys by the Graduate Management Admission Council show alumni and employers continue to positively rate the value of the MBA.

According to GMAC's MBA Alumni Perspectives Survey recent MBA graduates rate the value of their MBA degree positively when comparing the monetary cost of obtaining the degree with the career opportunities resulting from the degree.

Financing Your MBA Education

Many sources of financial aid exist to help you invest in your educational and career goals. Educational loans are the most common source of financial assistance for MBA students through-out the world.

Most U.S. citizens and permanent residents can fund fund their total MBA educational, living and personal expenses through government loans by combining the Federal Stafford Loan programs with the new Federal Graduate Plus Loan. The bottom line - full funding is available if you want to pursue your MBA and invest in your professional future.

International students may be eligible for private credit-based educational loans.

Scholarships, graduate assistantships and campus work programs may also be offered through your MBA program. Prospective MBA students are also encouraged to utilize free Internet databases of private scholarships available at


The GMAT is a measure of general verbal, mathematical and analytical skills used as part of the application process of most MBA programs. The GMAT does not measure knowledge in business, economics, job skills, etc. Applicants should take the GMAT seriously and prepare for the test. Complete information about the GMAT, review tips and online registration is available at

Information for International Students

General information for international students about graduate study in the U.S. is available at Education USA

A list of overseas advising centers is available at

Internet Resources

Many sources of information are available online. Here are just a few.

MBA Program Information:

GMAT Information:

Career Information:

Financial Aid Information: