University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Why Pursue an MBA? A Personal Perspective

Walton MBA students in a group photo
February 29, 2024  |  By Sydney Combs

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It’s fair to state that I, along with many American millennials and Gen Z, have doubts and concerns about the current labor market. While previous generations have faced various economic challenges in their own time, we’re now faced with a whole new set of these roadblocks ourselves. From the seemingly exponential increase in higher education costs, negative outlooks on the economy (nationally and globally), and the unanswerable question of what emerging AI technologies mean for "human" jobs, it’s no wonder that we’re having difficulty navigating what our futures look like.

Because I didn’t have answers to any of these questions myself, it made me wonder even more about my professional and financial future. While completing my undergraduate degree, I considered going to graduate school right after. However, I wondered if another degree would be worth the financial strain, particularly without having saved up from a full-time job. Knowing I wanted to gain professional experience in Washington, D.C., I chose to try something I’d never planned for—working in government.  

After working as a government consulting and advisory specialist and systems change manager, I decided to shift to an industry that allowed for more flexibility and room for growth. This transition left me with the same questions I had after graduation. Even with work experience before returning to school, I wondered if the graduate programs I was applying for would provide me the competitive edge and ability to shift into another industry. Despite my questions and uncertainty of what the future would hold if I did return to school, I decided that an MBA program was right for me.  

Why an MBA?  

The reality of graduate school, especially in flexible programs like an MBA, is that everyone chooses their educational paths for a different reason. An MBA is flexible because the degree includes an education in many different business disciplines. This allows students to touch on many different specialties on the surface, and the opportunity to become an expert in the field or fields they specialize in. Developing these skillsets will help MBA graduates add value to their future bosses and firms.  

Technical Skills

Because business is such a broad field with seemingly endless professional pursuits to follow, so are the technical skills emphasized while drudging through the academic rigors of higher education. You can expect to learn about data analysis, data visualization, writing, case evaluation, and accounting measures. You’ll likely get a birds-eye view of many of the prevailing industries in the business sector such as finance, commercial real estate, and management.

My technical skillset has increased exponentially while pursuing my degree, especially in the form of analysis. From accounting to finance to supply chain. A perfect example of this comes from our corporate financial management course. Because of the work required in this course, I’ve been able to understand even more intimately monetary and fiscal policy while listening to business podcasts or reading the news. While interning this summer, I was able to use new financial analysis skills gained in this course in daily interactions at the firm.

Interpersonal Skills  

Interpersonal skills develop slowly over time. They’re attained through internships, through working with teams and professors in school, and (most of all) through long term full-time work experience. Business schools help their students develop these skills. Although everyone comes in with a different level of professional experience before business school, we can all learn different lessons from our time in an MBA program.  

One reason that MBA programs are challenging is that students must interact and work together. From group projects to case study evaluation and team presentations, this is a constant staple. Because most graduate students are extremely busy, this can be challenging. The level of coordination and communication required to succeed in these settings mirrors the professional world perfectly, which is why (to me) this is a welcome challenge!  

Again, growth in my own interpersonal skills has been something I’ve easily been able to track. My 2024 cohort contains a variety of personalities and backgrounds, which inevitably leads to differing opinions on any topic you can imagine. Through having discussions on sensitive topics and with those I know I may not always agree with, I’ve gained more confidence to confidently state my opinions and stand by them. Being immersed in an environment where we all support and respect one another only boosts my desire to do so moving forward.  

Professional Development: Extra-Curricular Involvement and Networking  

The last major benefit  is the sheer amount of opportunity available during your program. During my time in graduate school, I’ve been able to cultivate my experience with many extra-curricular activities. I’m happy to serve as the Vice President of the newly formed MBA Consulting Club on campus. In my role I work to build relationships with industry stakeholders, build out strategy, and provide resources to our members. My involvement in P4, a student-led consulting group that focuses on sustainable business practices, has allowed me to get more hands-on experience in consulting. Working through complex business questions with a clear goal in mind has been a wonderful hands-on experience for me.

My experience writing for Walton Insights is another great example of extra-curricular involvement I’ve gotten. Reaching out to a leader in my MBA program allowed me to facilitate projects with this team where I can write about my experiences and important business trends and news.  

The more I reached out and put myself outside of my comfort zone, the more opportunities I’ve discovered Hopefully, the network that you grow with your cohort or classmates or professors will be relationships you have for the rest of your life. Interacting with professionals at networking events and attending MBA-centric webinars and recruiting events will allow you to learn more about various industries and potentially build relationships with those that host and attend these events.

Why the Current Job Market Needs MBA Grads

Modern times are constantly plagued with organizational level questions and uncertainties. These uncertainties range from what technology will do to shape the workforce, how firms will be able to adjust their current systems to meet more vocal employees’ requests, and changes to work culture during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Enormous shifts in commercial real estate trends due to variations in RTO memos, massive turnover in the service and healthcare industries, and historic unionizations in companies like Starbucks are just a few examples. 

MBA students are trained to face these big dilemmas with big solutions. We’ve been trained to think critically and realistically, methodically and creatively, analytically, and with humanity. MBA graduates have vast networks of other professional contacts. We’re able to identify trends and define where to go from there. Employers will benefit from welcoming applicants with this degree because we’re able to solve problems with (as I mentioned above) a very well-rounded knowledge of many aspects of the field of business. Additionally, many of us have experience in sectors outside of business, granting even more coverage in potential knowledge gaps.  

Planning Ahead  

Getting an MBA is not a guarantee to getting a certain job in a specific industry. It’s also not a “catch-all” or a specialization in any one topic. Rather, it’s a place to become a practitioner of the field at large. 

So, if you’re wondering if you should pursue an MBA, here’s some personalized advice I wish I had at the start of the application process. First, take time to think about where you want to be in 1, 5, and 10 years. Then, map out personal and professional goals and seriously analyze if further education will get you there. Perform a simple cost-benefit analysis after this if you feel an MBA will help you achieve your goals. When applying, look for fellowships or graduate assistant positions to better understand what funding your education will look like. Lastly, check out information about the schools you want to apply to such as where most graduates go after completing the program, what fields or positions are common for recent graduates, and typical salary after graduation.  

Specific steps that helped me while researching programs included doing online research (both on University sites and platforms like YouTube where creators may be more vocal) and speaking with alumni or current students who may be willing to take the time to discuss their experiences. Also, my break between my undergraduate and graduate degrees allowed me to be a better and more well-rounded student. It’s also been very instructive in allowing me to understand what career paths I would like to pursue after graduation.   

Take every opportunity offered to you, and most of all, try to seek out any additional opportunities you can think of! Business school is slowly changing and adapting, but as an MBA student or graduate, you’ll be able to easily move along with similar changes in your future career.  

Sydney CombsSydney Combs is currently an MBA candidate at the Sam M. Walton College of Business with a concentration on data and information systems. Prior to graduate school, she gained several years' experience working in the federal government and in the private sector, where she consulted with various government clients. Extracurricular programs she's involved in include her spot at the VP of the MBA Consulting Club, member of P4, and active alumna of the philanthropic organization, The Madison of DC.