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Over the last decade, a new trend has been emerging at business schools around the world: more impact-focused degrees that apply business-world solutions to cultural, environmental, or social problems traditionally overseen by the nonprofit sector.  

But is an MBA a good move for your nonprofit career? We break down the pros and cons to help you determine if this path is right for you.

MBAs and social-impact careers

An MBA, or master of business administration, is a professional graduate degree that specifically prepares you for management and leadership. As with any graduate degree, you will choose an area of concentration, but an MBA usually covers a wide variety of subjects, including finance, economics, strategy, marketing, operations, human resources, and entrepreneurship. 

The MBA may be a business degree, but you will learn subjects and skills that easily carry over into the nonprofit world. And now, it isn’t uncommon to find schools with courses and concentrations in social impact, social entrepreneurship, and corporate social responsibility (CSR).  There are many schools offering more "socially conscious" MBA programs—including universities outside of the U.S.—so it’s worthwhile to research on your own to see what’s out there. 

The pros …

There are many advantages to pursuing a professional graduate education, including:

  • A well-rounded business education will help you at any organization—even your own. Because of the depth and breadth of subjects you will be exposed to during your MBA, you will gain fundamental knowledge that will help you at both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. And if you choose to become your own boss, you will have the know-how to set up and manage your own organization. 
  • New career prospects. A big draw of the MBA is its competitive edge—it signals to prospective employers that you have the skills to take on a leadership role. 
  • Great for career-changers. The career prospects are compelling, but so will your ability to change industries. Many people think of the MBA as a way to switch into finance or consulting, but because of the translatable skillset you’ll develop, it can help you move into specific organizations or less “traditional” industries like the nonprofit world. 
  •  A higher post-degree salary. In a 2017 report by The Economist, it is noted that the average salary of an MBA is higher than that of a non-MBA graduate degree. Of course, the reported salaries are based on years of work experience as well, and the report does not indicate how many people chose to work in the for-profit versus nonprofit worlds. But the numbers do help you see how the degree is valued in the real world. 
  • A global network. One of the biggest bonuses of business school is how it will grow your network. Between your classmates, professors, and access to organizations, you will meet all sorts of new people from around the world who can help shape your career. 
  • Access to unique opportunities. During your MBA, you will have internship, employment, and research opportunities. And you will also have more unique opportunities, like doing a semester at a foreign business school or invitations to more niche career and hiring fairs. 

… and the cons

There are a few sticking points to keep in mind:

  • The cost. It’s no surprise that an MBA will make a hefty dent in your bank account. The average starting fee is $60,000, with top-tier schools commanding much higher fees. Many schools do automatically consider applicants for merit-based scholarships, but these are limited in availability and will likely not cover a bulk of the cost. 
  •  Time commitment. If you choose to do your MBA full-time, it will take 2-3 years. However, if you choose to do it part-time, it will take longer. You can opt to do an executive MBA—meant for those currently in managerial roles—which takes 1-2 years, but there are strict criteria for qualifying candidates. 
  • An MBA may not be the key to a management role. The MBA has been popular because it’s seen as an educational leapfrog to qualify for leadership roles. But more and more, organizations are more interested in a candidate’s experience with less stress on education

Is an MBA right for you?

Pursuing higher education is never a bad thing, but you need to make this choice with your eyes wide open. The MBA is a practical degree, but it isn’t the only way to expand your skillset and further your career. You may even opt for a different, more directly relevant graduate degree.  

If the MBA does appeal to you, you need to be clear on why and how it will further your career goals. With some research and consideration, you should be able to figure out if the MBA is makes sense for your career goals.


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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni profile image

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.

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