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Choosing to return to school to pursue a Master of Business Administration degree, or MBA, can be a life-altering decision. Not only is completing an MBA program challenging, but it also can open doors to new possibilities in the professional world.

A Master of Business Administration degree, or MBA, is a postgraduate degree students who have mastered the art of business can achieve. Graduates who have obtained MBAs have studied the theory and application process of business and its management principles. They have gained knowledge which can be applied in a number of real life business scenarios.

According to statistics from the Graduate Management Admission Council, 86 percent of all graduates with an MBA were able to secure employment upon graduation.

Choosing the right MBA program, however, plays a huge role in whether securing an MBA will help – or hurt – your career. Making the mistake of earning an MBA from a so-called “diploma mill” can have the opposite effect intended. Any program that promises students can earn an MBA in just a few weeks is not one of quality.

The majority of MBA programs through quality colleges and universities require a two-year commitment to complete.

Top-ranked University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School offers its MBA students two choices in pursuing a degree: a traditional college setting or an online program. According to Anna Millar, the Senior Associate Director of Admissions at UNC, both options offer the same kind of rigorous education. Before holding her current position, Millar was in charge of the MBA program for UNC.

Both programs take two years to complete and offer the same core courses. But there are some differences in how each is presented.

Students enrolled in the on-campus program generally are those who have at least five years of prior work experience, but who have quit their jobs to return to school full time. “These are most often career-switchers who are fully immersed in their studies,” said Millar.

The online version of the program attracts those who have 10 or more years of practical work experience who want to continue working in their present jobs while earning their MBA. “These are people who are happy in their careers, or who want to keep on working while they accelerate their learning.”

Admission into quality MBA programs is competitive. Accordingto Millar, her program requires the following before even considering admitting a student into UNC’s program:

  • Two to five years of prior work experience in a professional career field;
  • The completion of an online application, which includes a current resume, writing essays and professional recommendations;
  • GMTA or GRE test scores; and
  • College transcripts from the applicant’s undergraduate degree program.

Millar said there are many benefits to earning an MBA, including providing the ability to switch careers if you currently are having difficulty finding a job in your chosen field. “Engineers are a perfect example of this,” she said. “They are a prime example of the kind of professional who would benefit from an MBA because they already have the quantitative skills and the real-world experience to quality for admission into the program.”

MBAs aren’t limited to those who want to switch careers and have other benefits to those who earn them.

“It can help you develop an unbelievable network of other professionals,” said Millar. “It’s a great way to build your confidence.  And for women, it can be a way to open doors back into the professional world if you’ve taken time off to raise a family.”