Is an MBA in Information Systems Worth It?
March 10, 2021
To manage the mounting flood of digital information, organizations need business-minded professionals who can manage complex systems. To become one of them, look past technical master's degrees; an MBA with a concentration in information systems may be the better choice.
News flash: you can advance in the information systems field without being a total tech-head. Yes, information systems require technical know-how and complicated software, and the folks who build and maintain them need a high level of computer and technical proficiency. Information system management, however, is another matter. It is not so much concerned with how these systems operate as with how to leverage those systems to accomplish business goals.
The professionals who do this type of work frequently don't have computer science degrees, because they're not building systems or creating software. Instead, they have graduate-level business degrees plus a little more technical knowledge than the average manager. Often, they acquired that knowledge by earning a Master of Business Administration with a specialization in information systems. Their training allows them to look at these systems with an eye toward:
- Increasing efficiency
- Improving communication
- Enhancing customer relationship management
- Boosting production
Keep reading for a comprehensive guide to the Master of Business Administration in Information Systems. In this article, we'll cover:
- What are information systems?
- MBA information systems careers
- The prerequisites for an MBA in information systems
- What you'll learn in an information systems program
- Commitment required for an MBA in information systems
- How to choose the right information systems MBA program
What are information systems?
Information systems are the networks through which various kinds of data are collected, manipulated, and disseminated. An information system could be as simple as the basic e-commerce software a small online retailer uses to process orders. Or, it could be as complex as a robust Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software suite that connects multiple workflows and departments within a company.
Information systems outperform traditional workflows and archival methods by resulting in fewer errors (because more tasks are automated) and providing more opportunities to streamline operations.
Information systems managers are responsible for:
- Choosing and implementing new systems
- Monitoring and evaluating the usefulness of existing systems
- Finding new ways to use information systems to bypass roadblocks, enhance communication, or speed up growth
MBA information systems careers
Nearly all companies across all industries, as well as governments and non-profit organizations, rely on information technology to get things done. That means there are many possible fields and career paths for a Master of Business Administration with a specialization in information systems. Here are some roles that professionals who've earned this MBA hold.
__ Computer and information systems manager__
In this role, you'll work with executives to lay out a proactive technology strategy for your company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a computer and information systems manager earns, on average, $142,530 per year, or $68.53 per hour. You could buy two computers a week on that money if you were so inclined. Most CIS managers choose to pay their rent and bills instead.
Data science and analytics manager
In this role, you'll oversee a team of data analysts and manage your company's data strategies. You'll select and implement analytics tools and look for creative ways to use the information collected. According to Indeed, a data science and analytics manager earns about $115,000 per year in pay and bonuses.
IT project manager
If you have a strong tech background, you can manage and update software infrastructure and manage cybersecurity concerns. According to Salary.com, IT project managers make about $83,483 per year.
Companies that have their own in-house information systems hire software managers to oversee the development of new systems or improve existing ones. This is another option for technically-minded MBAs, who can expect to earn around $122,782 per year, or $58.27 per hour.
Chief information officer
CIOs are the brains behind a company's entire information framework. A CIO earns, on average, $157,557 per year in salary, plus another $63,000 in bonuses, commissions, and profit sharing.
The prerequisites for an MBA in information systems
The vast majority of universities require that MBA program candidates across concentrations have a bachelor's degree. MBA in information systems programs are no exception. Unless you demonstrate truly extraordinary qualities, you'll probably need a bachelor's degree to be considered for admission.
If you haven't yet earned your bachelor's degree, you can increase your chances of acceptance at an MBA-IS program by choosing a major like business, computer science, or information systems. Keep in mind that you may have to meet a minimum GPA requirement—typically 3.0 for most programs and 3.5 for the most competitive.
You'll also probably need recent GMAT scores; while not every MBA in information systems program requires applicants to submit GMAT scores, most do. Some schools waive the GMAT requirement for applicants who have sufficient work experience. Speaking of work experience: some MBA programs—particularly the most competitive ones—require two or three years of it. Most schools also require letters of recommendation from colleagues and a resume. Be sure you read the requirements carefully before submitting an application.
Finally, international applicants typically have to show proof of funding to gain acceptance into an MBA in information systems program.
Some students in Master of Business Administration programs receive financial aid from employers, who cover some or all of the cost.
What you'll learn in an information systems program
MBA in information systems programs train students to incorporate different types of information systems into business operations to meet different goals. In most programs, students complete the same core coursework as MBA candidates in other concentrations, which typically includes:
- Applied business statistics
- Financial accounting
- Business strategy
- Managerial accounting
- Business communication
They then take additional courses in topics related to information systems. Students might take classes focused on:
- Data management
- Auditing information systems
- Information systems strategy
- Data visualization
- Business intelligence
- Systems design
Some programs are more technical than others, so read program and course descriptions carefully before choosing a university.
- At the _University of Maryland - College Park_ Smith School of Business, MBA in information systems students learn about designing IT systems and data management technologies.
- Other programs let students focus on information systems related to their field of interest. At the _University of Arizona_ Eller College of Management, students take concentration courses like Healthcare Information Systems.
Commitment required for an MBA in information systems
Many information systems MBAs are traditional, non-executive programs, but there are also plenty of accelerated MBA programs as well as executive MBA programs, and flex MBA programs for students who want to pursue a degree in information systems while working. Traditional full-time, on-campus programs usually require students to complete 35 to 55 credit hours of work, which can take anywhere from one to three years depending on the program. Part-time and online MBA programs are sometimes self-paced, and it usually takes students significantly longer to earn a degree. Be careful if you choose a self-paced option; some schools require that students in self-paced online master's programs complete their studies in a set period.
Flex and accelerated MBA options:
- _Hofstra University_ Zarb School of Business
- _University of Pittsburgh_ Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business
- _University of Maryland - College Park_ Smith School of Business
- _The University of Texas at Dallas_ Naveen Jindal School of Management
Executive MBA options:
- _Massachusetts Institute of Technology_ Sloan School of Management
- _University of Arizona_ Eller College of Management
- _Georgia Institute of Technology_ Scheller College of Business
- _University of Pennsylvania_ Wharton School
- _University of Delaware_ Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics
- _University of Minnesota - Twin Cities_ Carlson School of Management
How to choose the right information systems MBA program
When choosing a Master of Business Administration in Information Systems program, you'll want to consider many factors. Programs can vary quite a bit when it comes to:
- Program duration
As noted above, some MBA programs with information systems concentrations are much more technical than others. Others are more focused on business concepts and only offer students a handful of information systems courses. Consider your interests, aptitudes, and career goals as you research your master's degree options. You can earn this degree without deep diving into software development—or you can look for programs that emphasize the technological side of managing information systems.
You also need to think about how long you want to be in school. Students in a hurry to earn a degree should look at accelerated programs. Students who are currently working and want to (or have to) continue working should consider executive programs or online programs. Online master's degree programs may take longer, but if you need to prioritize flexibility, they will be your best option.
Cost will probably be a factor in your choice. Tuition varies widely between information systems MBA programs. There are some ways to save. An online MBA program may not be less expensive, but you won't have to pay for housing and transportation, and it may be easier to continue working while you pursue your degree. Don't forget to look into financial aid options like grants and scholarships—both of which are available to master's degree students—and to check whether your employer offers tuition assistance.
Consider the future, too. Some universities are better than others at giving students experiential learning opportunities and then supporting them as they transition back into the workforce or into different roles. Look for programs at universities with:
- Large and active alumni networks
- Customizable degree pathways
- Career mentorship
- Double degree options
- High post-graduate placement rates
So, is an Information Systems MBA worth it?
Remember that the Master of Business Administration in Information Systems is, essentially, a business degree. It's a good option for anyone who aspires to be in management or to land a spot in the c-suite. You'll get a solid foundation in finance, accounting, and marketing while also learning about how companies use information systems to improve outcomes. It's probably not the right degree for anyone who wants to build a career interfacing with technology. Information systems careers at the management level definitely involve a lot more interfacing with people.
If that sounds good, then this degree might be for you, because it can kickstart a successful career. A lot of lower-level tech jobs are being phased out or outsourced these days, but the software and systems replacing them still require oversight. There will probably always be a need for information systems professionals because information systems are used in all businesses. From company intranets to ERP systems, companies need technology just to stay in the game—and that means they need information systems professionals.
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