Freelancing might not be the first thing on a newly-minted MBA’s mind. Unlike bachelor’s degrees, MBAs don’t often come with full scholarships; students often work full-time while earning their degrees. Understandably, earning an MBA can take a lot out of a student, and the prospect of freelancing upon graduation might seem like a “big risk, little reward” situation. So is an MBA worth it for professionals who want to freelance?
To find out, RMIT University analyzed Upwork data of 1,000 freelancers across five business-related categories. Their study identified the difference in pay between MBA and non-MBA freelancers and further broke down the pay gap between the genders. In this article, we’ll briefly examine their findings and discuss the pros and cons of freelancing with an MBA, so you can determine if an MBA is right for you.
RMIT University’s study used Australian dollars; we have converted all data to U.S. dollars.
It pays to MBA
Advanced degrees like an MBA cost money, but the clout that comes with them will likely help you earn much more. RMIT’s study found that freelancers with MBAs charged an average of $61 per hour, compared to just $50 per hour for those without MBAs.
Even across professions, freelancing with an MBA pays more than freelancing without one. Marketing, PR, and branding freelancers demonstrated the largest pay gap, as MBA freelancers charged $31 more per hour than their non-MBA counterparts. Similarly, digital marketing freelancers with MBAs charged $22 more per hour than those without MBAs. However, the gap was much smaller in management consulting and financial planning, with a difference of just $9 per hour and $2 per hour, respectively.
But women still make less
When it comes to freelancing with an MBA, men receive far greater financial benefits than women. Men with MBAs increased their hourly freelance rates by an average of 25%, but women with MBAs only increased their rates by 17%. This gap allowed male MBAs to bring in $11 more per hour than their female counterparts, despite having the same education and qualifications. In fact, women with MBAs only charged $2 more per hour than men without MBAs.
Notably, there are professions where women significantly benefit from earning an MBA, and it might be a better return on investment for women to pursue MBAs in these areas. In marketing, PR, and branding, women with MBAs charged $32 more per hour for freelance work than those without MBAs. And in digital marketing, female freelancers with MBAs outearned their non-MBA counterparts by $25 per hour.
Mastering the fight for equity as a freelancer
In most cases, freelancing with an MBA degree will help you earn far more money than freelancing without one — especially if you’re a man. However, there are a few fields in which the payoff may not be worth the effort. Understanding the MBA pay gap can empower you to make the best decisions regarding your education and help you advocate for professional equity. Pursuing an MBA can involve a lot of sacrifices, but if you want to establish yourself as a freelancer and earn an independent living, an MBA can be a great investment for your future.