Will I be wasting money on an MBA? Will my travel experience help me to study?

Risky business

Q. I have just graduated with a 2:1 in computer networks for business and got a job as an IT network administrator. But I don't see career opportunities in this company, and would like a career as manager. I have been accepted for a part-time MBA at Birmingham Business School. I am also setting up my own business in media production. Will the MBA be good for my career, or am I spending up to £20,000 for nothing? In what field would it be best to specialise?

A. Part-time study in business schools is increasingly popular, partly because people don't want to give up job security while they study. The latest figures from the Association of MBAs suggest salaries for full- and part-time students rise straight after a course by 18 per cent, three to five years later by 53 per cent, and even more after that. So it looks as if this is a worthwhile investment, though you would have to make sure that working, studying and running your own business didn't overload the system. It might be worth asking your current employer to part-sponsor you through the course - 50 per cent of students employed while studying have their fees paid, and others negotiate lower levels of help. The Birmingham part-time MBA is traditional and generalist in the sense that it gives you a good grounding in all the areas you mention, so you will not have to choose between them. You may find your studies give you a much more holistic view of IT and the area you work in, and help you to come to a more satisfactory conclusion about what you want to do in the future. Your lecturers will have contacts in the areas you mention, and you should ask them, too, to put you in touch with course alumni. Then take the path that you feel most passionate about.

Diving in

Q. I am 29, with a diploma in business administration, which I have never used. I have been involved in the scuba diving industry, working round the world. Having travelled widely, I am now interested in studying international relations, probably by distance-learning. I don't want to have to start a degree from scratch. Is it possible to use what I have to start this new path and, perhaps, a Masters?

A. While it is possible that your diploma would help you towards another qualification (your diploma and experience might be considered as proof of eligibility), and you could consider part-time options, I would think carefully about opting for further study just yet. A qualification is not a guarantee of a career, and employers are increasingly keen on people who have not just paper qualifications but the right sort of work experience. This is particularly the case in competitive areas like charity and NGO work, where you might be thinking of applying. You would be well-advised to first spend some time researching the precise role you want to play and working out how you can get some sort of relevant practical experience, even if it has to be voluntary and part-time. Otherwise, you may end up wiser, but poorer, and still without the right job for you. You can gain some idea of the opportunities available from sites like World Service Enquiry (www.wse.org. uk) and www.oneworld.net, or those of relevant NGOs.

Careers advisers: Kathy Harvey, former editor, the MBA handbook; Sophie Relf, careers consultant, totaljobs.com

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk