My son wants to do an MBA, to change careers, but my husband says they are ten-a-penny and no one takes them seriously

Hilary's advice

There was a time when to have an MBA immediately signalled that you were a high-flying executive, on the fast track to the bluest of blue chip companies. Not any longer. The qualification that used to spark immediate associations with Harvard or Stanford is now on offer in Bradford, Bolton and Bournemouth.

So your husband is right: MBAs are ten-a-penny these days. But they can still be useful. Your son needs to think hard about why he wants to do one, and where he hopes to get to at the end of it. He should work out what level he can realistically aim for - a London Business School MBA is a very different kettle of fish from, say, a Luton or Loughborough one - but top institutions are hard to get into and cost a fortune.

So he needs to investigate an institution's reputation, who takes the course, and what happens to them afterwards.

He also needs to work out how he plans to do it. A full-time course will let him immerse himself in the experience, but a part-time or distance course will allow him to earn as he learns. He also needs to think about living and travel expenses, and what particular areas he is looking to study.

But it's certainly worth bearing in mind that most people who do an MBA seem to love the experience. Students learn as much from each other as from their lecturers. And plenty of them change jobs afterwards, although not necessarily to glittering careers with Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley.

Readers' advice

As a former MBA course tutor I would say an MBA is most useful to the student who has a good idea where he or she is headed, whether it is to start their own business, switch their areas of expertise, or jump up onto the ladder of higher management.
Shaun Pedley, Warwickshire

An MBA will give your son a broader understanding of business principles, as well as other skills, but when he emerges on to the job market people will mainly be looking at his CV and his marketing experience. He should look at jobs that he thinks he wants to do, and ask people who are doing them if they have MBAs, or wish they had.

He could try talking to the careers departments at MBA schools that interest him and see what they think his CV plus MBA would allow him to do. They could describe the experiences of alumni with similar careers to his.

He also needs to project ahead to think what the job market might be like when he graduates. If the consulting and banking markets are quiet, there will be a lot more newly qualified MBAs than jobs available.
Fergus Horkan (MBA Cranfield 1996), Kingston

MBAs might be "ten-a-penny", as this woman's husband says, but they are not all the same. I am a nurse, working in hospital management, and doing a specialist healthcare MBA, which I have found it to be life-changing. I know that when I finish I will be aiming for more senior positions than I ever dreamed of before.
Zara Campbell, Birmingham

Next week's quandary

I know that, over the years, I have slipped into being a pushy mum. My two children do eight activities a week between them, and get tutored in maths and French. In my rational mind I know they need down time, but I am terrified of them slipping behind. All the children where we live have these completely insane schedules.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by next Monday, 15 May, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack