More graduate business degrees are awarded in the U.S. than any other type of master’s degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2013-14, 1 in every 4 master’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, were business degrees.

Despite their overwhelming popularity, going back to business school is still a dilemma for some professionals, and the common questions keep popping up…

  • Do I really need it to advance my career?
  • Where’s the best business school to earn that degree?
  • What will it add to my skill set?
  • Can I have a successful work/life balance?
  • Can I afford it?

Jason Bewley (MBA ’11), Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President at Silver Airways, sought answers to those questions, and it resulted in a rewarding graduate business experience. Here’s how he answered those questions en route to his UF MBA.

Do I really need it to advance my career?

For Bewley, it wasn’t a question of if he would get his MBA, but when and where.

Bewley already had an impressive finance career with roles at IBM, Kodak and Universal Orlando, and as a Senior Director of Corporate Finance at AirTran Airways—the position he held before beginning at UF MBA.

But Bewley knew he needed an MBA to make that jump to the C-Suite.

“There comes a point when you start to reach your ceiling,” said Bewley, “and you have to check off certain boxes to take that next step. I needed to do it.”

He began the Executive MBA Program in 2009, and, in late 2010, AirTran announced its decision to merge with Southwest Airlines. Shortly thereafter, Bewley began to be recruited for other opportunities. Unsure of the changes the merger might bring, Bewley was approached on an ideal opportunity in Miami with World Fuel Services (No. 92 on the Fortune 500 List). He was hired as Vice President of Corporate Finance for WFS while still in the Executive MBA Program.

Where’s the best business school to earn that degree?

Bewley, who has lived in Florida since 2001, initially considered only UF and the University of Miami to pursue his MBA.

But after scoring over 700 on the GMAT, Bewley began considering MBA programs at the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University—all ranked among the nation’s top 5 MBA programs by U.S. News & World Report (2016).

With new options on the table, Bewley pushed Andy Lord, UF MBA Senior Director of Admissions, to convince him why he should attend UF MBA.

“I remember our conversations being aggressive,” Lord said. “He needed convincing that we were a top school, and he would see an ROI.”

“I didn’t want to be the only one in the class with a 700-plus GMAT score,” Bewley said. “Andy gave me comfort that I would be surrounded by competitive executives with diverse backgrounds. That, along with my desire to stay in Florida for most of my career, ultimately convinced me to go to UF.”

What will it add to my skill set?

Bewley’s strength was in finance, but he needed a more well-rounded business background to succeed in the C-Suite.

He acquired those new skills at UF MBA, especially in communications and marketing.

“It taught me how to refine my writing and make it more succinct,” Bewley said. “That’s important when I’m communicating with board members and investors. Also, I now oversee commercial advertising, price and yield management for Silver Airways, so that marketing component was a critical skill set that I gained.”

Can I have a successful work/life balance?

Bewley said one of the biggest challenges in pursuing his UF MBA was whether he could devote enough time to his studies while maintaining balance in his professional and personal life.

“There’s never a perfect time to go get your MBA,” Bewley said. “You always feel like next year will be better so many people convince themselves into waiting longer than they should.

“But once you’re in the program, it’s not a burden. It’s two of the best years of your life. You’re learning, pushing yourself, and making friends for life. It’s been five years, and I still get together with friends from my class every year.”

For Bewley, the Executive Program was an ideal fit. He made only one campus visit per month, and did the rest of the program online.

Can I afford it?

Bewley was fortunate in that his employer funded his UF MBA, and encourages business professionals to seek out employer assistance as they pursue a graduate business degree.

If employers are unable or unwilling to subsidize your degree, there are recourses at UF MBA. Working professional students primarily utilize FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which offers more than $150 billion annually to students. Active duty military, veterans, and military spouses can use the GI Bill or similar veterans benefits.

Lord said the majority of UF MBA full-time students are on some form of scholarship, lessening the cost of an already affordable program. For Florida residents, cost for the entire two-year, full-time program is less than $27,000, while both one-year, full-time programs are less than $18,000. UF MBA’s out-of-state annual tuition and fees were the fourth-lowest among all schools ranked in the US News top 50 ($31,130).

“Don’t discount the home-based schools,” Bewley said. “For most of us, Florida is home. The network you’ll leave with from UF MBA is a huge advantage.”