What is an MBA and should you get one? | TopMBA.com

What is an MBA and should you get one?

By Valeria Renee R

Updated January 5, 2024 Updated January 5, 2024

Back when apples were just fruit and the United States was on its way to becoming the largest economy in the world, the Master of Business Administration (MBA) was introduced in response to the high demand of management from businesses in the country.

Now one of the most sought-after post-graduate degrees, the MBA is popular amongst a diverse group of professionals, including corporate and technical employees, international students, entrepreneurs and career switchers.

Some context about me: I am one-and-a-half years out of university, freshly 24, and working remotely as a digital marketer. I know I am lacking a strong industry network and managerial skills that can help me grow professionally. A salary increase wouldn’t hurt either.

Having this in mind, I attended a QS Discover event. The Master fair began by hosting a panel of admissions officers to speak on the MBA experience and answer questions from the audience. By the end of that first half hour I was aware that:

  • Business school is the ideal environment for networking within your industry and across verticals.
  • Adding an MBA education to my resume makes me more competitive for mid and senior roles within a company.
  • The overwhelming majority of MBA graduates see a significant salary increase.

If you wish to learn about top universities from around the world in our free virtual and in-person student QS Discover events, you may check out the event schedule.

Sounds great on paper, but what exactly is an MBA, and should you and I get one? The following article will introduce you to the Master of Business Administration and give you some general insights about the programme.

What does MBA stand for?

MBA stands for Master of Business Administration, a type of master's degree geared towards general business.

The degree was first introduced in 1908 by the Harvard Business School in response to the high demand of management from businesses in a period of fast economic expansion.

Since 2011, the MBA programme is the most-sought-after postgraduate degree due to its appealing professional benefits.

Who gets an MBA?

The Master of Business Administration is for anyone who wants to build their general business knowledge, grow their professional network, and increase their career and salary opportunities.

Business schools around the world welcome diversity in their candidates' backgrounds, meaning that there isn’t one kind of MBA applicant. Typical undergraduate majors include general business, finance, and economics. However, there is no ‘best major’ for getting an MBA.

Most full-time MBA candidates are still early in their career, the ideal amount of work experience being three to five years. MBA applicants come from a myriad of industries, including but not limited to consulting, technology, nonprofits and media.

MBA subjects: What do you learn in business school?

The Master of Business Administration builds general business knowledge so candidates can rejoin the workforce with a holistic understanding of how an organisation operates. MBA education is often divided into two components: the core curriculum and electives.

MBA core curriculum and electives

Typically the first year or semester of the MBA curriculum consists of core classes that go over key areas of general management. These may include accounting, business communication, marketing, finance, operations, economics, strategy, organisational behaviour and leadership.

Electives are also available for students to tailor their education to their specific career goals. Elective courses cover a myriad of topics from HR management to entrepreneurship.

MBA specialisations and concentrations

Some business schools have specialisations or concentration tracks for students to base their electives from. For example, The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania offers particular majors within their full-time MBA programme, ranging from general management to real estate. While pre-established tracks will have mandatory elective courses, specialisations and concentrations allow students to personalise their MBA experience to fit their needs.

What are the types of MBA courses?

While the traditional MBA degree is a full-time, in person course, business schools have adapted to be more accessible to more than one type of candidate.

Full-Time MBA

Full-time MBA programmes involve a rigorous curriculum and schedule. Enrolled students typically take a break from working and attend classes during weekdays like a regular university schedule. The focus is not only on academic learning but also on networking, internships, and campus activities.

Part-Time MBA

Part-time MBA programmes are made for professionals who wish to pursue a business master while working. These programmes are usually taught in the evenings, weekends, or in intensive modules. They take longer to complete than full-time programmes but allow for more work/life balance.

Executive MBA (EMBA)

Executive MBA programmes are made for mid- to senior-level professionals who have significant work experience, typically around 10-15 years or more. EMBAs focus on advancing leadership and management skills and are often part-time or modular in order to minimise disruption to participants' work schedules.

Online MBA

Online MBAs offer the most flexibility as they allow students to complete their studies part-time and remotely. This format is ideal for those who cannot relocate or commit to a regular schedule due to professional or personal responsibilities.

Joint and Dual Degree MBAs

Joint degree MBA programmes combine regular MBA education with another graduate-level degree. Common joint degrees include MBA/JD (Juris Doctor for law), MBA/MD (Medical Doctor), MBA/MPH (Master of Public Health), or MBA/MS (Master of Science in a particular field).

Similarly, dual degree MBA programmes are also the combination of two separate degree qualifications. However, unlike joint degrees, they are often partnerships between two distinct institutions, meaning that candidates graduate with degrees from separate institutions.

How long does it take to get an MBA?

The duration of MBA programmes varies by region and type of course.

In the United States, traditional full-time MBA programmes are typically two years, which allow for a deep dive into core business principles, specialisation options, and internships. In contrast, European, Asian, Australian, and Latin American MBAs typically span over one to two years, reflecting a focus on rapid re-entry into the workforce.

The Part-time MBA, EMBAs, and Online MBAs offer a flexible schedule over a longer duration, usually two-three years. Joint and dual degree MBA programmes typically last three-five years.

What are the MBA admission requirements?

MBA applicants are typically expected to hold an undergraduate degree and demonstrate a certain level of professional experience. Candidates submit a comprehensive application package that includes a resume, personal essays, letters of recommendation and transcripts. These materials provide insights into the applicant’s accomplishments, leadership potential, and career aspirations.

A crucial component of the application is the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), where schools can evaluate a candidate’s verbal, quantitative, and critical thinking skills. Furthermore, international students whose first language isn't English must submit proof of their English proficiency, typically assessed through TOEFL or IELTS test scores.

Business schools also invite select candidates for an in person or virtual interview as part of the admissions process to gauge their interpersonal skills, motivation and fit with the programme's culture and values.

Please note that some programmes may have unique requirements, so candidates are advised to thoroughly research the specific requirements of each programme to which they are applying.

MBA jobs: What can you do with an MBA?

An MBA degree can pave the way for career advancement in various industries, aiding a candidate’s career growth and eventual progression into executive positions. Key industries include: finance and banking, consulting, consumer goods, amongst others.

MBA graduates may also be found in other industries like healthcare and nonprofits. Many become entrepreneurs or work for startups to use their business knowledge to build something from the ground up.

In essence, the MBA degree can open doors to anything you set their mind to.

MBA cost and financial aid: How much is an MBA?

The cost of an MBA programme will vary depending on factors like location, school prestige, and the type of programme. Business school is often a significant financial investment, typically ranging anywhere from $20,000 to over $200,000 USD.

However, a variety of financial aid options are available to alleviate the cost of an MBA. Scholarships and grants are popular, offered by universities, private organisations and foundations. The awards can be based on merit, diversity, or other specific criteria like industry background and leadership potential. Loans are another popular option. They can be government-sponsored or from private financial institutions.

Some companies offer tuition reimbursement or sponsorship programmes to their employees. In such cases, MBA candidates may attend business school free of cost while remaining working part-time or signing a contract to return to their employer post graduation.

Work-study programmes are also an option. Students work part-time at the university in exchange for tuition reduction. Lastly, some business schools have fellowship programmes, which provide financial aid, mentoring, as well as exclusive networking and program opportunities.

Is getting an MBA worth it?

Whether the degree is worth it will depend on your personal goals and circumstances.

I welcome you to consider the following factors before deciding for or against starting your MBA journey:

  • Career Advancement: An MBA can open doors to higher-level management and executive positions. It's particularly beneficial if you’re looking to change careers.
  • Skill Development: MBAs provide valuable skills in leadership, strategic thinking, financial analysis, and problem-solving, which are applicable across industries.
  • Financial Consideration: The cost of an MBA programme can be substantial. You should weigh this against the post-MBA salary increase and career opportunities.
  • Networking Opportunities: MBA programmes offer networking with professionals, alumni, and industry leaders, which can be invaluable for career growth.
  • Time Commitment: MBA programmes require significant time investment, which might be challenging with pre-existing commitments.
  • Changing Market Trends: The relevance of an MBA may vary with market demands. In some tech and startup environments, practical experience or specific skills might be more valued.
  • Personal Fulfilment: Apart from career benefits, you might want to pursue an MBA for personal growth and the challenge of mastering new areas of knowledge.

This article was originally published in January 2024 .

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