For most industries, the MBA is the gold standard of business education. The degree signifies the highest level of academic achievement necessary for most positions, and confers graduates advanced business knowledge along with widely applicable skills in management and communication.
While the MBA offers obvious advantages for professionals in almost any industry, business ranks as the most popular choice for graduate students in the United States, significantly outpacing other areas of study such as healthcare and education.
Along with more in-depth knowledge of business practices, many MBA programs offer emphases in certain aspects of business such as marketing, human resources, or innovation management. Other programs may focus on specific industries, such as healthcare or information technology. Overall, the degree develops widely applicable skills which prepare graduates for management and leadership roles. An MBA typically lasts about two years, though colleges increasingly offer variable enrollment options that enable candidates to complete their studies in 1-5 years.
An MBA offers several obvious benefits for graduates, including increased job options, stronger potential for career advancement, and higher pay. However, deciding on the right program can be a less obvious choice. This guide offers an overview of MBA programs, including general curriculum, concentration options, salary potential, and answers to frequently asked questions.
What Is an MBA?
An MBA builds advanced knowledge of business and management principles, preparing you for leadership roles in a wide variety of organizations and businesses in the public and private sector. Courses typically focus on a broad selection of business topics, such as organizational management, finance, economics, accounting, and marketing. Many programs also include a concentration in a specialized area of business, such as entrepreneurship, sustainability, healthcare management, information technology, or international business.
Given the professional nature of the degree, many MBA programs use a partial or fully online format that makes it easier for working students to earn credits while still holding a full-time job. Many programs use a fully online mode, which enables candidates to complete their studies without ever visiting campus. Other programs may include occasional classroom courses or concentrated campus residency sessions that last anywhere from a weekend to a couple of weeks.
MBA programs typically take about two years to complete, though many schools offer both full- and part-time enrollment to accommodate working students. Part-time programs give students the flexibility to take a reduced course load, resulting in a longer total completion time but a more flexible balance between work and school.
Finding the Right MBA Program
Once you decide to pursue an MBA, the next step is finding the right program. Given the widespread popularity and desirability of the degree, one can find an MBA program in almost every U.S. state and at most types of schools, including small Christian colleges, Ivy League powerhouses, and major state universities. Selecting the right program depends on a wide variety of factors, including tuition prices, program format, location, and concentration/specialization options.
Tuition typically ranks among the top concerns for graduate students, regardless of their field of study. Earning an MBA results in almost universally increased career prospects and salary levels, which commonly leads to higher tuition among MBA programs compared to other graduate degrees. Some of the country's most prestigious MBAs -- including those from NYU, Harvard, Dartmouth, MIT, and University of Chicago -- come with tuition costs totaling more than $200,000.
Most students accept elevated tuition rates as an investment in the future, but it's important to weigh the cost of tuition against your estimated future earnings. An MBA from an Ivy League school that costs six figures can open a world of professional opportunities, but many other public and private colleges offer more affordable programs that still boast strong professional outcomes. Additionally, research any scholarship opportunities or continuing education funding that might be available through your current employer.
For working students, the format of an MBA can play a major role in the selection process. Many schools increasingly offer online options that enable students to complete an MBA with few campus requirements. Online learning commonly makes it possible for working students to pursue an advanced degree while remaining at their current job. Some programs even require applicants to hold current employment, with course components that connect directly to students' workplaces.
Online learning offers increased flexibility, but courses typically require more independence and self-direction. Some students may prefer an on-campus MBA, where active engagement and community are fostered in a classroom environment. Still other programs use a hybrid model that mixes online and campus courses, and gives students the best of both worlds.
Many online MBAs use a synchronous format that includes regularly scheduled virtual meetings, imitating the feel of a classroom course. While these sessions offer increased interaction, scheduling can be difficult for students who work full time or have other obligations. For maximum flexibility, other programs use an asynchronous format, which enables students to complete assignments at any time of day.
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Do Employers Prefer an MBA?
Given the cost and commitment required, many prospective graduate students find themselves asking the same question: Is an MBA worth it? By most reasonable assessments, the answer is a resounding yes. In terms of salary, job prospects, and professional opportunities, an MBA can elevate students in almost any career track, and distinguish them among other job applicants for most professional positions.
An MBA builds valuable skills in leadership, management, business strategy, critical thinking, and creativity, all of which can help job applicants differentiate themselves from the competition. The specialized skills gained in an MBA program can also help graduates broaden their job prospects, and unlock a wider variety of potential career paths and positions. Furthermore, the professional connections built in an MBA program -- both with peers and faculty -- can provide students with a leg up in the job market.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that recent MBA graduates can expect to earn an average annual salary of $75,197 -- almost $20,000 higher than graduates with just a bachelor's degree in business. Similarly, a U.S. News & World Report survey of 129 ranked, full-time MBA programs finds an average salary of $106,757 (including bonuses) among recent graduates, demonstrating the outstanding financial benefits of enrolling in a strong program.
MBA Salary and Job Growth
Most students pursue an MBA to increase their job prospects and earning potential, whether through advancement in their current position or by pursuing a new job entirely. As noted above, the numbers don't lie: recent MBA graduates earn an average annual salary of $75,197, which is far higher than the average salary for bachelor's degree holders. MBA recipients also have access to a wider variety of job opportunities with greater responsibility and greater potential for advancement.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most jobs in business and finance do not require master's degrees, and it is possible to advance in many fields with a bachelor's degree and significant professional experience. However, an MBA offers significant professional advantages, and increasingly serves as a minimum requirement for many management positions. For example, the degree is a typical education requirement for top executives at large corporations.
The increased responsibilities of executive and management positions come with equivalent salary increases, and the BLS reports top executives earn an annual median salary of $104,690. In general, managers can expect to earn six-figure salaries in many fields, including administrative services, marketing, human resources, finance, and sales.
Should I get an MBA? Do I need an MBA? And what is the value of an MBA, in practical terms? Students considering the major financial and academic undertaking of an MBA program understandably have questions, and we've set out to answer a few of the most common below. Read on to learn about MBA value, accelerated program options, and more.
- Is it worth it to do an MBA?
- The value of an MBA in today's market can't be underestimated. Increasing job competition and specialization have made the degree more desirable than ever, and the MBA serves as a de facto requirement for many high-level management and leadership positions. In general, MBA graduates can expect increased job opportunities, stronger prospects for career advancement, and higher earnings.
- Is an MBA a master's degree?
- MBA stands for "master's of business administration," and as its name implies, the degree is a master's. The MBA ranks among the most popular graduate degrees for business students, but it is not the only choice. Depending on their interests or field of employment, some students may pursue graduate degrees such as a master's of finance, master's of accountancy, or a master's of science in management.
- Can you complete an MBA in one year?
- Many accelerated MBA programs allow candidates to complete the degree in one year. Though quicker to complete, these programs require an intensive course load that can make them impractical for students who work full time. However, candidates with the freedom to take on a more rigorous program may find several advantages in a one-year MBA, including reduced tuition costs and the ability to enter the workforce faster.