What Is an MBA?


Updated November 21, 2023

MBAs are the most popular graduate degrees for a reason. Discover what an MBA is and how it can set you up to become a leader in your field.

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A master of business administration (MBA) is a graduate-level degree that equips students with a broad understanding of business, finance, and marketing in order to prepare them for corporate leadership and management roles.

Getting an MBA is a big commitment — but increasingly, online and accelerated MBA programs make it possible for working adults to pursue the degree and advance their careers without putting their lives on hold.

Is an MBA Worth It?

Big Picture? An MBA is worth it if you want access to better job opportunities and strong salaries. According to a 2022 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), earning an MBA can have a significant impact on your hireability and lifetime earnings:

  • 63% of corporate recruiters expect demand for MBA graduates to increase over the next five years.
  • The median starting salary for MBA graduates is $115,000 a year.

At the same time, graduate school is expensive and student loans are no small burden. You need to consider every possible factor when trying to decide whether an MBA will be worth it for you:

  • How much does your program cost?
  • What financial responsibilities will you have when you graduate in addition to your student loans?
  • What other kinds of financial aid do you have access to?
  • Will your employer cover some of your education expenses?
  • What is your short-term earning potential?
  • What is your long-term earning potential?

If you want to make sure the return on your investment is a good one, at the very least you need to choose a program that:

  • You can afford.
  • You can finish.
  • Offers MBA concentrations with high paying jobs.

What Do You Learn in an MBA Program?

MBA coursework covers all the fundamental aspects of business administration, including:

  • Marketing
  • Accounting
  • Strategy
  • Finance
  • Research
  • Analysis

Good programs also help students develop so-called "soft" skills that are crucial for success, like:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Emotional intelligence

The best online MBA programs combine formal classroom training with hands-on learning, including simulation exercises, discussion, peer collaboration, and case studies. Final capstone projects often require students to develop a business plan, present a professional portfolio, or put together a mock proposal for a client.

The experience can be transformational.

Portrait of

I was born and raised in the Bay Area and until this summer, I have never left! I went to the University of California, Berkley for my undergrad and designed my own major called organizations and leadership. I spent four years at Google and then went on to Stanford University for my MBA. Since then, I’ve founded Brains over Blonde — a feminist lifestyle platform for women who refuse to choose between femininity and success.

Anna Frances Wood, CEO of Brains over Blonde

"My MBA was the best two years of my life, by far," said Stanford graduate and Brains Over Blonde founder Anna Frances Wood. "I learned so much — not just about business but also about life. I got an immense amount of feedback and learned more about who I am, how I come across, and who I want to be."

How Long Does It Take to Get an MBA?

The typical MBA program requires students to complete between 30 and 60 credits.

It takes about two years of full-time study to earn an MBA. Part-time students who are pursuing their degree while holding down jobs or other responsibilities should expect it to take a bit longer.

Online MBA Programs for You

Grow your career, leadership, and business acumen with an accredited online MBA program.

What Types of MBA Programs Are Available?

Full-time MBA

Full-time MBAs are exactly what they sound like: a full-time commitment. Students typically take three courses each semester and participate in a corporate internship.

Part-time MBA

In most part-time programs, classes are held once a week. They may take place on or off campus, on evenings, or on weekends. This option can be convenient for those who want to advance their careers while maintaining their professional and personal lives.

Online MBA

The online MBA is a popular option for students seeking a more convenient curriculum format they can complete on their own time and in their own homes. Many online MBAs are also offered on an accelerated schedule, allowing students to finish degrees even faster.

Hybrid MBA

The hybrid MBA offers a combination of online and on-campus study, an option that works well for students who live close to campus and prefer diverse learning methods.

Executive MBA

The executive MBA is geared toward mid-career business professionals with roughly 10 years of experience in the industry. Compared to a traditional MBA, which covers general business concepts, this program offers a fast track for those looking to improve their existing business, start a new one, or advance their entrepreneurial skills.

Professional MBA

The professional MBA caters to early-career business owners and executives with less than 10 years of experience. Like the executive MBA, professional MBAs are offered as part-time programs, with courses available in the evenings or on weekends to better fit full-time work schedules.

Global MBA

Though every school has its own approach to the global MBA, this degree is similar to a foreign exchange program for business-minded grad students. The global MBA is a good fit for students seeking a worldly perspective on business and commerce. Learners will likely also have ample study-abroad opportunities during the program.

Modular MBA

The modular MBA is a fully customizable option for experienced business professionals. Like professional and executive MBAs, the modular MBA assumes students have a basic knowledge of fundamental business concepts and requires fewer electives than a traditional MBA. It allows students to handpick modules and courses to build their own curriculum.

Dual MBA

The dual MBA offers students the opportunity to earn an MBA and another graduate degree simultaneously. This option may be especially convenient for students interested in mastering business administration skills for a career in public policy, criminal justice, or healthcare.

Careers for MBA Graduates

Senior Accountant

Senior Accountant

Examine and prepare financial records and taxes for individuals and organizations.

Chief Financial Officer

Chief Financial Officer

Oversee all financial operations of a company or organization.

Marketing Director

Marketing Director

Oversee all aspects of marketing operations for a business, company, or nonprofit organization.

Vice President of IT

Vice President of IT

Oversee internal and external technical operations of an organization at the highest level.

FAQ About MBA Degrees

What is an MBA and is it worth it?

An MBA is a graduate-level degree designed to train you for business leadership across industries and corporations.

Students who graduate with an MBA typically enjoy significantly higher salaries than their counterparts who only have a bachelor's degree. They are also more likely to be considered for senior management positions and executive roles.

Is getting an MBA hard?

It's not a cakewalk, that's for sure. MBA programs tend to be fairly challenging — especially the more quantitative topics like finance, accounting, and statistics. Students will be expected to master complex mathematical, business, and legal concepts while developing their own innovative strategies and proposals.

But the payoff — really knowing your stuff and moving confidently in business spaces — can be worth it.

What's the difference between a master's and an MBA?

An MBA is a very specific kind of master's degree that focuses specifically on business administration. MBAs are internationally recognized for providing the knowledge and skills required to succeed in a business environment or management role.

How much does an MBA increase your salary?

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the mean starting salary for MBA graduates in 2021 was $21,359 higher than the mean starting salary for bachelor's graduates with a business degree.

That's a 37.4% increase in salary.

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