Things Students Wish They'd Known Before Getting Their MBA


Updated March 14, 2024

Wondering if an MBA is right for you? Learn from past students what you should know or expect, and what questions to ask, before starting an MBA program. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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  • 66% of MBA graduates saw results within one year.
  • 38% of MBA graduates said an increased sense of self-fulfillment/personal satisfaction was the most significant result of earning an MBA.
  • 36% of MBA graduates said finding a better job was the most significant outcome of getting an MBA.
  • 12% of MBA graduates said receiving a pay raise was the most significant result of earning an MBA.

A master of business administration (MBA) provides a graduate-level education, preparing students to lead organizations using a variety of business skills. According to a July 2020 survey of MBA graduates, 80% called their degree a "good investment." Learners opt for the best MBA online or in-person for many reasons, including advancing their careers and salary prospects or changing fields completely. Some who pursue an MBA hold an undergraduate business degree, but others come from different disciplines.

You might be asking, "Is an MBA right for me?" Prospective students often don't know which questions to ask when evaluating programs, which presents a serious challenge. This guide draws from a recent survey of MBA graduates regarding their grad school experience. Read on for more information on how to choose the best MBA for you.

Will COVID-19 Change My MBA Experience?

The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational and career landscapes is far-reaching and still evolving. To reduce the risk of infections, many universities and workplaces have gone partly or fully online — a growing trend even before the pandemic. Prospective MBA students may note pandemic-related changes when researching MBA programs.

As is the case in other areas of study, many MBA programs are either partly or fully online. Students looking for a traditional on-campus grad school experience may struggle to find it right now. Even so, now can still be a great time to pursue an MBA. A July 2020 survey of recent MBA graduates found that:

  • 53% feel their job is insulated from COVID-19 as a result of having an MBA.
  • 54% said having an MBA is an advantage when applying for jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Preparing for an MBA Program: Some Grad School Basics

Prospective MBA students should make sure to ask critical questions before choosing their programs of interest. Such questions may include:

  • Is it worth it?
  • How do I choose an MBA?
  • What can I do with an MBA?
  • What type of person earns an MBA?
  • How long does it usually take to earn an MBA?
  • How much does a typical MBA cost?
  • What courses will I take?

What Is an MBA?

Incoming students can maintain certain MBA expectations. This advanced degree prepares graduates to lead organizations, and it opens doors to lucrative management careers in a variety of industries. MBA programs develop leadership, communication, analytical, and general business skills.

MBAs focus on developing career-relevant professional skills more than many other master's programs, which may emphasize research and theory. A 2020 survey of recent MBA graduates found that 47% chose an MBA instead of a different master's degree because of favorable employer perception of MBAs; 42% chose an MBA over another master's degree due to higher salary potential. 

Prospective students include business majors coming straight from undergrad, business professionals looking to advance their careers and salary potential, and those from other fields looking to change career paths. Most MBA programs take two years to complete and require 30-60 credits.

A typical MBA curriculum includes foundation, core, and elective/concentration courses, plus a capstone/internship. Students take courses such as business strategy, introduction to accounting, information technology management, and entrepreneurship.

How Will an MBA Differ from Undergrad?

Depending on your previous degree and plan of study, you may see similarities between your undergrad studies and your MBA. However, some elements of the MBA experience take many students by surprise, especially those returning to grad school as nontraditional students. 

Comparing Undergrad and MBA Programs

Undergraduate Degrees Master's in Business Administration
Program Length 4 years 2 years
Types of Classes Foundation, core, elective, minor, general education Foundation, core, elective/concentration, capstone/internship
Cost Undergraduate tuition varies significantly by school and state/region. Cost also differs depending on whether students pay in-state, out-of-state, or private tuition.  Price also varies widely for MBA degrees, but graduate school tuition generally costs more than undergraduate tuition.
Admission Requirements Schools typically base undergraduate admission on ACT/SAT scores and high school GPA or class rank. Colleges typically feature fewer admission requirements for undergraduates than graduate students. Admission to an MBA program can be very competitive depending on the school. Common admission requirements include minimum undergraduate GPA, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and relevant professional experience.

MBA Admission Requirements and the Admissions Process

The MBA admissions process varies by program. MBA applicants must hold a bachelor's degree, but most schools do not require an undergraduate business degree. Students with degrees in other fields may need to complete foundational business classes before enrolling in graduate courses. 

Other typical requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA and minimum GRE or GMAT scores. Our survey of recent MBA graduates found that 23% took the GRE and 54% took the GMAT; 24% did not take any entrance exams, and 5% took another type of test. 

Application requirements may include college transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, and a statement of purpose. Students with relevant professional experience may increase their chances of admission. Most programs require application fees. Some business schools ask prospective MBA students to complete interviews with admissions committees.

What Are My Options for Financing My MBA?

Preparing for an MBA program includes researching how to pay for it. Those who choose an MBA program can explore a variety of options for funding their studies, including loans, grants, scholarships, and employer assistance. Most graduate students prefer financial aid opportunities that do not require repayment, like grants and loans. In our survey of MBA grads, 14% of respondents wished they had explored more financing options.

Many MBA students take out loans to help pay for their degrees. Fifty-three percent of respondents to our survey said their student debt was "worth it"; 30% of respondents felt neutral about their debt's value. Moreover, 38% of respondents received tuition assistance from their employers. Tuition assistance and employer reimbursement programs may benefit individuals who could use the MBA designation at their current jobs.

What To Know Before Choosing an MBA Program: Insights from Graduates

Often, learners don't figure out how to choose an MBA until they've already begun their studies. Prospective students can get ahead in creating realistic MBA expectations by talking to business school graduates. 

Prospective students may consider the following factors when choosing an MBA:

What Program Formats Are Available, and Which Work Best for Me?

Modern schools offer more than just traditional, on-campus degrees. Choosing the MBA that works best for you requires research. Prospective MBAs can choose between full-time, part-time, and accelerated MBA degrees. Some colleges offer five-year bachelor's-to-MBA programs. These save time spent earning an MBA by requiring just one year of graduate study.

Students can also choose between online and on-campus degrees. Online MBA programs offer benefits like flexibility and convenience, with synchronous or asynchronous options. A 2020 survey of recent graduates reports that 35% attended MBA programs that were at least partially online. Of those who studied online, 67% felt that their online MBA programs provided the same opportunities as traditional on-campus programs. Most employers and hiring managers now recognize the value of online degrees.

Some colleges also offer dual-degree programs, which allow students to obtain a degree in another field while simultaneously earning an MBA. Alternatives to MBAs include mini-MBA programs and business-focused massive open online courses.

Questions To Ask

  • - Does the online program provide the same opportunities as a traditional on-campus MBA?
  • - Does the online program offer cost savings?
  • - Does the program offer an accelerated option? How quickly can I earn my MBA?

What Should I Know About Curriculum and Concentration Options?

Students should research the curricula and MBA concentrations available when choosing between programs. Program curricula and concentration options can directly impact the careers for which graduates qualify. Popular business concentrations include finance, management and strategy, accounting, and marketing.

Curricula for MBAs with concentrations vary between programs, and they often include classes with more in-depth exploration of their respective concentration subjects. When evaluating curricula, look for detailed syllabi, instructor information, and options regarding internships, capstones, and/or other professional learning experiences.

OnlineMBA's graduate survey revealed that 32% of respondents, having completed their programs, said curricula and concentrations should be the most important consideration when choosing an MBA program. Twenty-nine percent said they wish they had known more about their programs' curricula or concentrations before enrolling. Think carefully about your choice -- 16% of survey participants wish they had chosen different concentrations.

Questions To Ask

  • - What types of concentrations does the program offer?
  • - What types of classes will I take?
  • - Does the program require an internship?

Learn More About MBA Concentrations

What Do I Need To Prepare for Surrounding Program Costs?

When preparing for MBA program expenses, learners should consider the net cost of attendance, which may include tuition and fees, books, and travel expenses. The cost of an MBA varies significantly between programs. Factors affecting MBA price tags include location, reputation, and type of school. Public institutions typically cost less than private schools. Residency status also impacts price. The cost of tuition for out-of-state students at public universities often dwarfs expenses for in-state learners.

In some cases, more expensive programs are worth the added cost. For example, an MBA from a prestigious program with a robust alumni network may lead to a higher-paying job after graduation. In some cases, it makes sense to pay more in tuition if you can live where you want to. Learners may choose to pay higher tuition rates for programs offering their desired concentrations or accelerated options. Our survey of MBA graduates found that 80% agreed their MBA was a "good investment."

Questions To Ask

  • - What types of financial aid does the school and department offer?
  • - What is the estimated net cost of attendance, including books, cost of living, etc.?
  • - Does the program offer graduate student jobs or assistantships to help offset the cost of tuition?

What Are Internships, Capstones, and Practica, and Which Will My Program Have?

Getting an MBA may require an internship, capstone, or practicum. Most MBAs require or recommend internships, or supervised professional learning experiences, which usually take place in the summer term between a program's first and second year. MBA internships typically last 10-12 weeks. The type of work you do in your MBA internship depends on the business and your role. Interns often participate in product development, sit in on meetings, and help create strategies and plans.

Prospective learners without relevant professional business experience can benefit from choosing programs that offer internships. Gaining hands-on training and developing career-relevant skills through internships can help students qualify for more jobs after graduation. A 2020 survey of recent business school grads found that 87% who completed internships said they were valuable to their MBA experience.

Similar to internships, MBA practicums include experiential learning, but they focus less on skills application and more on observation. A culminating program experience, an MBA capstone requires students to apply their knowledge practically, often by working on projects with or for businesses.

Questions To Ask

  • - Does the MBA program require an internship?
  • - What does the program or school do to help students find internships?
  • - How much time does the MBA internship require?

What Is There To Know About Program Resources?

Learners who want to get the most out of their graduate school experience should do more than just attend class. MBA programs that offer tutoring, career services, mentoring, and alumni networks give students important support during academically challenging experiences. These programs also help develop important skills not always taught in the classroom.

Unfortunately, many students do not take advantage of program resources. Our survey of MBA graduates asked what respondents would change about their business school experience, and 40% said they would have taken more advantage of program resources.

Career centers assist students with writing resumes and cover letters, mock job interviews, and leveraging the school's alumni network. Many career services programs also maintain job boards, help learners find internships, and offer job placement assistance.

MBA students in particular benefit from mentorship programs, as these relationships often lead to networking, internship, and job opportunities.

Questions To Ask

  • - Does the program offer career services for current students and alumni?
  • - Does the MBA include a mentorship program?
  • - Does the program offer tutoring services?

Should I Care About My Program's Faculty?

When choosing an MBA program, students should pay attention to department faculty. Good relationships with professors offer huge benefits to the MBA experience, including mentorship and potential internship and job connections. OnlineMBA's survey found that 13% of responding MBA graduates wish they had known more about their programs' faculty before pursuing their degrees.

Before picking a university, research business school faculty and consider factors like diversity, research and teaching specialties, and experience level. If you plan to focus on a specific concentration, make sure at least one faculty member holds expertise in that area of business.

Look for these hallmarks of high-quality MBA faculty:

  • - Professors with Ph.D.s (not graduate students) teaching classes
  • - Award-winning faculty
  • - Well-known innovators

Many MBA program websites include extensive faculty biographies describing members' research interests, awards, and teaching philosophies.

Questions To Ask

  • - Do all faculty members hold a Ph.D.?
  • - In what types of research do the faculty engage?
  • - How diverse is the faculty, and does it reflect the student population?

Do I Fully Understand the Potential Career Paths This Degree Opens Up?

Prospective students should make sure they understand the potential career paths for MBA graduates. An MBA prepares graduates to manage organizations across a variety of industries using general business skills.

Getting an MBA does not guarantee any specific career, but potential occupations may include management analyst, chief executive, sales manager, and advertising and promotions manager. Of OnlineMBA's survey respondents, 67% said their MBA improved their career/salary prospects in the way they expected.

Program curriculum and concentration impact the types of jobs an MBA graduate can pursue. Those with accounting concentrations may apply for accountant or financial analyst positions, while graduates who specialized in marketing might become marketing managers or market research analysts. Specializing in a narrow area of business may open some doors, but it can also limit students' chances at positions requiring broader knowledge. Learners should consider salary expectations for their prospective careers, as well.

Students should make sure potential programs' core curricula and concentration offerings meet their needs before enrolling. Otherwise, they may not gain the specific knowledge and skills necessary to apply to their desired jobs.

Questions To Ask

  • - For what types of careers does this MBA program prepare graduates?
  • - Does the program offer any statistics about graduates' career and salary outcomes?
  • - What is the return on investment for this degree?

Our survey of recent MBA graduates offers a window into what most learners consider when choosing an MBA program. Respondents identified the most valuable benefits of earning an MBA as: soft skills (22%), hard skills (19%), personal development/life experience (19%), and improved salary potential (15%). Other answers included prestige/improved professional standing (14%) and a network of alumni/professionals (8%).

Consider how your MBA programs of interest can help you achieve those outcomes.

Is an MBA Right for Me?

Ultimately, only you can decide whether an MBA would suit you. Consider the main reasons to obtain an MBA and whether grad school would help you achieve your career goals. After doing your own research, asking questions, and visiting potential programs, reassess your MBA expectations. Our online rankings are a great place for prospective MBA students to start the school selection process. 

Although it's a big decision and takes a lot of work, earning an MBA can create promising opportunities. Of our survey respondents, 76% said they would still pursue the MBA programs/schools they chose, knowing what they know now.

Frequently Asked Questions About MBA

How do I choose an MBA?

It depends on your goals and priorities. Factors to consider when choosing an MBA include program length, cost, curriculum, and concentration offerings. Prospective students should also think about faculty, study format (online, in-person, or hybrid), and program resources.

Is an MBA from a top school worth it?

It may be. Top schools often charge higher tuition rates, but they also tend to offer better student resources, curricula, faculty, and networking opportunities. Some employers may prefer MBA graduates from top business schools, as well.

Is getting an online MBA worth it?

Yes. Getting an MBA online offers benefits like convenience, flexibility, and affordability. Online MBAs also qualify students for the same career opportunities that traditional in-person MBA programs do.

Why would you want to get an MBA?

Reasons for earning an MBA vary by student. For many, getting an MBA opens the door to better career opportunities, higher salary potential, and a sense of personal accomplishment.

What do you do before getting an MBA?

MBA program preparation looks different for each school. Issues to explore include financial aid opportunities, prerequisite courses, and individualized program plans. Students can also benefit from talking to business professionals and recent MBA graduates.


OnlineMBA fielded its survey respondents using Lucid, LLC. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Lucid, LLC. The total sample size was 600 adults with MBA degrees. Fieldwork was undertaken June 30-July 20, 2020. The survey was carried out online and met rigorous quality standards.

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