MBA Degree and Career FAQs
Managing or leading an organization (whether a small business, a large corporation, or something in between) requires a broad range of skills and a solid foundation of business knowledge, all of which can be acquired by obtaining a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.
MBA programs are designed to provide an advanced understanding of various business topics to those who already possess a relevant bachelor's degree. They can hold the key to careers involving important business responsibilities such as analysis, management, marketing, and more.
What is Business Administration?
Business administration is the area of study that covers general business practices and principles. This field encompasses all topics related to the operation or management of a business, including leadership, planning, organizing, decision-making, coordinating, staffing, controlling, budgeting, and more.
What Does a Business Administrator Do?
Business administrators can be responsible for a wide range of tasks, from managing business operations to making essential decisions and everything in between. Here are common examples of tasks they take care of:
- Direct the use of business resources (including staff, money, and technology)
- Develop and implement business strategies
- Establish and prioritize short- and long-term business goals
- Organize business processes, divisions, and responsibilities
- Delegate authority within an organization
- Determine staffing needs
- Recruit and train employees
- Lead and support staff
- Implement budgets and budget controls
What is an MBA?
It's a graduate-level education credential that is designed to provide a strong foundation of advanced business knowledge as well as practical strategies for applying this knowledge within real-world business settings.
For individuals who already possess business experience as well as a relevant bachelor's degree, it can be an excellent way to acquire specialized skills in leadership, management, decision-making, analysis, and critical-thinking. Additionally, MBAs cover core business areas (e.g., accounting, marketing, human resources, finance, and more). Students may also have the chance to choose a concentration or area of emphasis.
These programs are structured to include traditional classroom work along with hands-on learning opportunities—everything from team projects to internships. And they tend to incorporate real-world scenarios that students are likely to encounter in the business world. Upon graduation, students are expected to have developed leadership skills and the ability to work well under pressure, collaborate with others, adapt to change, handle unexpected challenges, and more.
What Can You Do with a Business Admin Degree?
This degree can prepare you for a wide range of opportunities within the business sector. Paired with relevant experience, an MBA can help you:
- Advance from your current role to a more senior position
- Take on additional responsibilities within your present position
- Pursue employment within other areas of business
- Become an entrepreneur (start up your own business)
- Use your business knowledge as a contracted consultant
- Prepare to pursue a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) or PhD in Business Administration degree
Many graduates return to their previous place of employment (or stay with their current place of employment, if studying part-time), whereas others look to make a fresh start. If you are interested in making the move to a new area of business, then an internship (before or during your program) can open the door to potential job offers.
Are Any Particular Concentrations in Demand?
Although specific data isn't available about individual concentrations in demand, significant information does exist about the sectors that are hiring MBA grads. Delving into this information can be a good way to gauge where you might want to center your business studies.
According to one industry survey, employees who graduated between 2010 and 2014 are working in these main industries: *
- Products and services—21 percent
- Finance and accounting—17 percent
- Technology—17 percent
- Consulting—12 percent
- Manufacturing—nine percent
- Nonprofit and government—nine percent
- Health care and pharmaceuticals—eight percent
- Utilities and energy—seven percent
Can You Tell Me How to Get an MBA?
1. Choose your path
The first step is to evaluate your needs, your current strengths, and your short- and long-term goals. If you have a bachelor's degree and want to take your current role to the next level or make the move to a different area of business, then you should consider which schools, programs, and formats are best suited to your objectives.
At this point, you'll need to consider whether you plan to leave the workforce, continue to work full-time, or reduce your current hours. The decision you make might depend on factors such as whether your current job is part of your long-term plan or how much support you expect to receive from your family. Determining what will work best for you is essential to making a short list of schools and programs that offer you the best options for success.
2. Take the GMAT
Before being accepted to an MBA program, you will likely need to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Some schools also accept the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) as an alternative to the GMAT. However, the GRE is far less common. If you're unsure which exam to take, then it's important that you learn the requirements of the schools that you are interested in.
The GMAT is an examination that many schools use to predict the success of its students. The exam measures:
- Analytical writing skills
- Integrated reasoning skills
- Quantitative skills
- Verbal skills
Achieving adequate GMAT scores can be crucial to getting into some programs. That's why, according to the official website of the GMAT, you should plan to spend between three and six months preparing for the exam. To help, there are a number of study aid options available, including prep courses, study guides, private tutoring, and free test preparation software and assessment tools.
3. Apply to schools
Armed with your GMAT scores, you can then start applying to schools. While it can seem like a good idea to apply to lots of schools, you should remember that each application will have an associated fee as well as specific essay, interviewing, and transcript requirements. Because of this, you may want to limit your applications to about five schools.
Depending on the school(s) you choose to target, the application and acceptance process can take upwards of six months. This means that you should begin the process well in advance of when you would like to go back to school.
4. Begin your studies
Once you've chosen a school and been admitted into a program, you can begin your studies. Programs generally take at least one or two years for full-time study and often longer for part-time, distance learning, and other types of arrangements.
What are the Prerequisites?
Prerequisites can vary from school to school. But, generally speaking, you may need to meet the following requirements:
- Possess a relevant undergraduate degree (popular areas include fine arts, business, education, law, social sciences, and liberal arts)
- Write an essay about your experience, goals, and interests
- Provide your GMAT scores (some schools will require a minimum score for admittance)
- Include one or two letters of reference or recommendation
- Possess relevant work experience and provide evidence of this
- Document any community work or extra-curricular activities that may contribute to your success
- Take part in one or more personal interviews
You may also need to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and submit your scores if English isn't your first language.
Although all of the above may be considered in your application, academic achievement and work experience are typically the most important factors. Having a strong background in business can often make up for other shortcomings.
What Types of Programs are Available?
To fit the diverse needs and goals of business professionals, many types of MBA programs exist, from traditional full-time study options to flexible online learning formats. Here are some of the features and limitations of each one.
A full-time program:
- Generally requires a bachelor's degree and significant work experience
- Provides summer breaks, during which many students choose to work or complete internships
- Is often the best option for individuals who want to make a major career change or who haven't been in their career for very many years
- Often accepts students with broader educational backgrounds (such as unrelated bachelor's degrees)
- Offers the best chance to network with other students and participate in extracurricular school activities
- Can be the best option for individuals who have the resources to cover the cost
An accelerated program:
- Is a condensed version of a traditional full-time program
- Contains a heavier course load over a shorter amount of time than a full-time program and doesn't include regular summer and winter breaks
- Typically devotes less time to a concentration than a full-time program
- Limits opportunities for internships since it doesn't have the same summer breaks
- Allows students to complete their education in less time than a traditional full-time program
- Often provides a strong, immersive environment, helping students to build solid relationships with each other as well as with instructors
- May not look as impressive as a traditional two-year program to potential employers
A part-time program:
- Typically consists of evening and/or weekend classes
- Is best suited to professionals who intend on working for the duration of their studies
- Can offer the opportunity for specialization but provides fewer options than a full-time program
- Usually requires year-round study
- Is often selected by individuals who want to advance in their current roles but may not want to remove themselves from the working world for a prolonged stretch of time
- Allows students to apply their new knowledge immediately to their current positions
- Can be a good choice for those with an employer or union that has a tuition reimbursement plan or for individuals who want to space out the cost of tuition over a longer period of time
An Executive (EMBA) program:
- Is intended to help managers and executive-level professionals further their education while working full-time
- May require up to 10 years of professional experience but does not always call for an undergraduate degree for admission
- Often requires students to attend class on alternating Fridays and Saturdays, but some programs have monthly or bimonthly attendance requirements
- Doesn't usually offer the option of a concentration or emphasis
- Requires intensive study, which can pose a challenge for those with families and commitments outside of work
- Can be sponsored by an employer in order to help the individual better serve the needs of the organization
- Gives students knowledge that can be applied immediately within their jobs
A distance learning program:
- Offers a flexible option to working professionals who cannot (or don't want to) commit to on-campus training
- Can be delivered through correspondence, video, teleconferencing, online, or email formats
- Provides minimal interaction with other students and instructors, which can be a disadvantage
- Allows students and instructors to interact through social networking, video conferencing, and other mediums
- Is better recognized now as a degree option than just a few short years ago when online degrees were not as respected
- Is a great option for those who don't want to commute or relocate in order to attend school
- Could be a challenge for those who need structure to excel
- May not include the same career and student services offered with on-campus programs
A blended learning (hybrid) program:
- Provides a combination of distance learning and on-campus components
- Is typically a good fit for working professionals who want to benefit from classroom instruction but cannot (or do not want to) commit to a part-time, on-campus MBA program
A dual (joint) program:
- Is an MBA program that is offered in conjunction with another graduate program, allowing students to earn an MBA as well as a Master of Science (MS), Master of Art (MA), Juris Doctor (JD), or other graduate degree
- Typically requires students to apply to each program separately
- Is offered on a full-time basis, which means a longer time away from the job market
A mini-MBA program:
- Is not really a degree program
- Is a non-credit program designed to provide training in the same areas as an MBA but in a less comprehensive manner
- Usually includes fewer than 100 hours of instruction time
- Generally focuses on a specific area of study
- Can be a great choice for individuals who want to refresh or supplement their skills but don't need or want to pursue an actual MBA
- Typically offers open enrollment and doesn't require a bachelor's degree as a prerequisite
Can You Tell Me How to Choose a Program?
Choosing a good program requires that you ask a number of questions about each school and its associated program(s), depending on your individual needs:
- Does the school have an academic advising program?
- Is your desired concentration offered (if you're planning to specialize)?
- Are electives offered that align to your goals?
- How available are the faculty, and what is the student-to-teacher ratio?
- Are the school and program both accredited?
- Does the program have a good reputation within the business community?
- Where have alumni been hired after graduation?
- Does the school have strong relationships within the business community?
- What is the cost of tuition?
- Can you transfer previously earned credits?
- What program types are offered? (i.e., part-time, full-time, online, etc.)
- Do you have the option to change program types, such as moving from full-time to part-time?
It's important to make sure that a program's accreditation status is from a recognized body, such as:
- The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools for Business (AACSB)
- Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
- International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE)
Additionally, regional accrediting agencies exist to provide institutional accreditation.
Although the school itself is often the best source of information, school alumni can also be excellent sources for getting frank answers about program quality, reputation, student support, campus life, etc.
What Can I Learn in School?
MBA programs are designed to foster growth in a number of important areas, such as communication, leadership, decision-making, critical-thinking, problem solving, analysis, and negotiation skills. And, they are intended to give students the chance to learn real-world solutions to challenges within the workplace.
Although each program is structured differently, all general MBA programs tend to cover the same fundamental topics. Here is a list of the typical subjects that make up program curricula:
- Business law and regulations
- Business operations
- Business strategy and policy
- Corporate and social responsibility
- Human resources
- Information systems management
- International business
- Manufacturing and production
- Organizational behavior
- Professional development
- Technology management
In addition to the core curricula, many programs offer specializations or concentrations in the areas listed above. Some other popular concentrations include:
- Contracts and acquisitions
- Health care management
- Hospitality and tourism
- Public administration
How Long Does It Take to Complete a Program?
Depending on what kind of program you enroll in, it could take anywhere from 10 months to six or more years to complete.
Here are common completion times for specific program types:
- Full-time, on-campus: One to two years
- Accelerated, full-time: 11 to 18 months
- Part-time, online, or blended (hybrid): two to six years
- Executive: two years or less
- Full-time dual (joint): three to four years
How Can I Pay for My Program?
Tuition cost can often be mitigated by:
- Employer or union incentives, such as sponsorship, reimbursement, and/or tuition assistance
- Financial aid (e.g., grants and work-study programs)
- Potential tax deductions (depending on your specific situation)
- Scholarships (most often available to full-time, on-campus students)
Plus, you could explore various financing options, including:
- Government student loans (federal and state)
- Private loans
- School payment plans
- Employer or union tuition repayment plans
What is the Average Salary?
According to one industry survey, the expected starting salary for new MBA graduates in the U.S. is approximately $100,000. ** Meanwhile, the actual median starting salary for graduates from full-time programs is estimated at $110,000. * It is important to note that this data does not represent the salary of graduates from part-time, distance learning, or other alternative programs.
Further to this, any statistical information on MBA salary expectations should be taken as a general guideline since there are many factors that can impact your post-degree earning potential, including:
- Years of pre-MBA work experience
- Pre-MBA salary
- Area of previous experience/expertise
- Job level and type
- Industry of employment
You should also consider whether you are planning to stay in (or return to) your current position and industry while studying. The decision you make can greatly influence your earning potential.
In addition to anticipating an increase in salary potential, you can also look forward to a number of perks that are often offered to MBA graduates, such as:
- Health benefits
- Retirement plans
- Moving allowances
- Signing bonuses
- Stock purchase plans
- Parental leave
Although these don't always increase your yearly earnings, they can be very valuable benefits that add to the appeal of a position.
What is the Job Outlook?
Since MBA graduates work in all kinds of different fields, the job outlook varies across different industries.
According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the following sectors are reporting increased recruiting activity: ***
- Financial Services
What are the Benefits of Earning an MBA?
- You can pursue careers in a number of different industries.
- You could qualify for increased employment opportunities and have the chance to advance more quickly.
- You could earn a higher salary than if you possessed only a bachelor's degree.
- It can be a stepping-stone on the path to a Doctor of Business Administration degree or a PhD in Business Administration.
- It can provide excellent networking opportunities with other business professionals, including classmates and faculty.
- It can enhance your credibility since it shows your commitment to the field.
- Obtaining an MBA degree while the economy is still recovering can be a good option, rather than waiting and potentially leaving the job market later while opportunities are high.
* Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), Alumni Perspective Survey Report, 2015, website last accessed July 24, 2015.
** Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), 2015 Corporate Recruiters Survey, website last accessed July 24, 2015.
*** MBA Career Services Council (MBA CSC), Spring 2014 Recruiting Trends Survey, website last accessed July 24, 2015.
National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education 2010, Section 5, Contexts of Postsecondary Education , website last accessed December 15, 2014.
Association of MBAs, website last accessed December 15, 2014.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), website last accessed December 15, 2014.
The official website of the GMAT, website last accessed December 15, 2014.
Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs (ACBSP), website last accessed December 15, 2014.
Executive MBA Council, website last accessed December 15, 2014.