Master of Business Administration (MBA)

It is a post-secondary/ postgraduate degree designed to develop your advanced technical skills.

Author: Hassan Saab
Hassan Saab
Hassan Saab
Investment Banking | Corporate Finance

Prior to becoming a Founder for Curiocity, Hassan worked for Houlihan Lokey as an Investment Banking Analyst focusing on sellside and buyside M&A, restructurings, financings and strategic advisory engagements across industry groups.

Hassan holds a BS from the University of Pennsylvania in Economics.

Reviewed By: Christopher Haynes
Christopher Haynes
Christopher Haynes
Asset Management | Investment Banking

Chris currently works as an investment associate with Ascension Ventures, a strategic healthcare venture fund that invests on behalf of thirteen of the nation's leading health systems with $88 billion in combined operating revenue. Previously, Chris served as an investment analyst with New Holland Capital, a hedge fund-of-funds asset management firm with $20 billion under management, and as an investment banking analyst in SunTrust Robinson Humphrey's Financial Sponsor Group.

Chris graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and earned a Master of Finance (MSF) from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis.

Last Updated:October 6, 2023

What Is a Master of Business Administration (MBA)?

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a post-secondary / postgraduate degree designed to develop your advanced technical skills. It provides in-depth knowledge and training from the perspective of business management, which gives you an advantage in a competitive business environment. 

The graduate degree can involve a general focus or specialization in accounting, finance, marketing, economics, leadership, and management.

Many people take up this degree to pursue a career in strategic management, to further progress their career, or even as a career change. The degree is designed to provide you with fundamental management knowledge and help you develop some soft skills. 

However, some people acquire an MBA for a larger network and more exposure to different types of industries and experiences. In addition, it is an opportunity to explore and take some time off work for those who have been working as graduates for a few years.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue a Master of business administration depends on various factors in one’s life. In this article, we go through some information on this degree to help you better understand it so you can decide whether it is suitable for you or not.

Key Takeaways

  • A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a postgraduate degree that provides in-depth knowledge and training in business management, offering an advantage in a competitive business environment.
  • MBA programs can have a general focus or specialization in areas such as accounting, finance, marketing, economics, leadership, and management.
  • Pursuing an MBA can lead to career advancement, career changes, increased salary potential, and opportunities for networking and exposure to different industries.
  • The admission criteria for MBA programs can vary, but common requirements include work experience, transcripts, standardized test scores (such as the GMAT or GRE), letters of recommendation, and essays.
  • After completing an MBA, graduates can pursue various career paths, including finance, consulting, marketing, human resources, investment banking, and entrepreneurship. The degree opens up managerial roles and can lead to positions such as CEO.

Master of Business Administration (MBA) - Overview

The Master of Business Administration is designed to help students learn about business complexities. Graduates of this program typically have a broad knowledge and tight grasp of the various facets, strategies, and processes of managing a company. 

It is regarded as the most popular graduate management degree held by many famous CEOs of large companies like Google, Walmart, and Apple.

An MBA student aims to leave with practical skills that can be implemented within the workplace. This means that a Master of business administration provides exposure to all aspects of a company's operations—from manufacturing process management to human resource management. 

With this expertise, you'll be ready for success when entering the workforce. Universities in the USA are popping up in various cities all over the country, providing unique opportunities for students who want to pursue careers in business. 

Most of these schools offer specialized areas of study to allow students to stand out even more since there is an increasing number of business graduates, year after year.

Master of business administration programs is typically offered at schools or universities and take two years to complete. In many cases, students can choose from one of three concentrations: general management, finance, or accounting.

The degree can be used for various careers, such as financial analyst, manager of human resources, or chief executive officer (CEO). It is often obtained to gain an advantage to increase one’s salary or negotiate job offers.

Different schools that offer this business degree would have different admissions criteria for being granted into their programs. 

Schools that rank higher would have stricter requirements, which we will explore later in this article, for accepting applicants. An example of what could be required upon applying is the following:

  • Minimum of three years of work experience
  • Your resume/CV, as well as a personal statement
  • Four-year equivalent bachelor’s degree
  • Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
  • Letters of recommendation

Of course, these are just some common things universities ask candidates for. Other tasks in the top ten universities, such as essays, respond to questions that allow them to understand your character and motivations.

Since the Master of business administration is designed to help you improve in various aspects of your professional career, it is ok to be weaker in some areas than others, as you will be assessed based on all the information provided to these universities. 

As long as you have other strengths to make up for these other areas, a Master of business administration is a worthy investment.

Career Options for MBAs

Obtaining a Masters in business administration opens up many opportunities in finance, where the demand for professionals is rising. Of course, the possibilities are not limited to finance; we will explore your various options as a graduate of the program.

On average, these students in the United States earn between $130,000 and $160,000 as a starting salary after graduation, on top of bonuses. Finance and consulting tend to have the highest paying positions, with graduates earning up to $170,000.

Typically, a masters in business administration will allow you to pursue managerial roles in companies, such as

  • Finance manager
  • HR manager
  • Marketing Manager
  • Operations Manager

However, there are also other common roles that people go for, like

  • Investment banker
  • Management analyst
  • Financial analyst
  • Management consultant

The highest level that an individual with a masters in business administration will pursue is an organization's chief executive officer (CEO). 

Investment banks may also subsidize their employee’s MBA to get them to rejoin the company with the knowledge that will assist them in being placed in higher leadership roles within the company.

An emerging career path that is being taken is entrepreneurship, with 18% of Stanford Graduate School of Business graduates launching their startups.

Following are the types of companies that hire most of these graduates:

MBA Admissions Criteria

Business schools generally have specific criteria for admission. They differ from school to school. 

Some of the most common criteria are:

  1. General information, including contact information, family information, academic degrees with transcripts of courses, professional experience, and prior conviction information
  2. Proof of English proficiency {usually through the Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL), Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE), or International English Language Testing System (IELTS)}, where international students are tested on their English abilities for speaking, reading, and writing
  3. Your Grade Point Average (GPA) - the minimum score required depends upon the college. However, a score of 3.0+ is acceptable at most colleges. 
  4. Results from your Graduate Record Exam (GRE), GMAT, or Executive Assessment (EA)
  5. A one-page resume
  6. Two letters of recommendation (also referred to as references or endorsements), usually with one coming from a current supervisor or manager and the other coming from a previous supervisor, employer, client, or someone who can evaluate your professional performance
  7. Two essay questions to complete with an optional extra section for additional information you would like to include in your application.
  8. Interviews if you are successful with the previous sections of the process

The general admissions requirements listed above will be enough to get you into a business school, but you must research the different programs and institutions to find the right fit. 

You don't want to waste time applying to a program that won't work for your goals and aspirations.

Here are the admissions criteria, in addition to the general requirements listed above, for a full-time program in the top Masters in business administration business schools, according to USNews, in the United States in 2022:                                                                                                                                                                        

  1. Stanford University
    Separate sections for activities and interests, awards and honors, and optional short answer questions.
  2. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
    For the letters of recommendation, there are two free-form questions to answer.
  3. University of Chicago (Booth)
    Specific areas of focus for one's curriculum/education such as mastery of oral and written communication and an interest in current affairs. 
  4. Yale University
    A minimum of seven years of postgraduate, full-time work experience is required, though applicants can still be accepted into the program if they are strong in other areas like leadership.
  5. Dartmouth College (Tuck)
    Tuck does not appear to have any requirements besides those mentioned above. However, the navigation of the criteria page is less intuitive and concise than that of other institutions, so be sure to take your time when going through it.
  6. New York University (NYU, Stern)
    Instead of using the PTE as another option for proving English proficiency, Stern uses the Duolingo English Test. Responses to short answer questions are required. The two endorsements you must provide will focus on your Emotional Quotient (EQ).

Understanding Specialized and Executive MBA Programs

If you're interested in pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree, you have several options. 

Specialized programs allow you to choose which area you would like to focus on, such as business analytics, finance, entrepreneurship, information technology, and much more. 

On the other hand, executive MBA programs are designed for professionals who are going for higher leadership (executive) positions in a company.

While both types of programs are great ways to learn about business, they have some key differences. For one thing, different levels of specialized and executive MBAs offer very specific knowledge. 

These programs require students to focus on a particular area, like marketing or accounting. 

And because the concentration level is so high, some students may find that those programs aren't for them simply because they don't want to commit that much time and effort to the field. 

However, if one is sure of what specification they want to pursue, this could be a good option since it is available to students who can only attend school part-time.

Conversely, an executive MBA program will cover a broad range of topics and give students more exposure to different facets of management, focusing on skills instead of knowledge and academics. 

Hence, these programs typically include a variety of hands-on learning experiences and internships that allow students to gain classroom experience in real-life settings. 

This is perfect for people who want a Masters in business administration but don't have time for more extensive classes and work commitments. 

Since these programs target people with an occupation, the course schedule is centered around times when people aren’t working, like during the night and on weekends.

Additionally, this program has different admission criteria since it is catered toward older students working in management roles and above. 

Thus, more emphasis is placed on an applicant's work experience, professional skills, and professional network.

Full-Time and Part-Time MBA Trade-offs

While many people are drawn to the idea of a business degree, it can be difficult to determine if a part-time Masters in business administration is right for you.

There are many options for what you could do, such as:

  • Pursue an undergraduate degree and work first, and then go on to get your MBA
  • Take a few extra years to earn this prestigious type of degree right after your undergraduate degree
  • Complete an undergraduate degree and then pursue a part-time while working full-time or part-time.

On the one hand, part-time offers flexible scheduling and allows you to work around your hectic life. On the other hand, full-time often requires four or more years of study and typically provides greater career opportunities.

The trade-offs are obvious—but they're not all bad! Some great benefits that come with both types of degrees include the following:

1. Full-Time 

Full-time students frequently have preferred starting dates or deadlines, like when they graduate from university or need to find a job in their field. 

This can make finding an internship easier and give them an advantage over part-time students when applying for jobs. It also means that they'll have more opportunities for networking with professionals.

2. Part-Time

Part-time students can start studying later in life and have more flexibility regarding where they live and work. 

They also don't typically have any pressures about graduating on time—they may only need one semester to complete the degree (instead of four) because their program schedule is less demanding than that of a full-time student since most part-time students would be working already.

The biggest drawback of the part-time is that it can be seen as an easier program than the full-time counterpart by employers, causing them to favor full-time students more. This is due to the decreased workload and lower requirements for entry.

Determining When and If to Get an MBA

If you're considering pursuing, it's important to determine if your next schooling will help you achieve your professional goals and what kind of investment you should make.

To determine if a Masters in business administration is right for you, it would be beneficial to explore a few factors that can help guide this decision-making process, like:

  • Your career goals
  • What will the program cost?
  • How much time will it take?
  • How long before you can reap the benefits of the degree? For example, if the main benefit is increased salary, will the increase be large enough to justify the program?
  • Is there another way to achieve these goals?

Most people who apply for this course seek opportunities in management and executive positions which ultimately leads to an increase in salary. If this applies to you, this program would be something to consider.

However, this is not the only reason for obtaining the degree. Expanding one’s professional network, career changes, etc., can often be another reason. Hence, if you want to switch between sectors, it could help with that. 

Of course, getting this degree is a large time commitment and costly, so it is best to understand what you truly want for your career before committing to the program.

Additionally, you can get the degree right after undergraduate studies, while you work, or a few years after graduating. 

All of these options are viable and depend on your individual situation. Going for a part-time program or after a few years of work is recommended over the first option since work experience will aid you in figuring out what you want for your career.

Work experience is also one of the application criteria for the top MBA schools, so working before applying would benefit you in this area.

Alternatives to an MBA

If you're interested in a business degree but don't want to get a Masters in business administration, there are some other options.

The first alternative is a graduate certificate. Graduate certificates can be completed in as little as six months and offer flexibility from earning an outright degree. 

While you won't have the same level of education and experience as someone with an MBA, a graduate certificate can provide valuable knowledge for those who need to enter finance, accounting, or other fields that require specialized knowledge.

Some certifications are more specific to the finance industry, such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designations. 

These two designations offer very different content. The CFA focuses on skills and knowledge required for portfolio management and security analysis, which provide career opportunities in investment banking and asset management firms

The CPA certification, on the other hand, goes over accounting, taxation, and auditing, allowing you to pursue a career in various corporations and tax and audit firms.

Another option is to attend a community college and earn four-year associate's degrees in the desired field of study. You can also opt for bachelor's degrees in finance or entrepreneurship, such as accounting and finance or marketing and entrepreneurship. 

However, these types of degrees can take four years to complete. There is also the option of obtaining a Master of Finance, which is perfect for you if you want to focus on finance. 

Lastly, if you're looking for a broader business management education with more emphasis on marketing and analytical skills, then a Master of Business Administration would be more appropriate.

Researched and Authored by Chris

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