What Is a Master of Business Administration (MBA)?

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The Best Executive MBA Programs - Informer

What Is a Master of Business Administration (MBA)?

A master of business administration (MBA) is a graduate degree that provides theoretical and practical training for business or investment management. An MBA is designed to help graduates gain a better understanding of general business management functions.

An MBA degree can have a general focus or a specific focus in fields such as accountingfinance, or marketing, and international business.


  • An MBA is a graduate business degree focused on management, business, and entrepreneurship.
  • MBA students can also focus on other aspects of business, like finance or risk management.
  • Many schools now offer specialty programs, like sports management, the entertainment business, or healthcare management.
  • Executive MBA programs are available for experienced professionals who cannot commit to a full-time schedule.
  • MBA programs may be full-time, part-time, online, or international, and each program usually has a varying degree of requirements for acceptance.

How a Master of Business Administration (MBA) Works

A master of business administration (MBA) is a level up from an undergraduate business degree and generally places the graduate well above those with only undergraduate degrees. Most major universities and colleges provide MBA programs, which usually last two years. To get into an MBA program, an applicant needs to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and be accepted by the program based on its selection criteria. Some programs may require the GRE instead or accept it as an alternative standardized test.

MBA programs typically include core classes in accounting, management, finance, marketing, and business law. Management training is at the heart of any MBA curriculum, with a focus on leadership, planning, business strategy, organizational behavior, and the more human sides of running a large or small business.

Increasingly, MBA programs are broadening their focus to include training in international business and to focus on the responsibilities and corporate accountability of businesses within their communities.


The MBA degree is the most common route to enter certain fields, including strategic planning and private equity firms. Other financial services fields, however, may no longer consider an MBA an entry-level degree to get started. Each company will have its own requirements for different positions, but MBAs certainly help distinguish candidates.

It is not uncommon to gain professional experience before applying to an MBA program. Many programs require a work resume and demonstration of real world experience prior to joining the program, while other programs may be suitable for candidates straight out of college.

Types of MBA Programs

MBA programs will vary between disciplines, specialties, and schools. It is highly likely that MBA candidates are able to find a solution that works for their schedule, interests, and time commitment restraints.

Two-Year Full-Time

One of the most common types of MBA programs is a two-year commitment in which candidates attend school full-time. During the first year of the program, MBA candidates may learn more fundamental business skills such as strategy or communication. It’s more common for candidates to choose more specific electives during the candidate’s second year.1

Although requiring a substantial amount of time, a two-year program allows candidates to pursue an internship between the years. The longer duration is also intended to help foster relationships with classmates and give candidates more time to absorb materials.

One-Year Full-Time

Accelerated programs crunch a two-year program into a single year. Better for candidates that don’t want to spend too much time away from work, this type of MBA program is more intensive, faster paced, and often must sacrifice content quantity.

During a one-year full-time MBA program, candidates may still learn general business skills while selecting specialized electives. However, less time may be dedicated to either group due to the condensed nature of the coursework. One-year programs are often chosen by students trying to accelerate on their current career path as opposed to jumping to a different career path.1


Students not looking to leave work and willing to attend school for a longer time may pursue a part-time MBA program. This type of program often has greater flexibility on how many courses can be taken at once and how quickly a student must move through the MBA program.

Part-time programs may be more favorable for candidates wanting to study at their own pace. In addition, part-time programs may be better suited based on lifestyle demands (i.e. a single parent may only be able to attend classes during a certain time of the day). Part-time programs may offer the flexibility of evening or weekend classes, allowing candidates to balance part-time, freelance, or gig economy work.


One type of MBA program that overlaps with the options above is an online MBA. Often a two-year, one-year, or part-time option, an online MBA allows students to attend school remotely. This type of MBA program grants candidates even greater flexibility around when they take classes and how they attend school. Online programs may also have different approaches on how to foster collaboration compared to in-person options.


Some MBA programs focus on global operations. Candidates interested in a wider focus wanting to branch out from just domestic companies or segments of a company can help candidates build an international network and foster opportunities around the world. International MBA candidates may be more diverse than traditional or domestic MBAs, especially if the international MBA offers online classes.1 In addition, international MBA programs may be better suited to prepare candidates for working in a multinational corporation.


Specialized MBA programs are also available for students whose lives and careers do not permit them to attend school full time. For example, executive MBA programs are designed for working professionals hoping to add to their credentials and qualifications. These courses of study typically schedule classes for nights and weekends, sometimes also requiring short residencies of intensive coursework.

Executive MBA programs are typically only open to candidates who already have substantial professional experience, and they thus tend to focus on more advanced topics such as leadership development.


While MBA candidates can focus on one of the core disciplines of the degree, such as management or finance, many MBA programs allow students to develop concentrations in specific industries. For example, an MBA student might specialize in sports management, entrepreneurship, the entertainment business, or healthcare management.

Even within a management specialty, MBA degrees can allow a concentration on information technology, hospitality, education, or criminal justice. Some MBA programs team up with various professional healthcare programs, such as nursing schools, to offer joint degrees.

MBA programs will have varying length requirements. For example, a degree at Franklin University requires 36-60 credit hours, while the University of Nebraska Omaha program is comprised of 33 credit hours.23

Special Considerations

The most prestigious MBA programs are nicknamed “M7 MBA Programs”. These schools include:

  • Harvard Business School.
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business.
  • MIT Sloan School of Management.
  • Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
  • University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
  • Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Columbia Business School.

Acceptance into an M7 school is considered more difficult than obtaining acceptance at non-M7 schools. In addition, tuition is substantially higher at M7 schools, though there is usually financial aid, fellowships, or sponsorships available.

MBA Degrees Uses

Broadly speaking, an MBA gives degree holders two uses: accelerated advancement in the career they are already pursuing or a strong pivot in a new direction with a newfound skillset.

The Wharton MBA through the University of Pennsylvania communicates the following benefits and uses of an MBA to its prospective candidates:

  • Greater Awareness of a Global Market. Candidates can use their MBA to better understand what is going on in different areas of the world.
  • Improve Communication Skills. MBA candidates often must communicate with other professionals, write research papers, and give formal presentations. MBA candidates can use their coursework to improve their ability to connect with others and build relationships.
  • Expand Professional Network. An MBA degree can be used for the people met along the way. Meeting others, forging relationships, and building a network is a central benefit of an MBA program. In addition to the knowledge obtained, the MBA program can be used to connect with others with the prospect of mutual long-term benefit with your peers. Through formal or informal networking, you can exchange information or ideas with like-minded individuals.
  • Increased Job Opportunities. MBA candidates are often more desirable compared to other candidates based on their proven skillset and dedication to their profession. In addition, advancement or higher positions may become available to candidates that would otherwise not be considered for roles.
  • Better Time Management. MBA candidates may have to juggle school, work, family, and life obligations. An often overlooked use of an MBA program is the soft skill practice of managing priorities, meeting deadlines, and organizing one’s time to meet all expectations.

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