What is an MBA?

| Matthew Sweeney

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An MBA is a master's degree in business administration. This degree teaches students how to plan and supervise business activities for different types of organizations.

If you work in or aspire to work in business, management, marketing, or finance, you may have heard about the benefits of various business degrees, including MBAs. A master of business administration (MBA) can lead to more job offers and higher pay after completing in-person or online mba programs. Read on for our guide on the value and meaning of an MBA degree.

Who Should Pursue an MBA?

Several types of learners benefit from earning MBAs. Recent bachelor's-level graduates may decide to pursue MBAs before gaining professional experience. Established business professionals may become interested in earning MBAs to advance in their current field. Others may pursue MBAs to transition into new careers.

MBA candidates can seek employment in many industries, including marketing, financial services, consulting, and manufacturing, where they work as managers, consultants, and accountants.

Pros and Cons of an MBA Degree

An MBA offers several significant advantages over a bachelor of business administration. Many employers prefer applicants with MBAs over undergraduate-level candidates for advanced positions. Earning an MBA can lead to higher pay and knowledge to help students advance in their fields. However, MBAs can also incur more stress and debt than other business degrees.


Deeper skill development: MBAs cultivate business skills in greater depth than undergraduate degrees. Higher potential earnings: Earning an MBA can lead to a higher salary immediately upon graduation. Networking opportunities: Cohort models are common in MBA degrees, meaning students can maximize peer networking opportunities. Increased job market value: Many employers prefer candidates with MBAs to bachelor's-level applicants.


Potential stress: Master's degrees incur more stress than undergraduate degrees. Potential debt: MBAs can carry high price tags and can leave students in debt for years. Time expenditure: An MBA can take 2-5 years to earn, enrollees should consider if they can spare the time. Uncertain ROI: An MBA is not a good fit for some business positions, which does not justify the investment of time and money.

Featured Online MBA Programs

How Long Does an MBA Take to Complete?

A traditional, full-time MBA program typically takes two years to complete. However, many schools also offer accelerated, full-time MBA programs that enrollees can complete in one year.

Part-time MBA programs can sometimes take up to five years to complete, while executive MBA programs typically allow students who work full time to earn MBAs in two years while taking courses on a part-time basis.

Paying For an MBA Program

The average two-year MBA program costs $50,000-$100,000, depending on the school or course delivery format. However, there areaffordable MBA options out there, such as online programs, that usually cost less. Students can handle the cost of an MBA more easily by leveraging MBA scholarships, student loans, and federal work-study programs.

Employers sometimes subsidize MBA costs for their employees. From their perspective, more educated employees can better perform their job responsibilities and lead other employees.

What to Expect in an MBA Program

Most MBA programs hit on a few common touchstones, including organizational behavior, economics, and finance. Most MBA programs allow learners to choose electives related to their concentrations.

Traditional and accelerated MBA programs typically have rigorous course loads. However, programs intended for part-time students who work full time usually emphasize less take-home work.

MBA course structure places less emphasis on individual work and focuses more on group projects and presentations. Learners need to demonstrate their ability to work effectively with others to mirror healthy, functioning organizations.

Enrollees also cultivate strong leadership and self-advocacy skills. For example, many programs admit students of less academic ability based on resumes indicating their professional ambitions.

The following information presents a few of the essential skills taught in MBA programs.

Soft Skills Taught in MBA Programs

  • Clear communication
  • Leadership
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Integrity
  • Critical thinking

Hard Skills Taught in MBA Programs

  • Business development
  • Accounting
  • Hiring
  • Budgeting

Accreditation for MBA Programs

When shopping for an MBA program, take regional accreditation into account — a marker of quality assurance that can strongly influence your learning experience and professional opportunities.

In addition to regional accreditation, check if prospective programs hold programmatic accreditation from the following accrediting bodies for MBA programs: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the International Accreditation Council for Business Education, and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

What Kinds of MBA Specializations Are There?

Most learners who pursue MBAs explore concentrations that align with specific careers and skills. Enrollees can choose MBA programs based on available specialties or their intended career setting, such as accounting, finance, or human resources.

The following list of MBA specializations explores common options for enrollees.

Executive MBA true

An executive MBA suits working professionals who have already accumulated significant business experience. Graduates strengthen their leadership skills and leave their programs prepared to work as top executives.

Typical Courses

  • Leadership foundations
  • Ethics in global management

Relevant Careers

  • Top executive
  • Administrative services manager
MBA in Entrepreneurship true

An MBA with a specialization in entrepreneurship arms each graduate with the skills to launch their own businesses. Generally, this type of MBA tailors to learners with extensive business experience.

Typical Courses

  • Managing organizations
  • Small business accounting

Relevant Careers

  • Small business owner
  • Contractor
MBA in Finance true

An MBA in finance prepares learners to work as financial managers. Students learn to create investment and business development strategies for organizations.

Typical Courses

  • Corporate finance
  • Introduction to investment management

Relevant Careers

  • Financial manager
  • Personal financial advisor
MBA in International Business true

An MBA in international business tailors to business professionals working in large, globalized businesses that must meet the demands of growing global markets. Enrollees explore international trade and investments to bolster their cultural competencies.

Typical Courses

  • Regulatory issues in global business
  • Global economics

Relevant Careers

  • Global business development manager
  • Export manager
MBA in Management Information Systems true

An MBA in management information systems teaches learners to plan and implement information management technology for organizations. Students learn about cybersecurity, data analysis, and supply chain management.

Typical Courses

  • Data analysis
  • Decision modeling

Relevant Careers

  • Information systems manager
  • Information security officer
MBA in Project Management true

MBAs in project management prepare students to work as project managers to set and meet organizational goals in industries like construction and manufacturing.

Typical Courses

  • Foundations of leadership
  • Project budgeting

Relevant Careers

  • Construction manager
  • Engineering manager
MBA in Sustainability true

An MBA in sustainability explores sustainable management practices. Though this degree typically prepares learners for natural sciences and nonprofit managerial work, other industries now increasingly implement these principles.

Typical Courses

  • Green operation practices
  • Sustainability and economics

Relevant Careers

  • Sustainability specialist
  • Nonprofit or social services manager
MBA in Marketing true

An MBA in marketing prepares individuals for work in the marketing sector while covering business administration fundamentals. Graduates can pursue work as advertising managers, market researchers, and various specialists in advertising and marketing.

Typical Courses

  • Fundamentals of corporate branding
  • Digital marketing

Relevant Careers

  • Advertising manager
  • Market research director
MBA in Consulting true

MBAs in consulting prepare enrollees to work in specialized consulting roles within organizations and consulting firms. This specialization covers essential corporate problem-solving and business development strategies in consulting.

Typical Courses

  • Foundations of corporate strategy
  • Corporate negotiations

Relevant Careers

  • Business consultant
  • Business analytics manager
MBA in Human Resource Management true

MBAs in human resource management equip students to work as human resources managers, who oversee hiring, dismissals, and employee disputes. The program teaches learners to work as a conduit between employees and upper management.

Typical Courses

  • Organizational behavior
  • Conflict resolution in the workplace

Relevant Careers

  • Human resource manager
  • Chief human resource manager

What Kind of Salary Can You Earn With an MBA?

MBA graduates enjoy very high earnings when compared with other college graduates. An MBA can offer a pathway to top-earning positions within your field. The top earners among MBA graduates — chief executives — earn a median annual salary of $185,950. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data indicates that in industries such as manufacturing, median earnings of CEOs exceed $200,000.

The following information compares the median annual salaries for the nine highest-earning MBA careers.

MBA Careers and Salaries
Career Median Annual Salary (2019)
Chief Executives $185,950
Financial Managers $134,180
Operations Specialities Managers $125,040
Human Resources Managers $121,220
Top Executives $107,680
General and Operations Managers $103,650
Administrative Service and Facilities Managers $98,890
Management Analysts $87,660
Business Operations Specialists $71,450

Common Questions About MBA Degrees

true What Is Meant by "MBA Degree?"

An MBA degree means "master of business administration", which is a type of master's degree that caters to experienced or aspiring business professionals.

true What Does an MBA Stand For?

MBA stands for "master of business administration," differentiating the degree from master of arts and master of science programs.

true When Should I Get My MBA?

Some learners apply for MBAs immediately upon earning their bachelor's degrees, while others pursue MBAs after years of work experience.

true Is an MBA Different From a Master’s Degree?

MBA programs are more intensive than typical business master's programs. Also, MBA programs often do not require learners to have an undergraduate degree in business.

Professional Organizations

At 25,000 members strong, AMA brings together the largest management-related professional associations in the world. This organization offers the internationally recognized AMA Certified Professional in Management credential.

A nonprofit based in Toronto, BBPA advocates for the advancement of Black business professionals in Canada and North America. Among this organization's student resources is its national scholarship for Black students in business programs.

YEC is an invitation-only organization for outstanding entrepreneurs under 45. Many organizations partner with YEC to provide scholarships, including the $5,000 Kitchen Cabinet Kings entrepreneur scholarship.

As one of the oldest professional organizations for women in business, ABWA represents 15,000 members nationwide. The organization's Stephen Bufton Memorial Education Fund provides women business majors with scholarships every year.

Matthew Sweeney received his Bachelor of Arts in English with a specialization in English literature from Portland State. His writings on music and culture have appeared in the publications Eleven PDX Magazine and Secret Decoder. In his free time he enjoys reading, cinema, hiking, and cooking.

Header Image Credit: Eva-Katalin | Getty Images

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