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What Is an MBA Program and Why Get an MBA Degree in Business School?

By Kalen Smith

business school groupAn MBA (Masters in Business Administration) is the most sought-after graduate degree in the United States. The degree is versatile and used all over the world, and can offer a major boost to anyone’s career.

Despite its mainstream popularity, many still aren’t sure what is involved in obtaining an MBA. Some common questions include: What is required to gain admission? What kind of curriculum do these programs offer? What are some of the pros and cons of getting this degree? Are there different types of an MBAs available? Who would this degree suit best?

In order to make an informed decision, you must be able to answer these questions to your own satisfaction. Higher education can be highly beneficial, but it also takes a lot of hard work and commitment. The last thing you want is to do is blindly enroll in a program just because you think you should.

Below, each of these points are addressed in an effort to truly educate anyone who might be considering going to business school to earn an MBA degree.

How to Get an MBA – Requirements

First and foremost, you need to know how to get started. In order to pursue an MBA, you’ll need to do the following:

  1. Earn Your BA. You must first complete an undergraduate program at an accredited university, though you do not have to study business as an undergraduate. Any major is accepted. Case in point, I received my MBA immediately after finishing my bachelors degree in mechanical engineering.
  2. Take the GMAT. The admissions committee will be most interested in your academic track record, your scores on your GMAT exam (essentially the SATs for business school) and your work history.
  3. Get Real World Experience. Most programs expect you to have a couple of years of professional work experience before pursuing an MBA, although it is possible to be admitted immediately after you finish your bachelors degree program. With that said, it is becoming rarer for students to be accepted directly out of college, regardless of their academic achievement. MBA graduate program want to have worldly students with real-world working experience from which they can contribute valuable knowledge to their peers.
  4. Research Programs. Most major universities offer some form of MBA program. However, you should carefully research the programs you intend to join before you commit to one. Each school is unique in terms of its coursework, faculty, and philosophies. If you pursue an MBA, you want to make sure that you are joining one that is going to offer what you are looking for in your future career.
  5. Know the Requirements. You also want to know what the requirements are for these programs, and whether or not you are eligible to join. Many have GPA and GMAT cutoffs that you are going to want to be aware of before you apply.

It is important to note that the prestige of the university you choose can play a large role in how prospective employers will value your MBA degree. Thus, you should consider the ranking of the MBA program you choose to join when making your decision.

Time is also something you should take into consideration. An MBA will typically take two years to complete if you pursue it full time. However, some programs will waive certain classes or offer accelerated programs that you can complete in a little over a year. And there are a number of options available for those with already hectic schedules.

Types of MBA Programs

There are a variety of ways that students can pursue MBA degrees if they have a full-time job or a busy schedule, need flexibility, or would like to graduate early:

  1. Two Year Full-time program. This is the standard program. It requires a typical workload and is geared towards students who can take a couple years off from work. When I attended my MBA program, I knew a number of students who went to school full-time while holding a full-time job as well. That is a very intensive option, though, that is not for everyone.
  2. Part-Time MBA. This program is structured for students who have jobs or otherwise cannot attend school full-time. Part-time programs will often take 3-4 years to complete. While they offer a similar curriculum, one will lose out on developing relationships with fellow students and teachers, which is one of the major attractions of an MBA program.
  3. One-Year Full Time MBA. This program is particularly intensive. Because of the time constraints, students are expected to take more classes than they would in most other full-time programs.
  4. Executive MBAs. An executive MBA is designed to reach students who are busy working professionals looking to advance their careers. Given the fact that they already have extensive business knowledge, they can usually complete the program part-time through weekend classes, in two years.
  5. Specialty MBAs. These MBA degrees are intended for students who would like to expand their knowledge in a given area. They are about as specialized as an MBA can be, and may be necessary for fields that require a specialized education. An example of a specialized MBA would be in computational finance.
  6. Dual Degree. Some students choose to study another field at the same time they pursue a degree in business. Many law students have pursued MBAs in conjunction with their legal studies at universities that offer this option.
  7. Online MBAs. Enrolling in an online MBA degree program is a great option for students who would like to save on time and commuting. It is also easier to fit into your schedule. However, some employers question the credibility of an online degree. This debate is still being resolved.

Students clearly have a number of options available. While pursuing an MBA, you need to decide which makes the most sense for you. With that said, keep in mind that employers will generally value the full-time MBA more than the other alternatives.

After deciding the best course of action, the next step is figuring out what to focus on.

harvard business school

MBA Curriculum and Courses

MBA programs are among the most generalized in the world. If you enroll in one, you will study many different fields within business, which will in turn prepare you to pursue a career in a variety of fields. The curriculum is generally composed of the following areas:

  1. Accounting. Accounting is the process by which financial information is communicated. In an MBA program, you will learn how to read, interpret and create financial statements. If you choose to pursue more advanced classes, you will also learn to use this information to cut small business costs, manage business taxes, and value companies. Accounting is also the foundation for finance, and is usually a prerequisite for financial classes you will pursue at the university.
  2. Economics. Economics is a separate field from business, but the two often converge. In economics classes, MBA students will learn how goods and services are exchanged, and the impacts that these transactions have in business.
  3. Finance. Coursework in finance teaches students how to manage investments successfully. This includes classes in securities analysis and investing, budgeting, cash flow management, and the use of quantitative measures to increase profits or assess the health of a company.
  4. Marketing. Marketing classes teach students how to communicate with their customers and influence their buying decisions. Specialized classes will cover topics such as advertising, Internet marketing, global marketing, branding strategies, and marketing research.
  5. Management. Management is really an all encompassing key to the field of business. It handles topics related to leadership, strategic vision, planning, and implementation of plans and strategies. It is involved with both the human and process-oriented aspects of running a business. There are many advanced management classes available to students who declare a concentration in management, or are simply interested in learning more. Disciplines that are subsets of management include organizational behavior and operations management.
  6. International Business. As we move towards a more global world, understanding the customs and methodologies for doing business in different countries is becoming increasingly important. MBA programs usually require students to take these classes so that they can succeed in a global business.
  7. Business Law. Only lawyers are qualified to make legal arguments. However, business people must at least be familiar enough with the law to know when to look for a lawyer. MBA programs give students a general overview of the law and the role it plays in business.

Most MBA programs have a number of standard classes that all students are required to take. In addition to the core coursework, many programs have students specialize in a specific area of business, such as finance or marketing. Students may also be required to complete an internship, particularly if they previously lacked work experience.

Now that you know how you can pursue an MBA, the key question is, why should you pursue one? And are there any additional issues that should be considered?

Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks to enrolling in an MBA program.

Advantages of an MBA Program

Completing an MBA program can be incredibly beneficial for a number of reasons. These include:

  1. Diverse Education. An MBA program is great for developing a comprehensive understanding of all the different aspects that make up business, especially for those who may not be sure what area of business suits them best. Even if you go into an MBA program thinking you want to pursue a career in investing, you will come out of the program well-versed in a variety of other areas as well. Thus, should you then choose to go into marketing, you will be adequately prepared. On the other hand, if you are confident about the career you want to pursue, you can still focus your studies on a specific aspect of business.
  2. Skills Will Always Be in Demand. Many college graduates study majors that may pay a lot up front, but their skillsets could be obsolete in a few years. Business students have universal skill sets that will be applicable forever.
  3. Career Advancement. A lot of organizations place heavy emphasis on having an MBA. It may be a great way to move forward with your career, and some promotions may actually require it. Some fields, like investment banking, will often require an MBA in order to obtain promotions.
  4. Networking. Many people say that this is the only benefit of an MBA program. Some actually feel that nothing learned in an MBA program has any value in the real world and that networking is the only reason to get an MBA. Personally, I don’t agree with this at all. However, I will admit that networking is definitely a quintessential part of getting an MBA. You may get a great job lead, or make a connection with a future business partner through your MBA classes. Smart MBA students do everything they can to take advantage of these opportunities.
  5. Customize Your Schedule. MBA programs are very flexible. This can be a great benefit for someone who is already working hard at their job and can’t afford to come into class in the middle of the day. My MBA program had night classes specifically for working professionals.

Challenges Facing MBA Programs

There are some things that students need to think about before attending an MBA program. These challenges include:

  1. Cost. MBA programs can be very expensive, even compared to other graduate programs at the same school. Tuition can cost $50,000 or more, and is usually even higher at tier 1 schools. See if your company can cover some of the costs through an employer tuition reimbursement program.
  2. Very Generalized Program. The fact that business school students take classes in so many different subject areas means that they don’t really have the time to master any specific field. They can declare a concentration in an area such as finance or entrepreneurship, but they still only have the opportunity to take a handful of classes in their area of interest. Universities have started offering specialized degrees such as masters in finance and marketing. These are becoming more desirable to employers than traditional MBAs because they exemplify a mastery of a specific field.
  3. Difficult to Stand Out. In 2009, more than a quarter of a million people were awarded MBAs. This creates a huge amount of competition for new graduates who are looking for work each year, which is why it’s especially important to get into the best school possible.
  4. Some Employers Don’t Value MBAs. Often, people question the value of the information that students learn in business school. Some businesses even feel that the knowledge given in these programs has no relevance at all. Either way, too many business school students expect their degree to get them a job. The harsh reality is that they will have a hard time getting a job if they don’t have either the work experience or skillset that employers are looking for. Remember that a degree is not valuable without relevant job skills.
  5. All MBAs Are Not Created Equally. There are a variety of factors that influence the value of an MBA program. Programs that are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools or Business (AACSB) are typically looked at more favorably than those that are only regionally accredited. Many employers will not recognize an MBA that is not AACSB accredited. Still others will only take into consideration an MBA from a tier 1 school such as Harvard or Penn State. If you have a company in mind that you’d like to work for, make sure you are familiar with their expectations.

Taking all of this into account, you may still be wondering if this type of degree would be worth the effort in your situation. It might not be. Read on.

When an MBA Isn’t Right for You

An MBA isn’t appropriate for everyone. If you fit into one of the following categories, you may need to think long and hard before committing yourself to the time and money that an MBA is going to require.

  1. Academically Minded. One of the things that makes or breaks an MBA is that it is so generalized. If you are someone looking for a specific area to delve into, then an MBA probably won’t do much for you.
  2. Entrepreneurs. Some entrepreneurs may be put off by having to push their venture back two years so they can attend business school. Since entrepreneurs tend to be self-motivated, they may find business school to be confining. Moreover, you will be spending an immense amount of money on tuition that you could be using to start your own business. Nevertheless, if you’re an entrepreneurial-minded person but simply don’t have that great of an idea yet, business school might be the perfect place for you to meet your business partner and create your business plan.
  3. Lack of a Desire for a Business Career. Many people are encouraged to get an MBA to supplement their other fields of interest. This is usually bad advice, because these people are unlikely to get much out of the program. However, people in some fields (such as engineering) may hope to take managerial roles in their fields. In these situations, an MBA may be very valuable.

Final Word

If you choose to pursue an MBA, you are pursuing one of the most demanded degrees in the world. You are going to be in a very competitive environment, as you will be competing for jobs with at least a million other people.

It is important to know what you are looking for after you graduate, and to work hard in getting into the program of your choice. Be aware what the admissions requirements are for your school and the specific programs that are offered. Especially in this economy, it is going to take more than a degree to stand out among so many other applicants.

Do you have an MBA or are you currently enrolled in business school? What has your experience been? Please share in the comments below.

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Kalen Smith
Kalen Smith has written for a variety of financial and business sites. He is a weekly contributor for Young Entrepreneur and has worked as a guest blogger on behalf of Consumer Media Network. He holds an MBA in finance from Clark University in Worcester, MA.

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