What Is an MBA? A Complete Guide
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The MBA (Master of Business Administration) is a postgraduate master’s degree level qualification. Studying for an MBA will provide you with a sound knowledge of important business practices.
Although an MBA provides the same level of education as many other master’s degrees, most people choose to study for an MBA after they have gained several years’ experience within a professional workplace. It would be unusual to move straight onto an MBA course following the completion of your undergraduate studies.
While traditional MBAs are full-time programs, alternative options exist for those who wish to continue working in their current job. These include online MBAs, mini-MBAs and executive MBAs (EMBAs).
This guide will examine all of these in more detail to help you determine which option may be best for your personal circumstances and goals.
Many business schools now offer online study programs to enable students to work towards an MBA degree with more flexibility. Sometimes referred to as a distance-learning MBA, this option may appeal if you are unable to attend university full-time, or you would prefer to fit your studies around your other professional and personal commitments.
Below we will explore whether the online MBA qualification offers students the same value as the full-time traditional MBA study route.
Although still referred to as ‘online’, some distance-learning MBA programs require some level of in-person attendance. These can range from short periods where you are expected to attend lectures and seminars in person, to longer-term internships or placements.
If you live a long way from your chosen learning provider’s campus or have other work or family commitments, it is important to consider whether you will be able to make the necessary arrangements to attend on-campus events.
As an online MBA student, you will still receive dedicated support from teaching staff and professors.
Before committing to a particular online MBA course, check the university’s website to find out information about the faculty and staff who will be supporting you in your studies.
Important points to consider are whether the faculty’s business interests align with or complement your own, and whether your advisors will have experience that is relevant to your own career goals.
You should also find out what resources will be made available to you; for example, whether you will have access to an online or electronic library facility. If a learning provider does not offer this, you may find that it is costly to gain access to all of the relevant textbooks and business journals.
The MBA is a challenging qualification to achieve and your studies will take a significant amount of time and energy. Prospective online MBA students should be wary of any online course that claims the qualification can be completed quickly.
Before committing to a course, find out how your chosen school runs its terms or semesters, and whether this will fit in with your lifestyle and study goals. This should also help you to evaluate how long it is likely to take you to complete the course.
To make sure that learning providers, MBA programs and teaching staff are offered at a high standard, many learning establishments choose to seek accreditation from an independent organization.
When choosing an online MBA program, it is important to find one that holds such accreditation, ideally from the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) in the US.
Courses with this accreditation have had to undergo rigorous testing to ensure they meet the required quality standards, so they are highly valued by employers.
Other accreditations to look for include AMBA (Association of MBAs) and EQUIS (EFMD Quality Improvement System).
Course costs vary enormously – you can expect to pay anything between 30,000 for an online MBA.
A standard MBA course (with on-campus attendance) will probably cost around 100,000.
Therefore, an online MBA is likely to be a lot cheaper than a standard full-time MBA. Whichever study option you choose, however, gaining an MBA degree is likely to be expensive, so it is important to find an option that will provide you with a good return on your investment.
Be sure to compare the cost of each program, but don’t automatically choose the cheapest one.
If you are planning to study for an online MBA while working, you could consider asking your employer to contribute to the costs of your study. In some cases, employers may ask their staff to sign a waiver that says they will repay some or all of the costs if they leave employment within a specified timeframe.
Loans and funding are not normally available to online MBA students in the US but some universities offer their students the chance to apply for scholarships; these are not always offered to online MBA students, but it is worth investigating with your chosen provider.
- Greater flexibility – Studying for an online MBA offers the chance to study flexibly, working around your other commitments such as employment, family and caring responsibilities.
- Access to the best courses – Choosing an online course means that you will be able to access the highest quality courses, no matter where you live.
- Affordability – Often, studying for an online MBA is more affordable – tuition fees tend to be lower and your living costs are already accounted for.
- Time management – Depending on your personal preferences, you will have the option to complete the course more quickly when studying for an online MBA. Similarly, if you wish to take longer, you will have greater flexibility to do so.
- Recognition from employers – The online version may not be viewed as positively as the traditional study option by some employers. This could mean that you are statistically less likely to enjoy such significant increases in your future salary. To address this, make sure your online course has the relevant accreditations.
- Fewer networking opportunities – Some learning providers will offer access to online forums and chat facilities to enable you to engage with other students, but studying online will offer fewer opportunities for networking face-to-face. Make sure you take steps to tackle this by attending as many relevant local industry networking opportunities as possible.
- Less likely to receive financial assistance – Although you could explore the possibility of student funding and scholarships, you are less likely to be eligible for these if you have chosen to pursue an online MBA.
If you are already employed in your chosen industry, choosing to study for an MBA could be an effective way to move your career forward. As an online student, you will not need to resign from your current post, since this study route offers you the flexibility to achieve your qualification while working around your existing commitments.
Your employer may even agree to fund all or part of your study costs. You can study anywhere you like, so it is easy to work on-the-go if you travel a lot in your current job role.
You can complete the online MBA program as fast or as slow as you like. Some people manage to finish it in 18 months, while others prefer to take their time and spend several years completing it. This flexibility will allow you to adjust your study commitments around other things that are happening in your life.
For example, if you have a tight deadline to meet within the workplace, you may wish to ease off on your studies for a few weeks. Equally, if you have young children, you may need to take some time off from studying over the school summer holidays.
When studying online, you won’t usually need to physically attend classes (although it is important to make sure your chosen course doesn’t have any attendance commitments before applying). This means that you can study at times that best suit you. If you are an early riser, you might prefer to spend a couple of hours studying before leaving for work each morning, whereas night owls may work more productively during the evening.
While there are many benefits to studying for an online MBA, there are a few downsides to mention too. Independent study can be isolating at times, as you will miss out on creating bonds with other students in person. These working relationships often lead on to be important business connections in the future, so studying online as opposed to an attendance-based course is likely to leave you with fewer business networking opportunities.
Furthermore, you may find that you have access to fewer job opportunities in the future. As you will not be attending on-site classes or lectures, you won’t have the chance to attend presentations from potential recruiters or presentations from business organizations, opportunities that are offered in abundance to full-time MBA students.
If you are considering taking the online MBA route, it is important to do plenty of research. Online MBA costs vary greatly, as do the resources you have access to.
Ultimately, if you are not in a position to leave your current job role but still wish to gain an MBA qualification, the online MBA route is certainly one that is worth exploring.
The mini-MBA is an accelerated MBA program that concentrates one to two years of tuition into approximately 40 hours.
The full MBA (Master of Business Administration) is a course that covers every aspect of business in a formal, postgraduate setting. The MBA is one of the most expensive postgraduate courses available and, as such, the mini-MBA has gained popularity to give an introductory insight into business education.
The mini-MBA was first introduced at McGill University in Canada in 1949 and, since then, universities, colleges and even corporations have offered mini-MBA courses that allow students to get a foundational understanding of business administration.
Some mini-MBAs are broad-spectrum, giving an overview of all aspects of business. Others focus on a specific aspect, such as digital marketing or social media.
The mini-MBA is not a substitute for the full MBA – it does not result in a degree, but you will usually get a certificate.
The mini-MBA is usually aimed at middle managers but it is also suitable for students considering a full MBA, to help them get an idea of what the full degree course might entail.
Some universities think they are so valuable for this purpose that they will deduct the cost of the mini-MBA from the full course fees if a student decides to carry on their studies.
Generally, professionals who enroll on a mini-MBA course are looking to enhance their business knowledge in a specific area, or are looking to increase their general business competence.
There are two types of professional who might consider a mini-MBA:
Mini-MBAs are taken by business professionals who are looking to enhance their knowledge of a specific area. These candidates may specifically look for mini-MBAs that specialize in certain areas, such as marketing, strategy, leadership or entrepreneurship.
They are also taken by professionals employed in different sectors, such as law, who need to brush up on their business knowledge but do not need a full MBA degree.
Recruiters are aware that the mini-MBA is not equivalent to a full MBA. Some might consider it a ‘quick win’ option that has no real value. For most, though, the effort and energy put into pursuing and completing any formal training for the desired position will be well received.
The knowledge that can be gained through studying a mini-MBA is transferable through most aspects of management – from leadership to strategy – and clearly demonstrates initiative and ambition.
For employers, the mini-MBA is a handy tool that can help upskill their existing employees with minimal time or monetary investment and is a popular option.
Some mini-MBAs are offered by educational institutes, and many corporations are offering their own mini-MBAs as part of their Continuing Professional Development schemes.
The main ‘con’ to undertaking a mini-MBA is that it is not a full MBA. This means that it does not result in a professionally recognized degree or qualification.
Due to time constraints, the mini-MBA will not cover the same breadth of material as a full MBA. Indeed, some people think that the mini-MBA devalues the full MBA because it cannot expose students to the full depth and breadth of the subject.
A full MBA can cost over 500, rising to around $2,000. Therefore, the mini-MBA is more appealing to those with a limited budget who still want to seek further business education. Also, a mini-MBA will allow you to keep your job during your study, reducing the impact of lost wages.
The rise in focused mini-MBAs can allow students to learn about a specific aspect of business – especially in our fast-moving technological society. This means that someone who has great general business knowledge can study a mini-MBA in a subject like social media to update their knowledge.
The mini-MBA is an accelerated program that condenses years of tuition into a much shorter timeframe (usually around 40 hours). This means that this course is often taught as a ‘bootcamp’ – an intensive course lasting four to five days – which works well as part of your professional development whilst you are in a management position.
If you are looking into the possibility of studying a full MBA, the mini-MBA gives a really good idea of what to expect. It is, of course, an introductory overview of the ideas, trends and strategies that are prevalent in business administration. The mini-MBA is sometimes known as a starter MBA, and can be the first step towards a full MBA.
The mini-MBA can be delivered on campus, online or a combination of both. Class-based courses can either be held during work hours or on evenings and weekends.
For some, the intensive week-long courses are perfect for an in-depth, full immersion into the course. These are full attendance courses, often held at a university.
Some courses are spread over six to 12 weeks – the same amount of content is covered, but the course is structured to deliver it over multiple sessions, giving more flexibility to those who might be undertaking study alongside work or other commitments.
In terms of assessment, some mini-MBAs are assessed via examination, while others are not assessed as such – they tend to deliver attendance-based certification instead.
An Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) is a two-year degree program targeted towards business executives with significant managerial and workforce experience.
Often wrongly considered to be a superior form of the Master of Business Administration (MBA), an EMBA actually has many similarities to an MBA program. The differences come in terms of delivery, structure, fees and entry requirements.
An MBA is:
- A full-time university program
- Aimed at recent graduates and early career professionals
- An immersive graduate school experience and commonly only requires work experience of up to three years
By contrast, an EMBA is:
- A part-time program
- Aimed at mid-career business executives with significant work and managerial experience
- Designed to allow study alongside earning a salary with their current employer
- Ideal for professionals who wish to enhance their leadership skills to progress within their company
Both degrees enrich a candidate’s business and management skills base, improving their career prospects and earning potential. Which program is the correct choice for you will depend on your personal and career goals, existing commitments and lifestyle.
EMBA qualifications offer candidates an enhanced skills base to advance their career prospects within their current organizations and beyond. They are well suited to a mid-career business executive who wishes to consolidate their skills and experience to boost their capability, confidence, prospects and earnings.
EMBAs can rapidly lead to increased responsibilities and hold the potential to secure promotions. EMBAs are best suited to executives who wish to move up within their current company, rather than elsewhere – as an EMBA is an investment for both employee and employer.
EMBAs are designed to make high-level employees more efficient and effective leaders. If your employer has offered to sponsor your course, this is a clear sign of their confidence in your potential to advance.
An EMBA is a good choice if you don’t want to stop working to undertake study. It allows you to keep your existing job and momentum at your company, so again, is ideal if you are looking to stay on with your employer and advance your career with them.
An EMBA not only gives the prestige of a master’s degree but is good for those who are looking to increase their access to professional networks. Upon completion of the course, you will likely also have access to the university’s EMBA alumni network. These networks commonly hold events that provide opportunities for building further business relationships outside of your EMBA cohort.
An MBA is a full-time study program, which means candidates will have a full class load spread across the week. It is in a modular format and offers different electives and choices for specialization.
There will be some flexibility to organize your schedule based on the classes you choose to take, but due to the workload, it is extremely difficult to maintain a job outside of an MBA program.
MBA candidates tend to live on or near campus and gain an immersive graduate school experience. This means there are options to socialize with the wider student body and get involved in extracurricular offerings such as university clubs, sports and other student events.
MBAs tend to have a larger cohort than EMBA programs, with the group of students you take your classes with varying from module to module.
In terms of content, MBA programs tend to have a focus on both theoretical and practical knowledge.
As a part-time program designed for working professionals, the teaching on an EMBA is made up of online modules and face-to-face classes during evenings and weekends. It aims to fit around job and family responsibilities, but still requires significant time investment outside of timetabled classes to complete assignments and consolidate knowledge.
An EMBA has more core modules and fewer elective options than an MBA as it has an in-built focus on executive leadership and high-level managerial skills. As EMBAs have smaller student intakes and fewer electives, classes tend to be with the same group of students.
EMBAs comprise more distance and out-of-hours learning than MBAs and, as candidates often have extremely busy work, study and family schedules, EMBAs do not supply the immersive graduate student experience provided by an MBA program.
An EMBA tends to focus on practical knowledge to enhance problem-solving and decision-making skills. As EMBA candidates are still in their senior company roles, they can rapidly apply the knowledge and best practice they gain from the program in their day-to-day work and gain fast benefits.
Core coursework covers a variety of topics, often including:
- Strategic management
- Finance and accounting
- Operations management
- Human resources
Whilst EMBAs tend to lack the highly specialized pathways a larger MBA program can offer, a degree of specialization may be available. This will vary from institution to institution, so do your research as to what is possible on your program.
Examples of specialized EMBAs include those focused on sustainability or healthcare.
It is common for an EMBA program to have an option to gain some type of international experience; check individual program specifications to see what is on offer.
Assessment for EMBA courses is commonly a combination of examinations plus group and individual assignments.
The program length differs between MBA and EMBA programs:
- An MBA tends to be for a duration of two to three years full-time
- An EMBA commonly lasts for one to two years of part-time study
Which course is more intense is up for debate as there are many factors to consider alongside the factor of duration, such as:
- Class load
- School environment
- External commitments
As EMBA programs are shorter, however, they are often found to have a more intensive pace.
For exact course durations and start dates, research the program at your preferred school.
Despite having a degree of flexibility to fit around your job so you can continue earning, an EMBA is still a big commitment that needs careful consideration:
It may disrupt your work and family routines.
You will need to study in the evenings and at weekends.
Depending upon the distance of your university from your home and workplace, you may be committing yourself to a much longer commuting schedule.
Schools often require a letter of support from your employer alongside your application to confirm they approve the time demands the course will require. This is the case whether or not they are sponsoring the place, as undertaking an EMBA will inevitably put an extra strain upon employee time and may prevent candidates from working late nights or taking business trips due to study commitments.
This means that, although an EMBA may result in higher earning potential upon successful completion, balancing the commitment may prevent candidates from making the most of opportunities to lead new accounts or secure new clients at work.
Consider carefully whether you will be able to balance your work, study and family responsibilities.
Applicants require less experience in the workforce than EMBA applicants. MBA candidates tend to have between three and five years of experience.
Prospective candidates are required to sit the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). A GMAT score of 600 or above is needed; a score of 700 is required for admission to a top school. It is worth noting that GMAT results are valid for five years, so you can take the test and then apply to an MBA program in due course.
Due to the lower workforce experience requirements and nature of the program, the average age of an MBA student tends to be 28 years old.
An EMBA is aimed at professionals who are senior in their fields and have a minimum of five years’ managerial experience, which usually equates to around 10 to 15 years of experience in the workforce. This means that the average age of an EMBA student is 38 years old to reflect the experience level required.
EMBA admissions prefer candidates to be able to back up their extensive business knowledge with diverse experience from a varied professional background.
In terms of what qualifications you need to take an EMBA, the EMBA admissions process places an emphasis on experience rather than test scores or essays, so applicants are not usually required to take the GMAT. An exception to this might be if you did not study business as your undergraduate degree.
Some schools require applicants to sit the Executive Assessment. This recently introduced entrance exam, launched in 2016, is designed specifically for assessing applicants for EMBA programs. Its use varies, so contact individual programs to see if you will need to sit an Executive Assessment as part of your application.
If you are an international student, you may be required to display your English language proficiency by taking the language proficiency test chosen by your course provider.
The cost of taking an MBA is substantial and is, on average, **100,000 for a place on a program at a top school.
MBAs are self-funded programs but scholarships are available depending on your school and personal circumstances. These are often limited and extremely competitive.
If you do not qualify for a scholarship, an MBA is likely to be a significant financial commitment that should be carefully considered in terms of return on investment.
EMBAs tend to be slightly more expensive than MBA programs. The average cost is around **200,000.
The difference is, however, that the majority of EMBAs are sponsored by the candidate’s employer. This means that students personally pay no tuition fees and can continue to earn a salary while studying.
An EMBA, therefore, puts much less financial strain on candidates – but will put pressure on work commitments, a strain that MBA students often do not have to contend with.
There are ties involved with the employer sponsorship option, however. Employees being sponsored to complete their EMBA are often required to commit to working for their current company for at least two years on completion of their EMBA.
This is to ensure the company gets a return on its investment. This is not usually an issue, as the majority of EMBA candidates wish to take their EMBA to secure increased responsibility and promotion within their current organization.
Additionally, funded EMBA students tend to be limited when choosing where to take their EMBA, as they require an institution close to their employer.
Self-funded EMBA students are becoming increasingly common. This means that there are now some EMBA scholarships available. If employer sponsorship is not an option for you, it is worth researching whether the schools you are interested in offer scholarships for EMBA programs.
Both the MBA and EMBA are master’s degrees in business administration. Previously, it was feared that an EMBA may be viewed as a diluted version of a full-time MBA, but an EMBA is now an established course for boosting the skills of senior executives.
The two courses are tailored towards people at different stages of their professional careers, so prospects and professional arcs following each can differ due to context.
MBAs are intensive, challenging and well-regarded degrees. Completion of an MBA will likely help a graduate to obtain a higher-level job as a business professional, commonly with a higher salary than would be secured without the MBA qualification. This is due to the enhanced business knowledge, practical skills, personal growth and, potentially, the networking opportunities the course will have provided.
Having completed an EMBA, a senior professional will be in a much stronger position to gain a promotion within their existing organization. As EMBAs are commonly company-sponsored, paying for an employee to undertake their EMBA is a sign of company confidence in their ability and potential. This is likely to be capitalized upon and rewarded on completion of the program.
As it displays transferable high-level practical leadership and managerial skills, an EMBA qualification will also be beneficial if an employee seeks to move firms after their two-year sponsorship commitment to their current company lapses.
Spots on EMBA programs at highly regarded schools are extremely popular and the admissions process is competitive.
To apply, you will need to prepare your official documents such as academic transcripts and proof of identity. You will also be required to present your resume displaying your professional experience.
Ensure your resume is clear, concise and up-to-date to sell your experience and capabilities to the admissions board.
It is also likely that you will be asked to write a professional motivation essay to complement your application. This essay will need to be well written and convey why you want to undertake an EMBA with your chosen university.
You will also require one, if not multiple, letters of recommendation conveying your talent, commitment and drive.
Choosing an EMBA course is often more restrictive than selecting an MBA would be, due to limitations on location and travel distance. Nevertheless, it is important to comprehensively research the options in your area to ensure you are getting the best experience and teaching.
The Economist updates their EMBA course rankings every three years, their latest list being from 2020.
Ultimately, whether an MBA or an EMBA program is right for you will depend on your stage of career and existing commitments.
If you are at the beginning of your professional career, you won't have the necessary managerial and workforce experience to take an EMBA, but you will likely have the ability to commit to an intensive full-time graduate school program. In this case, an MBA will provide you with the same level of education and key business skills that may well springboard your career at an earlier stage.
If you are a senior executive with significant experience and family commitments, then it is likely that a sponsored EMBA degree – which allows you to continue to work whilst enhancing your leadership and managerial skills for the benefit of both yourself and your employer – is the best fit.
The degrees may vary in terms of financial commitment, depending on individual sponsorship and scholarship situations, but both degrees can prove to be a significant undertaking in terms of money, time and effort.
Although this investment is likely to pay off in the long term, it is important to consider whether it is the right choice for you at the current time. If you are not currently in a situation to be able to take an MBA degree, remember an EMBA may well be an option in the future.
If you can't commit to a full-time, in-person MBA program, completing an online MBA may be an appealing alternative. An online MBA gives you the flexibility to study around existing work and personal commitments.
Often online MBAs are less expensive than full-time MBAs and since they're online, you can access them wherever you live and even when you're traveling. However, some exployers may not regard online MBAs with the same level of prestige as traditional MBAs, so it's important to ensure the online MBA you choose has respected accreditations.
The mini-MBA is an intensive, condensed version of the full MBA. Offering students the chance to achieve an overview of the full MBA course, it is aimed at those looking to upskill, increase their business knowledge or get an idea of what a full MBA would include.
The mini-MBA is significantly cheaper than the full course, both in time commitment and financially. Students taking a full MBA would be expected to study full time, usually on campus, and it can take two years to complete. However, the mini-MBA delivers condensed tuition in around 40 hours, sometimes during one week or as a six to 12-week course.
In terms of cost, the full MBA is one of the most expensive postgrad courses available; the cost for the mini-MBA is significantly lower.
As a further education option, undertaking a mini-MBA shows initiative and ambition, and any effort made by a potential employee to increase their knowledge and skill set should be seen favorably by recruiters, but it is not an alternative to a full MBA and recruiters are aware of this.
Taking a mini-MBA is a great way to get new skills, improve your knowledge and see if taking a full MBA would be beneficial to you.