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What an MBA Degree Is and What You Need to Know

via USNEWS: College students and young professionals often wonder whether attending a top graduate business school will set them up for career success.

An MBA degree is a popular stepping stone to C-suite jobs at large corporations, and it is also an asset for budding entrepreneurs. It’s a credential that appears on the resumes of numerous Fortune 500 executives, including Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, who earned his MBA at the University of Tulsa, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, an MBA alumna of Harvard Business School.

But while many prominent business executives hold an MBA, the degree isn’t a golden ticket to fame or fortune. According to MBA experts, excelling in business requires initiative, creativity and effort, regardless of someone’s academic pedigree.

“There’s nothing about getting an MBA that doesn’t require initiative from that point all the way through your career,” says Elissa Sangster, executive director of the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on encouraging women to attend MBA programs and pursue ambitious career goals. Sangster says an MBA degree from a quality business school can help people break into certain highly competitive business sectors such as Silicon Valley tech companies or the Wall Street finance industry. She adds that prospective MBA students who have dreams of working in major cities far from home can often benefit from earning their MBA at a nonlocal school.

“When you think about business school, there are so many great choices that are going to require you to pack up your apartment or your home and move across the country,” she says. However, Sangster acknowledges that MBA hopefuls who have family commitments or want to stay at their current company may not want or need to attend a national B-school if that means moving across the country. She says career enhancers who are more focused on gaining skills than adding cachet to their resume can benefit from attending a regional B-school.

If you’re intrigued by the possibility of earning an MBA degree but wonder whether the degree is a good fit for you, here’s an outline of what you can expect to get out of an MBA program.

What “MBA” Stands For

MBA is the common abbreviation for a Master of Business Administration degree, and recipients of this degree typically stop attending school after receiving it.

However, those who are interested in conducting business research may elect to pursue a doctorate in business or management. Such students can earn either a Ph.D. or a Doctor of Business Administration degree, commonly known as a DBA.

How Long It Takes to Get an MBA

A full-time MBA program typically lasts two years, although there are many accelerated full-time MBA programs that only last a single year, especially at non-U.S. business schools, where this fast-paced type of MBA is common.

Part-time and executive MBA programs vary in length, depending on how many credits a student enrolls in each academic semester or quarter. Both executive and part-time MBA programs are designed for working professionals who are attending school while maintaining a full-time job.

MBA Requirements

MBA applications typically include standardized test scores, resumes, academic transcripts, essays and recommendation letters. Many B-schools will accept either GMAT or GRE test scores. However, there are a few test-optional MBA programs where applicants do not need to submit business school entrance exam scores. Additionally, some B-schools that ordinarily require test scores will waive that requirement for applicants who qualify for score waivers based on impressive work experience or a solid college GPA.

B-schools occasionally invite applicants for in-person interviews and sometimes require applicants to submit video essays. And most MBA programs prefer MBA applicants who have significant work experience, although there are some programs designed for college students or recent college graduates.

MBA admissions officers generally like to see evidence of career progression in an MBA application, meaning that the applicant gradually took on more professional responsibility. It’s also helpful if applicants have success stories about how they were able to contribute to their current company, past employers, college campus or local community, experts say.

Types of MBA Degrees

Anyone who is interested in an MBA should know there are multiple types of MBA programs to choose from, including full-time, part-time and executive MBA programs, says Rebecca Horan, a former admissions officer for the executive MBA program at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Each of these types of MBAs is appropriate for a different kind of student, she adds.

She says a full-time MBA program is an all-consuming educational experience that allows students to reset their career trajectories. “You can use it to accelerate your career and you can also use it to do a career switch, because it is such an intensive, all-in program,” she says.

That said, Horan says that for someone who is satisfied with their career path but wants to move up at their current company, a part-time program may be a better fit, especially if their company is willing to subsidize the cost of a part-time MBA program. Horan says someone who is happy with his current job may not want to leave that job to pursue a full-time MBA program.

She adds that executive MBA programs are designed for seasoned businesspeople who want to leap to the next level in their career and increase their leadership skills.

Among full-time MBA programs, experts say there are two primary types MBA hopefuls should consider: a traditional two-year MBA program and an accelerated one-year MBA program. One-year, full-time MBA programs typically cost less than two-year programs and require less time than traditional programs, but the speed of these programs means that students must carry a heavy academic workload, experts say.

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