The term "MBA" frequently is in the news. It stands for Master of Business Administration and is a degree that can be obtained from a school with an accredited MBA program. Like other master's degrees, the MBA is a graduate degree. It represents the completion of two to three years of intensive instruction in many aspects of business and management. The term often is in the news because a growing number of leaders in private industry, public institutions, and government have acquired an MBA as part of their education. An MBA from a prestigious MBA school is a symbol of management excellence that those in the executive world increasingly need on their resume.
Recent studies have shown that, in terms of lifetime earning power, a master's degree can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than a bachelor's degree. In this respect, no master's degree is more valuable than an MBA. The average MBA holder earns more than a 50% increase in salary a year after acquiring the degree. Even though getting the degree can be an expensive process, when done properly the rewards are enormous. The non-financial rewards also can be great. Elevation to a top management position, and the respect and responsibility it commands, is much more likely for graduates from MBA schools than for their peers.
MBA school programs vary in duration, intensity, and scope. Many programs allow students to attend school part time in order to pursue professional opportunities while studying. Others require full-time participation. Many programs run for three years, while a few can be accomplished in only 15 months. Distance learning is an increasingly available option as schools put more and more courses online to accommodate students. In addition, schools offer MBAs in specific areas, like accounting and entrepreneurship. Most MBA school programs will give holders a solid background in traditional business and management theories, but each program will offer students different courses and electives to choose from. The range of courses offered should be an important criterion in the MBA search process.
MBA schools are not for everyone. An undergraduate degree is a prerequisite. Students also must pass one or more standardized tests to prove their proficiency in academic areas. Most schools require a GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) score, and non-native English speakers may be required to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. A certain business aptitude also is required, and work experience can make or break a candidate's application. Some proof of business acumen likely will be expected and examined.
MBA schools can be an expensive proposition. Online degrees are cheaper but still cost more than $10,000. Traditional MBA programs easily surpass $80,000 on average, while many programs cost significantly more. Financial aid and scholarships can offset the costs for many eligible students. For others, student loans are the answer to affording an MBA degree. The good news is that many MBA programs offer students internship opportunities with companies and are visited by company recruiters. Along with earning potential, the job prospects of an MBA holder are greatly increased. The investment required guarantees that only serious-minded students finish their degrees, which makes an MBA that much more valuable.
MBA programs require considerable mathematical ability. Several classes that are mandatory in most programs, like accounting and economics, require mathematical understanding beyond simple arithmetic. The GMAT, a test that most programs require of applicants, has a math section that is a good indicator of an applicant's likely success at an MBA program. Applicants who struggle or fail to achieve a respectable score might reconsider their application. Other common courses, such as marketing, require the ability to think abstractly--to consider the big picture as well as the details of a particular task. Finally, because the ultimate goal of an MBA is an executive position, good communication skills are a necessity. Managers must be able to communicate a vision successfully to their employees, clients, and customers, both in writing and speech. Good communication skills require not only the ability to express oneself but also the ability to listen. Managers must strive to notice the morale of their employees as well as their productivity. Listening is as important a component of leadership as is speaking.
A good candidate for an MBA program also will have a vision of his or her future and be goal-oriented. A wide variety of choices must be made when choosing an MBA school. There are many specialty MBAs to consider as well as the costs of different programs. Candidates should know, for example, not only the job title they want when coming out of their program but how much that title pays on average. The time to decide on a career path is before applying for an MBA program, not after. The application process is another consideration that requires organization and forward thinking. Applicants must research the requirements of their desired schools as well as application deadlines. Test scores from standardized tests, like the GMAT, can take weeks to reach a desired business school. All elements of the application process must be coordinated to precede the schools' deadlines.
Once the decision to apply to an MBA program has been made, good candidates must strive to become good applicants. Most schools publish statistics on their matriculating and graduating classes. Candidates can check these statistics to see whether they fit within the school's profile of its student body, comparing everything from test scores to experience to see how they compare with the school's vision of itself. Applying to schools with little hope of being admitted is a time- and money-wasting activity. Knowing how to present oneself to a school is the first step in proving oneself a viable candidate for executive-level jobs in the future.
MBA schools are ranked by a variety of reputable financial publications. Financial services, like Bloomberg, and publications, like U.S. News & World Report and the Financial Times, publish separate surveys. Often these surveys are broken down into regions (Southeast, West Coast, etc.) and kinds of programs (part-time MBA, full-time MBA, distance learning, etc.). These surveys tend to be redundant, but they can be checked against each other for accuracy.
The surveys also publish the criteria by which they judge the schools. They usually include surveys of students and business recruiters who find candidates at the top programs. The subjective data are presented with more objective numbers like the average starting salary of first-year graduates and other post-graduation outcomes. Other information, like student-teacher ratios, also is factored into the ranking.
When the surveys are published, they usually include reams of statistics on all the schools. Not only is a straight list compiled ranking several hundred programs, but other information is provided as well. A school may be No. 1 overall, for instance, but may not have the highest rates of hire by Fortune 500 companies. Such information can be invaluable to prospective students trying to decide among several programs. These rankings are, of course, considered by companies hiring recent graduates. Most of the surveys are published yearly and can be found in online and print editions.
Last Updated: 08/20/2013
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