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An MBA Overview

What is an MBA?

A Masters of Business Administration (MBA) is one of the most common advanced degrees in the world. Professionals from companies of all sizes and in every industry pursue MBA degrees in order to gain the experience and expertise necessary to run complex enterprises in competitive industries. Having an MBA is often a requirement for upper-level management positions. And one of these degrees is often paired with training in the sciences or other disciplines to help turn expertise into business acumen.

MBA programs are offered though most major universities, and in both in-person and online environments. Since this is such a popular degree with such broad appeal, education providers of all types have an incentive to offer flexible and innovative degree programs. That makes it uniquely easy to pursue an MBA while already employed, on a part-time basis, or from home. If your goal is to advance your career in any business, an MBA is an important, if not essential, credential.


A Brief History of the MBA

The history of the MBA closely parallels the history of modern business. In the late 19th century when American enterprises began to consolidate their power and grow into national entities, a need arose to approach management from a more scientific perspective. Relying on instinct, history and personality was no longer an effective way to manage large, specialized and disconnected groups of employees. The first graduate business program was inaugurated in 1881 at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The goal was to research effective management strategies and train future managers in those strategies for real-world application. The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College began awarding Master of Science in Commerce degrees – the precursor to the MBA – in 1900. history-harvardThe first official MBA was offered by the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration in 1908. In its first year, the program had 15 faculty members, 33 regular students, and 47 specials students. By 1930 the number of students had increased to 1,070. Initially, the U.S. was the only country to offer MBA programs as other countries preferred on-the-job training. Today, MBAs are offered in both developing and developed countries worldwide.

Different Types of MBAs

Since MBA programs are so ubiquitous, they come in many forms. That is great news for prospective students, because it is much easier to achieve a balance between school, work, and life than with other graduate programs. It also means that moving to a different city may not be necessary. Most MBA programs fall into four distinct categories:


An online MBA offers learning programs delivered exclusively through online environments. These can include recordings of lectures, chat sessions with professors, discussions in message boards, and tests/quizzes administered online. Typically, students will be able to complete these programs without visiting a bricks and mortar university. The scope of the curriculum is not any different, just the delivery method. It will usually take three to five years to complete one of these programs.


A hybrid online MBA program will combine online and in-person learning. The ratio varies depending on the program, but typically the bulk of the work is done online while in-person meetings are reserved for specialized instruction. Some students prefer hybrid MBA programs because of their learning style. Others like the ability to interact and network with classmates and instructors in person. Completing one of these programs takes around three to five years.


It is not impossible to reach the executive level without an MBA. And it is not uncommon for upper-level executives to have multiple MBAs. In order to cater to students who have a demanding day job but also want to pursue an advanced degree, the schedule and delivery method of classes is more flexible. The curriculum is also catered to professionals who already have a sophisticated understanding of business. Admissions is not necessarily limited to executives, but these programs are not ideally suited to the needs of less established professionals. Completing a program will take around two years.


For many professionals an MBA is a prerequisite for a promotion. And for many businesses, growth is impossible without management expertise. For these reason, a number of colleges and universities offer accelerated MBA programs that speed up the pace of learning. They typically take 12 to 18 months so that graduates can leverage the value of their MBA in the real world faster. By their nature, these programs require an intense commitment of time and study from the student.

Specialized MBA Programs

It is hard to make generalized statements about what works and does not work in management. And a one-size-fits-all approach rarely proves effective. In order to address the unique needs of managers working in fields like healthcare, IT, nonprofits, finance, and even sports, a number of specialized MBA programs have been developed. In some cases these apply to industries – IT, healthcare, etc. – and in other cases they apply to disciplines – human resources, marketing, etc. The curriculum of these programs will address issues that are unique and relevant to the specialization in question. It is possible to pursue a specialized MBA from the start, but many professionals prefer to supplement the broad training offered in a traditional MBA with a specialized degree earned later.

Trends in Specialization

trends-specializationsExamining how many students enter various types of specialized MBA programs reveals a lot about the present and future state of global business. These trends are also worth considering for prospective students hoping to make the most of their MBA degree. Not unexpectedly, the most popular type of program is one focused on general business. After that, the specializations that have seen the largest growth in popularity between 2009 and 2014 are Quantitative Methods, Business Ethics, and Statistics. Just as revealing are the programs that have experienced the largest decline in popularity over the same period. These include Computer/Management Information Systems, International Business, and Marketing. These declines do not indicate that these programs or disciplines have no merit but simply that their prominence in the world of MBA programs is changing.

The Benefits of an MBA

An MBA is considered by most to be a necessary credential for a career in business. But obtaining one of these degrees is more than just a requirement. It also delivers a number of tangible benefits in terms of salary, job prospects, and overall return on investment:
mba-top-performing-ceosJob Prospects – There is a lot that goes into getting a job or promotion, so it is hard to say exactly how an MBA affects your job prospects. But in fields like securities, marketing, and sales, more than 16 percent of the working professionals have MBA degrees according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  And in a survey of the 100 top-performing CEOs conducted by the Harvard Business Review, six out of the 10 top performers have an MBA. Median Salary/Range – The amount of extra income you earn after completing an MBA program varies by profession, but in almost all cases is significant. A study conducted by PayScale revealed that Corporate Finance professionals earn 35 percent more, Operations Management Professionals earn 50 percent more, and Information Technology Professionals earn up to 57 percent more. A survey of corporate recruiters conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council showed that the median salary for a newly-hired MBA is $100,000, which is $45,000 greater than the starting salary for professionals with a bachelor’s Connections – Networking is essential for long-term career success, and an MBA program is a great place to make connections. The majority of your fellow students will go on to occupy high-level positions in enterprises that are likely similar to the one you will work at. Leveraging those contacts to find job opportunities, insider information, and prospective clients can be a huge asset to your career. Return on Investment (ROI) – This is a question that any prospective MBA student should ask – How much will the investment in my degree pay back, and how long will that payback take? That depends on a lot of factors including the type of degree you earn, the type of job(s) you get, and the level of your professional drive. But just consider that with an MBA you will earn more money, be eligible for more prestigious positions, and have access to resources that can advance your career for years to come. Forecasting the ROI is impossible, but guaranteeing it is not.

Online MBA 101

The growth and availability of online education has been huge in recent years, and online MBA programs are now available from some of the most prestigious business schools in the country. That is an exciting option for prospective students, but not one that should be pursued without careful consideration. There are a number of benefits of online MBA programs, but these programs are not necessarily better. Some students will find that their short and long-term goals are better met by attending an in-person or hybrid MBA program.

Online vs. On-Campus

You may have some confusion about what each one of these programs actually entails. These are the most important features of both options:


All of your instruction and examination happens online. You may have to be available for discussions at specific events, but otherwise your time will be loosely structured around deadlines. It may be necessary to seek out resources at libraries or actual businesses, but the majority of your obligations can be met simply by sitting in front of your computer. You will need to have a reliable machine, high-speed Internet access, and the self-discipline to motivate yourself to stay on top of readings, discussions, and assignments without outside encouragement.


The majority of your instruction and examination will happen in person. Some readings and discussions may happen online, but most of your program will take place in a class room led by an instructor and surrounded by your classmates. As a result, you need to be available at the required times and may have to change locations to be close enough to your classes. You may also need to purchase textbooks or other resources.

Pros and Cons of an Online MBA

The steadily increasing popularity of online MBA programs suggests this option has a lot of appeal for students. But it’s important to realize that the advantages are matched by certain disadvantages. And these disadvantages apply to both the programs themselves and the impact they have on your career. Study the pros and cons carefully before making up your mind:


Pros Cons
• Flexibility when and where you study
• Easier to juggle work and family
• May take longer to complete than on-campus programs


Pros Cons
• Typically costs less • Cost of high-speed Internet, if needed

Learning Styles

Pros Cons
• Great for those who like to spend extra time reviewing • Ideal for those who like to study at night • Requires a lot of self-discipline • Not ideal for those who wish to have the ‘traditional’ classroom feel


Pros Cons
• Largely revered the same as on-campus programs • Must do research to ensure that the program is accredited


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