What Is an MBA? (Plus Benefits, Types and Courses)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 21, 2022 | Published April 13, 2021

Updated July 21, 2022

Published April 13, 2021

People gathered around a table, busily working.

If you’re interested in a business management career, you may pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. An MBA can help you develop critical competencies and advance professionally in your field. If you're considering enrolling in an MBA program, it can be helpful to understand what this type of degree may help you accomplish.

In this article, we discuss the meaning of “MBA,” explain how long it may take to earn one and the benefits of doing so, describe different types of MBA programs and provide a list of courses you may take as a student.

What is an MBA?

An MBA, or a Master of Business Administration degree, is a graduate-level degree geared toward educating professionals about fundamental theoretical and practical business management concepts. MBAs are a popular choice for experienced and entry-level professionals looking to gain the foundation of knowledge necessary to serve as a business or investment manager. An MBA is a terminal degree, meaning that MBAs are typically the highest degree that business professionals earn, though some candidates do go on to earn doctoral degrees.

To enroll in an MBA program, candidates first earn a bachelor's degree, take the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) and apply for admissions. Often, those who seek MBAs are non-industry professionals who previously earned bachelor's degrees in unrelated fields. For such candidates, MBAs serve as a pathway for entering the larger field of business. In other cases, companies or firms may sponsor an MBA program for their current employees to develop new skills, legitimize their management competencies and advance professionally.

Related: Top 10 Benefits of Getting an MBA

Why earn an MBA?

An MBA can assist students with honing critical soft skills to support their understanding of technical concepts. It can also help professionals legitimize themselves in the field of business and may even present various professional advancement opportunities. The programs enable students to network with other industry professionals and learn experientially through internships. Students can practice applying the core competencies they learn through their educational programming and  secure employment after graduation.

There are business careers that require candidates to first earn MBAs to gain sufficient preparation to succeed in their roles. An MBA may give business candidates an advantage on the job market over their counterparts who don't earn advanced degrees. Professionals who are already employed may experience a salary increase.

Here are a few examples of jobs that may require an MBA:

  • Financial analyst

  • Business consultant

  • Business development analyst

  • Market research analyst

  • Managing director

  • Investment banker

  • Entrepreneur

  • Business analyst

  • Management consultant

  • Marketing manager

  • Portfolio manager

  • Project manager

  • Project analyst

  • Product manager

  • Program analyst

  • Operations manager

Relates: Should I Get an MBA? What It Is and When It's Worth the Effort

How long does it take to earn an MBA?

The typical full-time MBA course of study is a two-year program which requires approximately 60 credit hours, or 600 classroom hours, of graduate coursework. Other MBA programs may take place on an alternate timeline. For example, an accelerated MBA program, a variation of a full-time MBA program, may condense the coursework into a single year with fewer opportunities for school breaks or weekend downtime.

There are multiple other MBA program options for prospective students to choose from, which may vary in terms of schedule. Depending on which type of MBA program best fits your scheduling and professional needs, you may spend up to five years earning an MBA degree.

Related: What Can You Do With an MBA? With Example Careers

What are the different types of MBA programs?

Colleges and universities offer various types of MBA programs to fit the unique needs of business professionals, some of whom continue to work while enrolled in the program. Some programs can help professionals develop vital competencies in specific content areas, which may allow them to transition into specialized business roles.

Depending on your exact needs, you may choose to enroll in any of the following types of MBA programs:

Full-time MBA program

A full-time MBA program is a traditional degree program in which students enroll on a full-time basis for two years. Students typically dedicate their entire schedule toward earning their degrees and may even take a sabbatical from their respective professional roles to focus on their studies. Full-time MBA programs are a good option for those prospective students who are seeking a conventional academic schedule similar to those followed by undergraduate students.

With a full-time schedule, students can enjoy a significant amount of downtime throughout their program and may even be able to focus on securing an industry-relevant job or internship over their summer break.

Related: MBA Skills: Definition and Examples

Part-time MBA program

A part-time MBA program is a variation of the full-time MBA program. Students typically dedicate a portion of their schedule toward earning their degrees and may take classes on weekday evenings or on weekends. The structure may appeal to working professionals looking to earn their degrees while maintaining their current full-time or part-time paid roles. Part-time MBA programs are a great option for those prospective students who can only dedicate a few hours of their schedule each week toward earning their degree or those who may need to take on a lighter and less intensive course load.

Related: Careers You Can Pursue With an MBA in Finance

Accelerated MBA program

Accelerated MBA programs rely on the full-time program course of study, but such programs typically condense the traditional two-year course load into a shorter time frame. The programs require students to take on a more intensive time commitment than a full-time course load and can be quite demanding because of their fast-tracked schedule. Most accelerated MBA programs may target professionals with budgetary restrictions, as accelerated programs typically cost less than full-time programs.

Accelerated programs may run on a year-round schedule without a three to four-month summer break and abbreviated breaks between semesters. The programs usually take about a year to finish and allow students to develop the same competencies as those enrolled in full-time programs.

Related: Jobs for MBA Graduates: What Can I Do With My MBA?

Executive MBA program

Executive MBA programs are typically part-time programs designed specifically for business professionals with approximately 10 years of work experience in their particular industry. They allow students to earn their degrees and hone relevant competencies that may enable them to advance as managers or executives. Students in executive MBA programs come from various backgrounds, but often maintain their roles within an outside organization while enrolled. Organizations may sponsor their employees to complete executive MBA programs as a precursor to their internal professional advancement or as a requirement for salary increases and promotions.

Similar to other part-time programs, executive MBA programs consider the needs of working professionals. Comparative to those enrolled in a standard part-time program, though, executive MBA students may earn their degrees in two years or fewer while working their professional roles. This shortened duration may result from the specific content that executive MBA students learn and already possess. 

Related: How To Decide Between an MBA vs. Executive MBA

Dual MBA program

Dual MBA programs are full-time programs which combine an MBA with another professional degree. Such programs can help students save time and money while pursuing a specialized course of study in their business education. Students may pursue master's degrees in adjacent or unrelated fields, and some may choose to pursue a law degree simultaneously. Dual MBA programs are a great option for those students seeking to develop competencies that allow them to serve in particular roles, such as working as a copyright lawyer.

Dual MBA programs may benefit undergraduate students earning bachelor's degrees in business administration. Such programs allow undergraduate students to take on an additional year of education to earn both their bachelor's degree and MBA within five full years.

What do you study in an MBA program?

MBA programs train students with foundational and high-level competencies within various sects of the business field. Students can learn vital skills that allow them to take on roles at the administrative or management levels.

Here are a few of the subjects and skills you may study while enrolled in an MBA program:

  • Accounting

  • Economics

  • Organizational behavior

  • Quantitative analysis

  • Financial management

  • Human resources

  • Marketing

  • Operations management

  • Business ethics

  • Corporate social responsibility

  • Corporate governance

  • Entrepreneurship

  • International business

  • Information systems

  • Business law

  • Market research

  • Organizational design

  • Nonprofit management

  • Real estate investment

  • Leadership

  • Statistics

  • Strategy

  • Negotiation

  • Risk management

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