You know you want to take your career to the next level, and you're ready to get down to business with a master's degree. Perhaps you've heard that an MBA is the best way to go. But what exactly is an MBA, and how do you know it's the right choice for you?
An MBA stands for Master in Business Administration. It’s a master’s degree geared toward current and aspiring business professionals. Earning this credential signals to employers and colleagues that you have gained educational expertise in the various facets of business administration.
Once you understand what an MBA degree is, you'll want to know whether earning one can help you and your career.
What's So Special About an MBA?
Your decision to pursue a master’s degree in business administration can be personal and unique – just like the journey itself. Here are 10 reasons why pursuing an MBA might make sense for you.
#1 Business Specialization
Whether you’re already working in the field of business you love or are hoping to use your MBA to make the leap, most programs let you specialize in a particular area – such as human resources, information technology, operations and more. For example, at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), you can choose from more than 15 concentrations to ensure some of your courses delve into the topics that interest you most.
Faizan Malik ’21MBA decided to earn a master’s degree that complements his role in health information technology – so he chose an MBA in Healthcare Informatics.
“The decision to pursue an MBA in this area was simple at that point,” he said. “I could advance in my career while learning about topics that I was actually interested in.” A recent graduate, he's using the skills he learned to make improvements in his current team as well as seeking out new opportunities.
#2 Well-Rounded Business Knowledge
Whether you opt for a concentration or not, MBAs can be applied to all facets of a business and help you gain the knowledge and skills needed to grow as a business professional.
While the MBA curriculum can vary by institution, many offer core classes that help you explore how different aspects of the business come together. At SNHU, for example, courses discuss the intersection of business disciplines as well as business strategy, success measurement, management of people, organizations and change – and more.
"Interleaving," or mixing several subjects together, leads to better long-term retention and knowledge transferability than "blocked" learning, said Dr. Mark Hobson, SNHU's senior associate dean of business.
Justin Reedy ’21MBA chose the MBA program to become a well-rounded business professional. He said the general MBA track helped him do just that, gaining greater fluency in accounting, finance and business writing. “I would recommend the MBA to anyone that works in business and wants to comprehensively understand their business better,” he said.
#3 New Perspectives
With a greater understanding of various aspects of business comes new perspectives – even if you already have experience in the workplace. Although Malik already works in health information technology, some of his courses offered him a unique opportunity.
“I was able to learn about healthcare informatics from a different perspective – not just someone who works in IT,” he said. Another course also helped him learn more about processes happening in his workplace that he may not have been familiar with previously.
Not only can the information in MBA courses introduce you to new concepts and points of view, but the people you're learning alongside can too. You may have the chance to hear from peers with diverse educational backgrounds and professional experiences, adding depth to class discussions.
#4 Career, Salary Advancement
Whether you’re looking for change or advancement, an MBA is an extra credential you can add to your resume, LinkedIn profile and email signature – bolstering your professional identity.
Reedy hopes to one day own his own consulting company or achieve an executive position. “The MBA is a foundational piece of achieving these dreams,” he said.
Results from the Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) 2021 Corporate Recruiters Survey agree. Data indicates that a growing number of recruiters believe business school graduates are often fast-tracked to upper-level positions across various industries.
Research also shows a possible financial gain. The annual median MBA salary is $115,000, according to GMAC’s 2021 survey. That's 77% more than employees with a bachelor’s-level education, who earn a median salary of $65,000, GMAC reported.
#5 Experience with Real-World Problems
You won't just learn theories in a good MBA program. Classes need to challenge learners to solve genuine business problems and overcome challenges, according to research done by Hobson and SNHU Associate Dean of Business Dr. Jessica Rogers. One such way is through scenario-based learning (SBL), which is what SNHU's redeveloped program uses.
“SBL provides learners an opportunity to gain practice and experience in a 'safe' environment," Rogers said.
Rogers and Hobson said this type of learning allows students to put theory to practice – problem-solving with the use of real-world scenarios. "Expertise comes from experience, and SBL allows students to experience growth from taking risks, sometimes failing and learning from mistakes," Hobson said.
#6 Time, Cost May Be Less Than You Think
When considering the logistics of getting a master’s degree, how much time and tuition it will take are likely some of your deciding factors.
If you’re wondering how long it takes to get an MBA, there are many variables – including institution, program and prior learning credits. For example, an online MBA from SNHU is 30 credits in length and can take just over one year to complete if you’re going to school full-time – that’s two courses per term.
While college is an investment, it doesn’t need to break the bank. Some programs, like SNHU’s, cost less than $19,000 in tuition. Military status can reduce that further, and you may be able to take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs through your employer. Graduate students are also eligible for financial aid and scholarships, so filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – FAFSA – is important.
#7 Test Scores Not Always Required
Arranging and preparing for standardized testing takes time – and can be an additional cost in your pursuit of a master’s degree. The good news is some graduate schools have moved away from requiring Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores. So, applying to MBA programs with no GMAT required means you might begin your degree sooner.
You will, however, need to provide a transcript from your undergraduate education. Staff at some schools, such as SNHU, will help take care of this step for you.
#8 Programs that Meet Your Needs
There are many types of master’s programs these days. Whether you want to attend your classes in person or at a pre-determined time each week – or would prefer the flexibility that online degrees at your own pace offer – there’s sure to be an MBA out there that meets your needs.
In addition to on campus versus online, you’ll want to consider term lengths and course loads. For example, SNHU offers five 10-week graduate terms each year. You can choose to go to school part-time (one class per term) or full-time (two classes per term) – and take breaks when you need them.
#9 Network Growth
As soon as you enroll in a degree program, you’ll enter a community that consists of peers, faculty, staff and alumni. If you attend a university with an active student body, expansive alumni association and faculty who double as industry professionals, you can tap into a large group of people who can help you grow in many ways.
Professional networking is valuable throughout your career. Even when you graduate, you’ll remain part of your alma mater’s community. The relationships you build and the industry knowledge you gain can support your personal and professional development. Joining the alumni community might lead to opportunities for mentoring and supporting current students finding their place in the world.
#10 Personal Fulfillment
While it’s true an MBA degree can benefit your professional life, some people choose to pursue their degree for very personal reasons. In addition to wanting an advanced degree that matched his field, Malik decided to earn an MBA because it was important to his family – especially his father. “They always wanted me to continue my education, and I can’t thank them enough for pushing me as well,” he said.
Earning a master’s degree takes persistence and dedication, and receiving your diploma is a tremendous achievement – one that many graduates and their families celebrate. “In my personal life, just the overwhelming feeling of being proud of my accomplishment – from myself and my family – has been more than enough,” Malik said.
Types of MBA
There are numerous angles and aspects of a business – some you may enjoy and find more relevant than others. That’s why you can choose to focus on one of many types of MBA programs.
Some of your options could include:
If you prefer, you could also follow a general MBA track and use your business electives to explore multiple areas of interest instead.
MBA Program Requirements
Having a bachelor’s level education is the general prerequisite to the MBA application process. From there, every institution has its own application and admission process. Some may require you to pass the GMAT or submit an essay. Others could hold formal interviews or request letters of recommendation. Once you select your school of choice, be sure to speak with an admission counselor about any requirements you need to meet to have your application considered.
MBA curriculum varies by program, too, but you can generally expect to take core classes when enrolled in an MBA program.
SNHU’s MBA, for example, requires seven core courses that weave together different areas of business for a holistic point of view on overarching matters of a business. In addition, there may be a handful of business electives you can allocate to a specific concentration or choose to cherry-pick among a range of classes.
By the end of your program, you may also need to complete a culminating experience course.
So, Is Getting an MBA Worth It?
If you’re looking to grow as a business professional and you can find a program and institution that feels right for you, earning an MBA may be worth it. Adding those three hard-earned letters – MBA – to your title can be personally rewarding and make you a more competitive employee.
“If you want to advance in your career, or even just do it for yourself, I will say an MBA is more than worth it,” Malik said. “Going back to school will likely be the hardest part for most people, but once you see that degree in the mail and all the doors it unlocks for you, you will only be remiss you didn’t do it sooner.”
Nine in 10 recruiters expect to hire MBA graduates this year, according to GMAC’s Corporate Recruiters Survey (GMAC PDF source). The survey also revealed that recruiters in the technology industry, for example, especially value strategic, interpersonal and decision-making skills. “These core skills are the signature of graduate management education,” the survey said (GMAC PDF source).
MBA programs can help you develop both hard and soft skills that transfer to the workplace.“For someone who is looking to get into management, my MBA courses definitely gave me new skills and knowledge base,” Malik said. “From a refresher on basic finance and accounting skills to learning how various business laws and compliance policies work to (an) in-depth understanding of IT infrastructure and current healthcare informatics trends, the skills learned throughout the program are really invaluable.”
Explore academic catalogs to get a sense of the courses you might take if enrolled in a particular school’s MBA program, as well as the learning outcomes, and see how they align with your interests. You could also speak with your employer, mentor or admission counselor at a university that interests you to see if an MBA program seems like the right fit for your short and long-term professional goals.
Down the road, some business professionals may wish to take their education even further. Such is the case with Malik and Reedy, who are on their way to earning a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) now that they have their MBA diplomas in hand.
Whatever your reason for considering the advanced credential, explore MBA programs and see how they could help you reach your goals.
Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.