What is an MBA?

What is an MBA?

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a postgraduate degree designed to enhance students’ general management skills to create the next generation of business leaders. Many students describe the MBA as the transformational journey necessary to succeed in today’s business environment.


The first MBA was developed in the early 20th century in the United States when the country’s industrialization created an important skill gap at the management level. People needed to gain business administration knowledge to transition from a technical to a managerial role.  


Nowadays, MBAs have expanded their course offering, have diversified their programme format and become international. Nevertheless, they remain the preferred qualification for anyone looking to improve their business knowledge — soft skills especially (leadership, management, negotiation …) — and become well-rounded global leaders.


Differences between an MBA, an EMBA and a Master

An MBA is by essence a generalist business degree. Some business schools however, offer a large range of electives and the opportunity to specialise in a specific area. Students would be required to select a number of electives in one discipline to be awarded an MBA with a finance, marketing or any other concentration.


The learning environment in an MBA is also very practical. Faculties commonly use case studies as teaching materials, inviting practitioners to share their actual experience; students are also encouraged to do a business project and sometimes internships to gain hands-on experience in global business. Furthermore, the class profile commonly consists of experienced students (3 to 7 years work experience on average for major MBAs) which, in theory, adds to the experimental learning experience as students often gain as much from their peers as from their courses.


Master's, on the other hand, are generally more specialised and the perfect place to acquire frameworks and technical knowledge on the topic of your choice. Many students who studied management or commerce in their undergrads find the MBA course’s content somewhat redundant and prefer to further improve their skills in a specific field with a specialised Master.


What is an MBA?


If you are looking for a part-time option and to study within an even more experienced cohort, the Executive MBA could be the right option.  EMBAs are designed for highly experienced students (on average over 10 years work experience) and offer the most flexibility to allow students with high level of responsibilities in their jobs to further their business knowledge while staying fully employed.


The part-time EMBA is relatively similar to the MBA in terms of course content but can be extremely challenging for students who suddenly need to juggle work, studies and sometimes a family. Students often feel completely overwhelmed by the number of class assignments, events, trips and networking opportunities available to them and it can easily become frustrating not to be able to do everything. Nevertheless, part-time students generally report that after a few months of adaptation, they have dramatically improved their time management, a fantastic skill to have. They also often report that being able to put into practice what they have just learned creates a stronger learning experience.


Admissions requirements

The specific requirements for admission into an MBA varies from one institution to another and are fully listed on the institution’s website. Selective programmes are academically very rigorous and will usually except applicants to showcase their intellectual ability as well as achievements in their current jobs — most MBA programmes require a few years work experience before joining the programme. It is also likely that you will be required to sit a standardised test – such as the GMAT or GRE – and for non-native speakers, provide proof of your English language ability.  A copy of your university transcripts, letters of recommendation, CV, essays, and personal performance at interviews will also be taken into account.


Another specificity of major MBA programmes is the importance given to diversity, international outlook and leadership potential. Being a talented, intelligent and successful professional will definitely help you be noticed by the admission committee but that’s not all. The admission committee will be very sensitive to evidence of your soft skills and will be looking to create a diverse class to maximise the student experience. Usually, the essays are the best place to tell your story and highlight any international exposure you have had, showcase your potential for leadership and highlight how your uniqueness will contribute to the learning experience of your peers.


Structure, content and customisation

MBA courses combine electives and core modules to cover the fundamental skills every global manager needs – including hard skills (accounting, finance, marketing…) and soft skills (management, strategy, leadership…). Business schools offer flexible programmes to give students the option to customise their MBA to their individual interests and situations – you can generally select your electives from a list that spans a wide range of subjects. Each Business school will have different programmes with different formats, but I would encourage you to explore online MBAs, part-time MBAs, 1-year MBAs, 2-years MBAs etc before you make a decision.


Another aspect of the learning experience are the workshops delivered by the School’s Career Services. Those will be an integral part of your curriculum and you will generally be required to complete a number of career related training and coaching sessions to graduate. Coaching sessions and workshops will help you reflect on yourself, build a strong career development plan, prepare for interviews, learn to write a compelling CV, cover letter and teach you how to network effectively and so on. 


What is an MBA


An MBA programme is also a global experience and can include an international exchange with a partner school, the opportunity to learn a new language, work on an international business project and go on field trips. Everything is designed to move students out of their comfort zone, bringing additional opportunities to explore new industries and gain insights into global business.


Fees and scholarships

Tuition fees are for most people the main barriers when considering doing an MBA. Business school fees increase every year and can reach as much as 150,000 USD (115,000 GBP). In Europe, the most prestigious institutions such as London Business School and INSEAD will charge over 70,000 GBP, other renowned institutions such as Oxford Said Business School, Cambridge Judge Business School or HEC will charge over 50,000 GBP. 


It is no surprise that with such high fees, the length of the programme becomes a very important decision factor. Two-year MBA programmes are not only expensive but also require students to stay out of the workforce to study full-time for two years. Even if two-year MBAs have introduced the option to graduate early, in recent MBA rankings, one-year MBA programmes are still top in value for money.


If it seems that the one-year MBA is better value for money, you should keep in mind that they do not always offer the option to do a summer internship. Summer internships are often an interesting source of income and are unparalleled if you are looking for this little extra experience to help you make an important career transition.


Finally, you can also apply for a scholarship. American MBAs offer a wide range of scholarships; European Business Schools, being not as well funded as their counterparts, are often more limited in the number of scholarships they can offer. Spend some time researching the funding options offered by Business Schools and do not forget to consider external funding opportunities as well (governments, associations…).


Career impact and salary

MBA graduates will generally leverage their new business acumen to advance their career within their organisation, transition into new roles, companies, sectors or even geographies. MBAs have also increasingly become the preferred qualification for entrepreneurs looking to launch their own start-ups.


MBAs also became very popular in part because of the substantial impact they have on people’s careers. MBAs excel at building a strong link between in-class learning and graduate employability. Major recruiters’ inputs are used to design an MBA that reflect the realities of the job market with the ambition to bridge some of the skills gaps.


The Financial Time’s 2018 Global MBA Ranking is a very good indication of the salary increase one could expect three years after graduation.  I would like to invite you to look at the full ranking, but here is a snapshot of the top five Business Schools in 2018’s ranking:


Global MBA Ranking


It is, however, important to know how to read the data collected by the Financial Times. I have seen too many applicants assume that they will naturally increase their salary by 109% just by graduating from LBS. Graduates from top Business Schools will see their salary increase significantly, especially for those transitioning from lower paid corporate jobs to highly paid consulting and banking roles. Nevertheless, one important factor for the increase is the important number of students relocating from emerging countries to expensive cities such as London or New York — their buying power may not have increased as much as their paycheck.


Another factor that often tweaks the data is the exchange rate fluctuation. The recent drop in the pound following Brexit had a massive impact on the exit salary of UK’s graduates when converted into USD for ranking purposes.  


Student experience


Finally, yet importantly for many MBA-holders, the student experience was the main reason they did an MBA and often was the element that brought most satisfaction. Students with similar interests will join clubs to organise treks, ski trips, photo exhibitions, conferences, sport challenges and other fun activities which contribute to creating a strong sense of belonging and ultimately life-long lasting friendships.


Very naturally, the Alumni network will play a fundamental part in students’ post-MBA life. The alumni network is one of the strongest assets one could have with endless opportunities to receive advice, recommendations and access to worldwide job opportunities.



Sophie Bognaux



If you’re interested in learning which degree you should choose, visit mastersavenue.com, a free, unbiased tool that compares more than 40,000 courses worldwide.



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