The MBA Degree: An Overview

What did 150,211 students do in 2007? Among other things, they earned MBA degrees. The MBA, or Master of Business Administration degree, has become one of the most popular graduate degrees in the United States, second only to the Master of Education.

What's the attraction?

The MBA's wide appeal may be due to its remarkable applicability: a master's degree in business prepares students not only for traditional business careers, but also for leadership in a wide range of industries and nonprofit organizations. Many MBA programs are for general business, but various concentrations are available for students who have particular career tracks in mind. Some examples of MBA concentrations include:

In short, if you're seeking the fast track to leadership within virtually any work setting, an MBA program has been designed with your goal in mind.

Types of MBA Program Formats

As more working professionals sought advanced degrees in the 1980s and 1990s, "nontraditional" learning formats sprung up across the country. Night school and weekend classes became popular. Today, programs with these formats continue to draw high enrolment numbers, but online education has given them a run for their money.

Here are some basic categories of MBA degree programs and their typical time requirements. All can be completed on campus, online, or through hybrid formats.

Accelerated MBA 1 year to 18 months
Full time MBA 2 years
Part-time MBA 3 - 4 years
Executive MBA 1 - 2 years

Executive MBAs are designed for students with extensive experience (10+ years) as managers or executives. These programs, like part-time programs, are designed to let students maintain full-time employment while earning a degree.

Additionally, traditional schools and online universities may offer joint degree programs. These enable students to concurrently earn degrees in business and another subject. For instance, at DeVry's Keller Graduate School of Management, students can simultaneously earn an MBA and a CPA, and Arizona State University's online business program includes an optional degree in engineering.

Admissions Criteria

Business school admissions committees primarily consider applicants' academic transcripts, application essays, GRE or GMAT scores, related work experience, reference letters, and (in some cases) personal interviews. They may also take factors such as gender or country of origin into account in order to assemble a diverse class.

Program Content

Most master's programs in business initially cover the same topics. Regardless of their individual tracks, all MBA students take courses in accounting, ethics, finance, marketing, and other basic areas of business. Specialized, track-specific courses are typically taken during the second half of studies.

In order to graduate, a student may also be required to write a master's thesis. This is a lengthy scholarly paper that makes a unique contribution to the business literature, and it helps to establish the graduate as a "master" of business. Capstone courses and special projects are sometimes offered as an alternative to the thesis.