The MBA Degree: Demystified!

In the not too distant past, I made the decision to go to graduate school…specifically to earn an MBA degree. Back then, I didn’t think that the application and selection process would be that much different from any other graduate program. Well I quickly found out that I was wrong. Not only was I wrong, but I only had about six months to sort through all the information and digest the process (since I went to B-school right after earning my BA degree).

Luckily for me, I managed and came out successful in the end. However if I can help just one person clarify some of the confusion and questions surrounding the MBA degree and its application process, that would make my day.

So here we go!

What is an MBA degree anyway?

Historically-speaking, the course of study leading to the Masters of Business Administration degree is a professional program. This means that the program’s contents are designed to turn you into a professional practitioner of business management. With that being said, unlike law and medical degrees, there is no license or certification that you must obtain in order to practice. This (among other things) has led to a huge number of MBA programs on the market; some of them much better than others.

Not all graduate degrees in business are MBA degrees!

This does not mean that they are inferior or worse than an MBA degree however. For example, the Masters of Accounting degree is very popular; mainly because its curriculum offers more financial courses and almost always provides the coursework necessary to become a licensed CPA.

The curriculum of most MBA programs covers a wide variety of business subjects and contains mostly required coursework.

This means you’ll have to take at least one course in the areas of General Management, Accounting, Marketing, Finance (some schools allow you to substitute another quantitative course…such as management information systems), or Statistics/Quantitative Analysis. Most schools allow you to choose an MBA concentration area if you wish. However this concentration may consist of 9 to 15 credit hours – perhaps 1/4 or 1/3 of your program; definitely not more than 1/2. If you want to take more graduate level coursework in a particular area (i.e. Marketing) and eschew the business courses in areas that you have no desire to study at the graduate level, than another graduate business degree would probably be a better option.

You do not have to have an undergraduate degree in business to be admitted to or be successful in an MBA program.

In fact, only 26% of the entering class of Harvard’s MBA program had an undergraduate degree in business.

But, if you do not have an undergraduate degree in business, or some undergraduate business coursework under your belt, it may take longer to earn your degree.

The majority of MBA programs have foundation coursework that must be taken as a prerequisite for other required courses in the program. These courses can be waived if you took its equivalent at the undergraduate level. The key operative word is ‘can be‘. The schools do have different requirements in regards to if a course can be waived or not. These requirements can be a minimum grade, having taken the course in the recent past, the accreditation of the school where you took the course, etc. Do not assume that just because you have an undergraduate business degree and/or coursework, that you do not have to take the foundation courses. Have your transcript reviewed, and have your advisor confirm this ahead of time (if this is an issue for you).

You do not need to have professional work experience to be admitted into an MBA program.

This use to be commonplace, but today it is mostly the top-tier, full-time MBA programs that require this.


I need to take the GMAT (and do well on it) in order to get into an MBA program.

No; although I would encourage those who are applying to several MBA programs to just go ahead and take it. Yes, it is long and it is expensive. Not every MBA program requires it. However you would be barred from those who do require it. Yes, unless you are a natural genius, you will need to invest some time and money into test preparation in order to get a score that would qualify you for entry into the best business schools (which would be > 680 out of a possible 800 points). However, the average GMAT score among all test takers is 540, which is good enough to qualify you for entrance into some well known B-schools (make sure you couple it with a good GPA however).

Many schools will also accept GRE scores (a plus if you are thinking about applying to non-MBA graduate programs as well)…but make sure you check on this with the school you are applying to first.

Yes, there is a difference between earning your MBA part-time and earning it full-time; and at some schools, the differences can be drastic.

Many full-time MBA programs operate off the cohort model; where you are admitted into the program and you and your peers move through the program in lock-step fashion, completing all your coursework sequentially. The curriculum may be the same or it may be different if you opt to earn your MBA part-time.

Online MBAs are all over the map…in every way, so no blanket statements regarding them can be made.

I’m completely serious about this. Forget the efforts to rank online programs. From what I’ve seen, you have to do a lot of due diligence and research if you are looking for an online MBA program. For starters, stay away from Google on this one, I head over to Why? Because the ability of an online MBA program to market itself online has little to do with the quality of the education you will receive.

Similar to part-time vs. full-time MBA coursework, some online MBA programs have a different curriculum; or they may be a different program altogether.

What about Executive MBA Programs?

These programs are geared towards people who are already working as managers and/or entrepreneurs. You definitely need to have notable professional experience and courses and scheduling may be very different than the standard MBA program (although this also can vary from school to school).

[Try to] Understand that accreditation is a confusing concept.

Unfortunately for us, admission representatives, recruiters, and others who are trying to market various MBA programs throw the word “accredited” around like it is no big deal. And who knows…maybe it isn’t. It all depends on how you want to use your MBA and your career aspirations.

  • The first level of accreditation that you look for is the accreditation of the college/university as a whole. **Hint** if you are eligible to use federal financial aid at the institution, then it is accredited.
  • The second level of accreditation that you look for is that of the business school, and the MBA program specifically.
  • The third level (and this is optional) of accreditation is that of professional certification: such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).


Do MBA degrees cost a lot of money?

Well MBA degrees are like cars in my opinion. Yes, you can get one very cheaply. However you will need to spend some serious money if you want to catch people’s attention. However not everyone needs attention…or connections…or to make a six-figure salary. Sometimes your goals lie elsewhere (like just to run to the grocery store….err I mean, hone your business acumen through formal study).

In addition to the various programs costing different amounts, different MBA students will spend different amounts on their programs. For example, if you can waive your foundation courses, then you can decrease your costs by a third perhaps. If you opt to do a study abroad trip or externship (sometimes these are not optional however), you can easily add several thousand dollars to your program costs.

Need-based grant aid from the federal government is not available. So the best options to look into for alternatives to loans are graduate assistantships and employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement programs.

I think I should just hire an MBA admission coach or counselor to get me through this.

Really? Whoops….I guess I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Apparently there is an entire industry dedicated to helping potential MBA candidates gain admission into their dream B-School. And they do have a purpose ultimately…given that you have less than a 20% chance to gain admission into the most selective programs in the country. And you will pay a hefty sum for their help as well.

The truth is you know who you are and what your capabilities are. You do not need a counselor to tell you what your undergraduate GPA was. It is your choice whether or not you wish invest in formal GMAT test preparation, or if you would rather just buy a study guide from Amazon and call it a day. Compare your own personal profile with the class profile of the MBA program that you have your eyes on. Looking at all programs, your chances of admission into an MBA program are probably around 60%; but this is averaging out the elite programs as well as those programs who will just about take anyone off the street.

So in a nutshell, if the business school you are applying to has an admission rate greater than 40%, I wouldn’t bother with hiring an MBA admission coach.

This is just too much information for me. Can you just show me what you are talking about?

Sure, I can do that! Just follow the links below:

University of Louisiana (at Lafayette) – an MBA program that costs less than $12,000

Penn State – Smealan executive MBA program

University of Florida – Hough Graduate School of Businessan online MBA program

Point Park Universityan MBA program accredited by the International Assembly of Collegiate Business Education (IACBE)

DeVry – Keller Graduate School of Managementan MBA program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)

Yale School of Managementan MBA program accredited by The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)

Texas A&M – Mays Business Schoola MS in Marketing degree

Arizona State University – W.P. Carey School of Businessa part-time MBA program

University of Kansasan MBA program where the average GMAT score is < 540

In addition, you can check out this helpful links:

MBA – Understanding the MBA Degree

Is An MBA Still Necessary?

The Best Business Schools (Forbes list)

MBA Over 30

Poets & Quants