About MBAs. What you need to know

What is an MBA?

An MBA is a type of masters degree that is designed for business students. MBA stands for "masters of business administration." Like other masters degrees, MBA programs only admit students who have already completed a bachelor degree.

MBA students often have an undergraduate (bachelor) degree in business, but it's not uncommon for MBA students to hold a non-business bachelor degree either. In fact, some MBA programs try to enroll a diverse group of students. They will often accept students who majored in things like chemistry, psychology, philosophy, or even religion.

MBA Admissions

Some MBA admissions requirements are very stringent; other programs are more relaxed. If you want to attend one of the country's top business schools, you'll need to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), and achieve an above-average score.

Still, plenty of great MBA programs do not require applicants to take the GMAT or GRE. Instead, these programs might screen prospective students based on their undergraduate GPA (grade point average). Or, they might just require work experience. Either way, it's important to remember that most degrees are as valuable as the work you put into them.

What Kind of Courses Are Involved in an MBA?

Opportunity for School Upgrade

If your bachelor degree comes from a small or lesser-known school, you may be tired of defending your qualifications. After all, you don't need to graduate from Harvard in order to be good at your work. Nevertheless, popular college names really do stand out on a résumé. Going after a masters degree allows you to explore some of the name brand schools you skipped over during your undergraduate search.

Opportunity to Sharpen/Change Your Career Focus

If your bachelor degree represents a non-specific area of study — like liberal arts or even communications — you can improve your job prospects by adding a masters degree that demonstrates your current, focused skills. You can also use a masters degree to enter a completely new field. Most masters programs will accept a professional student, even if he or she holds an unrelated, undergraduate degree.

MBA Core Courses

Just like a core is located at the center of an apple, a "core" course is located at the center of your MBA curriculum. Core courses are a group of classes that every student must take. They form the foundation for more specific and advanced business capacities.

MBA Concentrations

Most MBA programs allow students to choose a concentration, or an area of emphasis. In graduate school, a concentration is very much like a "major." This is the one area that you will study in detail. Depending on your school, 6 to 12 of your classes might be concentration courses. Students usually choose a concentration based on their career goals and interests.

  • Finance    
  • Marketing    
  • Sustainable Business & Green Development    
  • International Business    
  • Health Care Management    
  • Sports Management

How Long Will It Take to Get An MBA?

The length of your MBA will depend on the number of classes you're required to take, and the number of classes you're able to take simultaneously. Usually, MBA programs require 14 to 20 classes.

Part-time students will probably complete their MBA in 2 to 3 years. But if you're willing and able to study full-time, you can often be done in one year.

If you're hoping to finish quickly, you may be interested in MBA programs that do not include a concentration. Without a concentration, the number of courses you're required to take can drop by 4 or 5. Thanks to fewer courses, general MBAs cost less, too. Several online schools — including Kaplan University — offer general MBAs.

The MBA Program Application Process

MBA Electives

  • MBA electives are a group of courses that are not specifically required. They are still related to business, but they are not as universally relevant as core courses. Student can elect (or choose) the electives that they wish to take.

MBA Capstone Course/Project

  • Some MBA programs require students to complete a capstone course and a capstone project. Capstone literally means "finishing stone" or "crowning achievement." In the case of the MBA, a capstone project is a long-term research project that addresses a specific business problem or opportunity. MBA students are asked to use the skills they've learned to present strategic solutions. Their capstone course helps to facilitate the project and guide their research. The capstone course is usually taken towards the end of the degree program.


  • This part of the process may seem like the easiest (after all, how hard is it to fill in your name and address?), but it's actually where many applicant rejections are born. Remember that admissions boards are sifting through mountains of applications. Missing information, spelling errors, and general sloppiness all raise huge red flags, and generally result in first round eliminations. Take your time with all the paperwork. If it's an online application, pay attention to your keystrokes. And if there are questions you can't completely answer, call the school's admissions department and ask for clarification. Make sure schools get to judge you on your real potential, not some unfortunate oversights.


  • Many business students cringe at the idea on an essay, as though "essay" necessarily entails a lot of flowery musings about identity and the nature of the universe. This is not the case where MBA application essays are concerned. In fact, schools want to see you demonstrating the skills you know best — ordered and effective communication, thoughtful analysis, and the ability to outline objectives and strategy. Your essay should be drafted, drafted and redrafted. Be mindful of your focus and structure. Sentences and paragraphs should be ordered in a way that builds on your ideas instead of scattering them. Have friends and co-workers review your work before settling on a final draft. A different set of eyes can often spot problems that a writer overlooks.

CV or Résumé

  • Résumé are not all the same. And business schools expect to see more than just your summer lifeguarding stint at Lake Mohawk. A good résumé should encapsulate your academic achievements, work experience and demonstrated ability to advance. Whenever available, include specific figures (e.g. the number of employees you supervised, or the amount of sales growth your efforts yielded). Punch up the tone with a variety of verbs, rather than repeating the same, blanket action words. Highlight major certificates or awards, and try to limit your résumé to a single page. A CV — or curriculum vitae — can be several pages in length, and actually grows along with your educational experience. Any teaching assistantships or research roles you occupied would be best outlined here.

Choose recommenders who know you well — ideally, these will also be people who are good communicators. Do not request a recommendation via email. Unless you've already tried visiting the person directly or reaching him on the phone, an email request gives the impression that your time is more valuable and/or you're not entirely invested in the end product. Try to ensure consistency in the content. You won't necessarily be able to dictate what recommenders say about you, but you can supply them with some relevant bullets that will keep them on-track. Lastly, don't forget to send a thank you note. It's good form to recognize a favor, not to mention a cardinal rule in networking.


  • This is an easy item to check off your to-do list, but it should not be saved for last. You'll need to request an official copy of your transcript from every undergraduate institution you attended. Transcripts must be sent directly from your undergraduate school(s) to the business school(s) where you're applying. The process can sometimes take several weeks, so call ahead. Once received, admissions boards will review your records with an eye on your GPA (grade point average) and the type of courses you took. Poorer grades might not be entirely detrimental, provided you were able to improve on them as your schooling progressed. Boards will also consider the caliber of the school(s) you attended. You don't need to have gone to an ivy league college in order to get accepted to business school, but you may have to rely more heavily on other application components if your marks or your alma mater are less than stellar.

GMAT Matters — The Graduate Management Admission Test

Letters of Recommendation

In this case, someone else is doing the writing — but that doesn't mean you're off the hook. Your letters of recommendation are opportunities to present glowing, third-party endorsements. With proper planning, they're a foolproof boost to your application. First, remember that what you're asking for is a statement about your professional character and your ability to succeed; you should approach the task in a manner that's reflective of those assets. For example, as a safeguard and a courtesy, give your recommenders plenty of advanced notice. You don't want to be hounding work supervisors or professors at the last minute.


Depending on the school, you may or may not be able to choose the time and location of the interview. Either way, you'll definitely be able to control your preparedness. Practice answering some of the commonly asked interview questions with friends and family — for example, why are you pursuing your MBA now? Why did you choose the schools you did? Be prepared to describe your strengths and weaknesses, and supply examples that back up your claims.


As you're planning for the GMAT, don't forget to plan for the fee. The current cost of the test is $250, which makes this one appointment you won't want to sleep through. There are penalty fees charged for rescheduling or canceling your test slot more than 7 days ahead of time. If you need to cancel or reschedule less than 7 days ahead of test time, you'll forfeit the entire amount.

Score Reports

Your GMAT score can be sent to five schools, and you'll be asked to select them at the time of your testing. By this time you should have researched your top prospect schools and determined which ones you most want to receive your results. Scores will arrive within about 3 weeks. If you're applying to more than five schools, for $28 each, you can request additional score reports to be shipped on your behalf.


The time allotment for the full exam is 4 hours. Within that timeframe, you'll cover 4 different sections, including 2 essays designed to measure your analytical writing skills and a series of verbal and quantitative questions. The test itself is "computer-adaptive," meaning the sequence and selection of the questions you're presented are based on your real time progress throughout the test. You will not receive the same questions as the person sitting next to you. For each correct response you supply, the computer will supply a question of greater difficulty, and vice versa for incorrect responses. In this way, even despite maverick errors or lucky guesses, the system works up and down to hone in on your specific skill level, and ultimately to determine your score. This system also precludes the possibility of skipping around or going back to change answers.

Learn more about online masters programs and online MBA programs.

[1] census.gov/schools/census_for_teens/educational_attainment.html