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What Is an MBA Degree? Everything You Need to Know

Aug 31, 2020
Get answers to your MBA FAQs and learn what an MBA degree is, how long it takes to earn an MBA, and what jobs MBA graduates get

By Kara Sherrer

An MBA is one of the most popular masters degrees, and as applications re-open this fall, many prospective students are considering whether now is the right time for them to enroll in business school. If you’re wondering “what’s an MBA?”, then you’ve come to the right place. We sat down with members of the Vanderbilt MBA Recruiting & Admissions Team to get answers to the most common MBA FAQs.

What is an MBA degree?

MBA stands for “Master of Business Administration.” The MBA program teaches core business topics such as finance, marketing, operations, and more (we cover the MBA curriculum below). Most students don’t continue school after receiving their MBA, though some may go on to earn PhDs or other advanced degrees. A mainstay of the masters’ degree landscape, the MBA degree has been around for more than 100 years: Harvard University was the first school to offer an MBA degree, starting in 1908. The degree’s long history and continuing popularity is a testament to how versatile and useful it is in helping graduates launch or accelerate their careers in the business world.

“It’s probably one of the most transferable master’s degrees, if not the most transferable master’s degrees, because it provides such a broad business base for students that you can really use the skills that you learn in any function or industry,” said Bailey McChesney, Senior Associate Director of MBA Admissions.

What do you learn in an MBA?

The MBA curriculum covers core business topics, including finance, accounting, marketing, operations, and human resources. Depending on the courses offered by the program, MBA students might be able to take electives in other subjects, such as healthcare, sustainability, corporate social relations (CSR), government, business law, and business ethics. The MBA curriculum is intended to prepare graduates to succeed in a variety of business functions, no matter where their careers might take them.

“Unlike specialized master’s program that may focus on just one area, an MBA provides a broader, multi-disciplinary education in various business disciplines,” said Rob Schickler, Associate Director of Recruiting & Admissions.

What types of MBA programs are available?

If you want to earn your MBA, there are several ways to do it. The traditional MBA day-time program requires 2 years of in-person classes. Students complete internships during the summer, but they don’t work full time during the program. If you don’t want to leave the workforce, there are also Executive MBA programs and part-time programs designed for working students. Classes may be held in person during the evening or on weekends, or online. Some executive programs confer an MBA degree, while others bestow an Executive MBA; check with the program for details. A few programs also offer a one-year accelerated curriculum, although these are more common in Europe than the United States.

“There are one-year programs, 2-year programs, part-time executive, full-time, online. For candidates, doing some self-reflection and thinking about what type of program is the best fit for them and their career goals is important,” McChesney said.

How long does it take to get an MBA?

To complete a traditional full-time MBA program, it takes 2 academic years plus a summer internship, for a total of about 20 months. However, other timelines are available depending on the type of program. Executive MBA programs — targeted to adults who are simultaneously working full time — may take 2 or 3 years to complete, depending on how classes are spread out. European MBA programs are usually more condensed, only taking one year to complete; this model is also gaining a bit more traction in the United States as well. However, it’s important to note that the curriculum for these more condensed programs will necessarily look different due to shorter timeline.

“It’s a very different experience. Those students don’t take as many electives as they would in a 2-year program, and they don’t have the internship, and they probably don’t have as much time for some of the experiential learning opportunities that students in other programs have the ability to participate in,” Schickler said.

What jobs can you get with an MBA?

MBA graduates can and do get jobs in traditional business functions such as consulting, investment banking, corporate finance, and brand management. However, graduates begin careers in all kinds of industries and functions, and these trends change over time. Schickler notes that he’s seen more and more graduates entering the technology field over the past few years, and now sustainability and corporate social responsibility are gaining popularity as well.

“It’s a mix of very traditional roles that MBA graduates have moved into, but then we’re starting to see new fields of interest in popularity as well,” he said.

To learn more about what jobs MBA graduates get, see “What Can You Do With an MBA?” To learn more about applying to MBA programs, check out our collection of MBA admissions advice.

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