The Masters of Business Administration (MBA) Degree – A Guide |

The Masters of Business Administration (MBA) Degree – A Guide

Written by Mark Bennett

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is an elite professional qualification for professionals, usually with several years' management experience.

MBAs are intensive, competitive and highly respected, and could help you earn the skills needed to become a future leader!

This guide provides an introduction to the MBA qualification for new students. It explains how an MBA differs from other Masters programmes, including specific details of its application process and course content. You can also read our advice on MBA fees and funding.

What is an MBA qualification?

An MBA, or ‘Master of Business Administration’, is an elite qualification for business professionals. MBA courses focus on developing the leadership, initiative and individual excellence required for high-flying careers in management and entrepreneurship.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Type Professional
Subjects Business & Management
Qualification Level 7 (NQF) / Second Cycle (Bologna)
Length 1-2 years
Credit Value 180 CATS / 90-120 ECTS
Availability Worldwide

Originating in America during the 20th century, the MBA is actually a relatively new postgraduate qualification. MBA programmes have rapidly established themselves as the mark of serious business professionals around the world.

Is an MBA a postgraduate degree?

An MBA is a postgraduate degree – it’s a level 7 qualification according to the National Qualification Framework (NQF) in the UK, the same level as a traditional Masters. However, this doesn’t mean that you always need to have an undergraduate degree to meet the entry requirements – if you have substantial professional experience, you may be able to apply for an MBA.

What are the different types of MBA?

MBA courses are offered in a few different formats. Some are designed for candidates with more specific career goals. Others allow for flexible learning patterns.

Your choice of MBA programme will depend on your own circumstances and career goals. The following are some of the main options available to you.

  • Standard MBA programmes – The most common type of MBA is a two-year course. These programmes are normally full-time, but they may arrange timetabled sessions to suit flexible learners or those with ongoing professional commitments.
  • Accelerated MBA programmes – These courses are much more intensive, usually lasting around a year. They include the same content as a two-year MBA, but allow students to gain the qualification much more quickly
  • Executive MBA programmes – Executive MBA programmes (also known as EMBA programmes) are designed for very experienced applicants, often with senior management backgrounds. They tend to be more specialised, allowing you to transform and adapt your skills to suit new business developments and opportunities. Programmes are usually part-time (allowing you to maintain your existing responsibilities) but are still very demanding. You can browse EMBA programmes on our site.
  • Online MBAs – Online MBAs offer a particularly high level of flexibility for working professionals who want to combine their studies with their career. Browse the online MBA courses list on our website.
  • Graduate Entry MBAs – The majority of MBAs require professional experience, but some are designed for students coming directly from undergraduate study. These are sometimes referred to as ‘Graduate Entry’ programmes. They may have a greater focus on internships and placements in order to make up for candidates’ lack of work experience, but will otherwise be a lot like a conventional MBA. These are quite similar to Masters in Management, also known as MiM programmes.
  • Dual MBA programmes – Sometimes an MBA can be combined with another qualification. Popular dual MBA subjects include medicine, law and politics. They allow candidates to take up management roles in professional fields. Courses are usually longer and very demanding, but the process is simpler than studying separate consecutive degrees.
  • International MBA programmes – Also known as IMBA programmes, these courses focus on the skills needed to succeed on the global stage. They may include the opportunity to take part in study and work placements across the world. You can browse the international MBA courses list on our website.

Want to know more about choosing an MBA?

MBA qualifications are different to other Masters degrees and the same advice doesn’t always apply to them. If you’ve decided that an MBA is the qualification for you, you may wish to visit our sister-site, There you can find more specific information, including a guide to choosing the right MBA programme.

What are the differences between MBAs and other Masters degrees?

The MBA is a postgraduate course, delivering a Masters-level qualification. But this is where most of the similarities between MBAs and other Masters programmes end.

MBAs require professional experience

Unlike other Masters degrees, MBA courses aren’t designed for applicants coming straight from undergraduate study. Instead the MBA is targeted at professionals with work experience, seeking to enhance their careers.

So, if you’re applying for an MBA qualification you should normally have some experience in business or management. This doesn’t have to be at a high level, but it should provide a solid foundation for your MBA to build on.

The amount of professional experience required for an MBA varies, but most programmes will expect you to have spent at least two years in a business and management role.

You’ll probably find that the quality and relevance of your experience plays an important role in securing a place on a course. It is this, as much as your academic background, that will be developed by your course. Some programmes will even use your professional experience in case studies and assignments.

MBAs are (normally) terminal degrees

This means that most people study the MBA as a final qualification.

Whereas academic Masters degrees can prepare students for PhD study, an MBA is an elite professional qualification. If your aim is to succeed in business management, an MBA will provide all the training (and prestige!) you need.

MBAs are highly competitive

An MBA course is all about achieving individual excellence. By the time you graduate you should have the skills and experience to succeed in high-pressure, high-paying leadership roles.

An MBA programme consists of a highly competitive learning and development environment – right from the admissions stage.

Many programmes have more applicants than places and use a system of short-listing and evaluation to select the best candidates. You’ll be asked to complete standardised admissions tests, write application essays and perhaps attend an interview.

Simply getting a place on an MBA can therefore be a very impressive achievement. And once you’re there you’ll be encouraged to test yourself against the rest of your cohort – all of whom will be as talented and ambitious as you.

How can I fund an MBA?

There’s no getting away from it – a typical MBA costs dramatically more than other postgraduate degrees.

Whereas the average cost of a Masters in the UK is around £8,000 per year, an MBA programme could have annual fees of £20,000 or above.

These extra fees reflect the complexity and intensity of an MBA. Most MBA programmes consist of a wide variety of course components and opportunities, with contributions from leading management and business figures.

The good news is that you may not end up shouldering the full cost of your programme as various MBA funding options are available. Universities and business schools will often have a selection of scholarships available. In keeping with the culture of the MBA, these will often be merit-based, with funding going to the best applicants.

You may also be able to pay your fees by remaining in work. Even a full-time MBA will usually be designed to allow for more flexible learning.

Support from your employer

MBAs are designed for professionals, but studying one doesn’t always mean taking a career break. It can be worth asking your present employer if they can adapt your role, or perhaps even provide sponsorship for your degree. After all, the training you receive is likely to benefit their business. Find out more in our guide to employer sponsorship.

How do I apply for an MBA?

MBA admissions processes are usually much more selective than those for other Masters degrees. Class sizes are often kept small, with more applicants than places. This is especially true for programmes at triple accredited schools and other prestigious institutions.

As a result, your MBA application will need to do two things:

  • Prove your aptitude – MBA programmes are often particularly demanding, designed for candidates with existing management experience. Whereas other Masters degrees are designed to provide additional advanced training, an MBA hones the professional skills you have already begun developing.
  • Prove your worth – The likelihood is that you won’t be the only candidate applying for your place. This means that it isn’t enough to demonstrate your ability. You’ll also need to show that you’re the best person for the course. To this end, many admissions programmes use testing processes to compare and shortlist candidates.

The admissions process for your course will need be designed to assess you in both of these areas.

The MBA application

Each business school will set its own procedures, but your application should normally include the following:

  • Submission of your academic qualifications and degree results – Despite being a professional qualification, the MBA is still a postgraduate course and most programmes will expect you to hold a good undergraduate degree. The subject won’t necessarily matter, but higher grades will be desirable. MBAs are about excellence, so proving that you’ve already excelled will strengthen your application.
  • Evidence of your professional experience – In order to gain a place on an MBA course you’ll almost always be expected to have some management experience. Your programme may set a minimum standard for this (usually two or more years in a management or supervisory role) or it may allow you to make the case for your own experience and its relevance. References from your past or present employer will usually be requested.
  • Graduate Admission Test scores – MBA programmes often select candidates using standardised graduate admissions tests. The two most common are the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) and the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Of these the GMAT is the most relevant to MBA courses (it’s in the name). Not all programmes will require test scores, but the most competitive probably will. The good news is that you can use the same score for multiple applications over a period of years.

The MBA admissions process

Submitting a strong application is just the first part of your admissions process. Many programmes will also put candidates through a process of further shortlisting and selection.

This could involve:

  • Application essays – Your programme may ask for an essay as part of your initial application, or it may set this requirement for shortlisted candidates. Topics will be set by the business school. You could be asked to evaluate a business scenario, solve a hypothetical problem or simply reflect on your background, goals and choice of programme.
  • Interviews – MBA programmes often use interviews to distinguish between candidates who have satisfied their basic entry requirements.
  • Interview reflection – The most competitive business schools include a further stage after the interview. This involves evaluating your interview experience and submitting a written reflection. Doing so demonstrates your ability to think critically about your own performance and evaluate yourself.

What does an MBA programme consist of?

MBAs are relatively unique amongst postgraduate qualifications. They aren’t simply Masters degrees in Business or Management (those exist too, but they’re different courses).

Instead of being focussed on understanding and contributing to academic theory, your MBA will challenge you to put that theory into practice. You’ll be judged as much on your success as a business professional as you will on your understanding of the principles behind business success.

How are MBAs taught?

MBA courses are highly vocational, with an emphasis on practical problem solving and developing leadership potential. This is reflected in their instruction methods.

Whereas a traditional taught Masters will follow an academic programme of group instruction and discussion, your MBA will probably feel much more ‘hands on’.

Expert training will still be an important part of the course. But this will often take the form of masterclass sessions with industry professionals. You’ll be encouraged to put theory into practice, rather than simply reflect on it.

How many credits is an MBA worth?

MBA courses are normally organised into modules, much the same as other Masters degrees. These are given a credit weighting, according to their scope and significance within the course as a whole.

The total credit value of an MBA is normally the same as that for a standard taught Masters degree. This reflects the academic value of an MBA and its place as a ‘second cycle’ postgraduate degree within most higher education systems.

  • MBA in the UK is normally worth 180 CATS credits.
  • In Europe (particularly within EHEA countries), an MBA is normally worth 90 ECTS credits.
You can read more about studying an MBA in Europe in our guide.

How long is an MBA?

An MBA will usually be longer than other Masters programmes. Most full-time courses are up to two years long.

This allows time for placements, internships or other projects as well as more conventional taught units and assessments.

Part-time or Executive MBA (EMBA) courses will be longer. In contrast, some Accelerated MBA programmes only require a single year of very intensive study.

Do MBA courses include a dissertation?

Like other Masters programmes, an MBA will normally conclude with an extended independent project.

This will be equivalent to the dissertation included in an academic Masters programme. However, an MBA project will normally have a greater practical component. You’ll conduct work in the ‘real world’ rather than focussing on academic research.

This could involve working within a company associated with the programme, or completing a personal business project.

You will normally ‘write-up’ and reflect upon your project once complete, but your success in meeting actual business objectives will be a significant factor in determining your performance.

Search for your MBA programme

Ready to begin looking for an MBA? Browse the hundreds of MBA courses listed on our website.

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Last updated: 13 October 2022