What you need to know about getting an MBA degree, from the application process through graduation
Continuing your business education after completing your bachelor’s degree can have a notable positive impact on your career. One survey of mostly US-based corporate recruiters estimates that a person with an MBA degree may make $3 million more over the course of their career than a person with only a bachelor’s degree .
The potential benefits of holding a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree are strong—but they don’t come without some dedication to the goal. Here’s what it takes to get your MBA.
Gaining admission into business school requires some planning and organization, but if you start early and approach it with intention, you may find it to be a manageable process.
Many business schools offer three submission deadlines, or “rounds,” due between the months of September and April. It can be beneficial to apply to the programs you’re most interested in during the first round, as that’s when there will be the most open seats for the incoming class. Then, if you decide to apply for additional programs during the second or third rounds, you’ll already have the bulk of your application ready, save a few tweaks.
Here are the steps you can take in the months before your application deadlines.
Before compiling your application materials, it will be important to research different types of MBA programs and determine which schools are best equipped to help you reach your goals.
Some things to consider when researching MBA programs include:
Program structure: Think about your logistical preferences, such as how long the program typically takes to complete, when classes are scheduled, whether you want to attend class full time or part time, and total cost of the program.
Course offerings: If you want to specialize in a particular business sector, such as nonprofit or health care, it may be helpful to seek programs that have strong reputations in those areas of study.
Cultural fit: Consider the social and environmental elements that help you thrive, and look for programs that are likely to encourage and enhance your success.
As a graduate degree, most MBA programs will require applicants to have an undergraduate degree. Some programs, like accelerated MBAs, require additional prerequisite coursework. Many MBA admissions committees will consider your undergraduate GPA as part of their admission decision.
Learn more about how to get a bachelor’s degree.
Beyond academic requirements, admissions committees also may consider your relevant work experience. Some programs require a certain number of years in the workforce, particularly executive MBAs. For other programs, having work experience is more of a social norm. In 2019, at the top 25 business schools in the US, the average MBA candidate had about five years of work experience .
Once you decide on the programs that align with your goals and verify that you meet the prerequisites, you may be ready to begin the application process. Take note of any deadlines in addition to the required documents. Common application components include:
Official academic records
Essays or a statement of purpose
After you submit your application, you may receive an invitation to interview with an admissions officer, faculty member, or some other member of the program’s network. Some schools extend interview invitations to all candidates, while others only interview the prospective students they are considering admitting based on their application materials.
Typically, the interview will be the last step of the application process, so the next time you hear from the admissions committee will be regarding an admission decision. Most schools release decisions in December, March, and May, depending on when you apply for the MBA program.
As you research various MBA programs, you may be considering the cost of attendance. There are a number of ways to finance your degree, including scholarships and employer sponsorship. Learn more about how to pay for your graduate degree.
Your exact path toward getting your MBA will become much clearer when you accept your offer of admission. By this point, you will have already determined the type of program you will be joining, which will help illuminate how long it will take to get an MBA (many programs take about two years) and your overall graduation requirements.
Here’s a general sense of what it will likely take to earn an MBA once you’re enrolled in a program.
MBA candidates explore foundational knowledge across a variety of business areas through core coursework. Core requirements vary from program to program, though many will incorporate areas of study such as:
In general, MBA candidates focus on core requirements before focusing on major or elective requirements.
Beyond core courses, many MBA programs offer some flexibility when it comes to higher-level classes, allowing candidates to choose majors or specializations that best fit their goals, in addition to elective courses that align with their interests.
MBA majors or specializations are focused areas of study. Many programs offer majors and specializations, though not all require a formal major selection. Examples of some MBA majors include:
Supply chain management
Electives are courses MBA candidates can opt to take in addition to their predetermined core and major requirements. These classes may be top-level courses within their area of study, or may be higher-level courses in areas outside of their decided major path.
Alongside all course requirements, MBA programs will often have requirements pertaining to minimum GPA and residence—meaning classes must be taken at your home institution—in addition to some type of immersive experience.
Through immersive experiences, MBA candidates formally demonstrate their business expertise and try out their earned knowledge in real-world situations. Common immersive MBA experiences include:
Capstone, thesis, or portfolio project
If you’re ready to take the first steps toward getting your MBA degree, consider the iMBA from the University of Illinois Gies College of Business, available on Coursera. Work toward your degree from anywhere with an internet connection at a breakthrough price.
If you aren’t sure whether an MBA is the right path for you, you may want to consider a business master’s degree or certificate program. Both options can help enhance your business knowledge, and typically require a less extensive time and financial commitment.
The process of getting an online MBA is pretty similar to that of an in-person degree, largely because most online MBA programs are educationally equivalent to in-person programs. In general, online programs will have similar application components and degree requirements as in-person programs.
Typically the major differences between online and in-person MBA programs include total cost—online MBAs tend to be less expensive—and location.
There are a number of organizations that rank MBA programs—US News & World Report, Fortune, and Bloomberg, to name a few—and the schools at the top of those lists tend to have competitive admission standards.
If you are aiming to attend a competitive MBA program, you’ll want to present yourself as a highly competitive applicant. Research the makeup of their most recent incoming classes. Take note of the average entrance test scores, undergraduate GPA, work experience, and other highlighted data points, and aim to match or surpass those credentials. Additionally, seek strong letters of recommendation from your employers, mentors, or academic advisors, and write a compelling statement of purpose that highlights your exceptional fit for the program.
1. Graduate Management Admission Council. “Demand of Graduate Management Talent: 2021 Hiring Projections and Salary Trends, https://www.gmac.com/-/media/files/gmac/research/employment-outlook/2021_crs-demand-of-gm-talent.pdf. Accessed November 23, 2021.
2. Poets & Quants. “Average Age & Work Experience At Top MBA Programs, https://poetsandquants.com/2019/11/27/average-age-work-experience-at-top-mba-programs/.” Accessed November 23, 2021.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.