One man's adventure turning adversity into opportunity with a Masters in Business Administration.

What Is An MBA Course Or Degree ?

If you’re here then you’re probably wondering what is an MBA course which is often referred to as an MBA degree.  Maybe you’re thinking about applying for the course or it could be for general information about the programme.  This article should give you an overview of what a MBA degree course is all about.

Whilst this article is pro MBA, later on I reveal one MIT MBA graduate who has now been indicted on weapons of mass destruction charges.  So, unless you apply yourself positively, no MBA will ensure you succeed in life.  Its down to you, so make sure you protect your mind and apply yourself.  Ok, warning over, back to the main topic of this article.

An MBA, otherwise known as a Masters in Business Administration is a course you attend to learn about a scientific (evidence) based approach to business.

It is an internationally recognised qualification and designed to develop the skills and personal attributes required for careers in business and management.

Often seen as a trigger for career change it’s also a step towards the pursuit of an entrepreneurial venture and this course can help you master your business.

What Is The Purpose Of An MBA Course

The answer to this may very well be linked to your own motivations and its a question you should give some thought too as it will more than likely come up in your MBA interview and will ultimately affect your overall perspective and the perceived value you see in the course.

For me personally after being made redundant and struggling to find employment, despite my breadth and depth of experiences and training, I decided I needed to change things up for myself and hopefully others following this story and an MBA seemed like a “win-win” way to do that because I could see many ways of leveraging the MBA even before starting the course.

Whilst my short-term goal is employment I hope one day to pursue an entrepreneurial venture, however I need to live today and make the best of my skills and experiences and also have a fallback plan if the venture doesn’t work out.

The world of business is also changing and topics like social responsibility, ethics and innovation are becoming increasingly more important and haven’t always featured on the business curriculum so you’ll get up to speed with current topics.

The best courses are led by research and trends and should be introducing the latest challenges facing modern companies and not just giving students a narrow set of tools that get them working endlessly towards maximising the short-term gains of shareholders at the long-term expense of others as an example.  To be good in business long term you need to strike a balance.

The course should also offer you ongoing career development opportunities and help you build a personal network and make connections with the business world preparing you for life after the MBA.

It’s about getting you ready, not just professionally, personally (mindset) as well, for the next phase of your career journey and your continued self growth.

So most courses should give you the following;

  • Business theory.
  • Application through practise.
  • Cementing your hard-skills.
  • Polishing up those soft-skills.

History Behind The MBA Curriculum

The MBA was introduced in the US at the early part of the 20th century during the industrialisation period when Harvard Business School offered its first programme in 1908 to men.  It took a further 50 years before women were allowed to enrol and for the course to go international.

For many years these courses were considered irrelevant to the world of business and schools were viewed as second rate which forced a revolution in teaching practises.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the UK decided it needed its own business schools. On the recommendation of the Franks report, the Manchester Business School and the London Business School, were established.

Gradually they evolved from two-year courses into intensive 12-month programmes and more tailored MBAs with specialist modules began to appear.

Big growth has been seen in recent years for part-time and distance MBAs which allow students to continue working at the same time.  The Association of MBAs believes there are anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 people each year studying an MBA in the UK on a distance learning course.

Interest continues to grow in executive MBA programmes – which take place in the evenings and weekends. Modular courses are also attracting increasing numbers as they allow students to attend full time for a period and return to their employer the rest of the time.

Most business schools are now placing more emphasis on “soft” skills to ensure courses remain relevant to modern business challenges by including modules like ethics and increasing focus on practical, rather than purely academic skills.

When Is The Best Time To Apply

Whilst it’s always good to continue your education once you transition into the world of work, with few exceptions it’s not ideal to get your MBA after a recent degree and with little or no professional experience as most hirers look to combine your MBA with extensive professional experience for the kind of roles that MBA’s are normally considered for, or believe they should be aiming towards.

Therefore a minimum of 5 years experience from your degree is a good starting point, however some take less and I personally have 20 years experience covering quite a depth and breadth mostly in and around technology focused markets.

It’s a big commitment, so you should also consider the impact on your family, friends and work colleagues to ensure you can fit this into your life and that it will aid in your personal goals and career development, just like any business decision of this magnitude.

As I was over experienced and qualified for many roles and restricted from others because of a lack of certain training or experience I felt the MBA could help me break through a few ceilings and demonstrate what I am truly capable of and open up new opportunities.

When it comes to starting your research and applying, the best time is usually early in the academic year which is typically September and when most scholarships are available and schools are starting their recruiting process.  Larger schools may have a rolling recruitment programme which typically sees applications from different regions from September to the the beginning of summer or the end of the academic year.  Starting early will give you enough time to apply, interview, visit and resolve funding issues before your course starts.

Places You Can Study An MBA Qualification

You can find MBA courses all around the global and whilst the basic content is similar, where you study can be a critical factor in your decision as school prestige could be important when it comes to looking for work in some sectors.

In fact Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford Graduate School of Business commented in an article in the FT;

“Unless you go to an elite school – by which he means one ranked in the top 15 worldwide – an MBA is a complete waste of money.”

However I and many others don’t prescribe to this line of thinking as everybody’s situation is different and you need to consider the pros and cons for you and understand that it’s no golden ticket to success or a high-flying job.

It is possible to attend an MBA course at traditional institutions with a physical presence like the top Universities shown below, however you can also get your MBA degrees online using the internet as your means to access course materials, often referred to as distance learning.

Just to give you an idea what you might be missing on a distance learning course the video below provides a whistle-stop tour of what the Universities featured in the “Times Higher Education – Worlds 10 Best Schools” actually look like.  Many of which wouldn’t look out-of-place in films like Harry Potter or as the HQ’s for a hi-tech company.

The environment is important as it impacts the way students engage with the programme and its cohort and the value they take away, however many schools have excellent facilities and cultures without being based at the more prestigious or famous Universities and its more than likely that the format of course that is right for you will be found at a great school that isn’t in the “Top 10”.

Types of MBA Courses

Interestingly the course length may also have an impact on its perceived value, especially if your course is also being judged by the school you attended.  Full time intensive 1 year courses tend to be regarded slightly higher because of the intensity and level of cohort interaction.  Although the challenges facing students on the executive course whilst in employment is also understood and regarded well.

If you’ve ever asked the question to yourself “just how long does it take to get an MBA anyhow” the following might help.

Full time courses – 1 year intensive/accelerated or 2 years with the usual academic summer term break and also known as a general MBA.

Part time & modular courses – are ideal for fitting around your life or other commitments and could be taken over many years depending on your time available.

Evening / Executive courses – are best for wrapping around your work (evenings and weekends) and can be further tailored towards your job.

Modes Of Learning & Assessment For Students

Most MBA courses now have a heavier focus on applied teaching so a large proportion of your time will be spent on using what you have learned in cases studies and group assignments.

  • Classes – typically lecture based teaching where you take onboard different taught subjects which are compulsory like strategy, leadership, finance, marketing and elective modules which may cover technology, internationalisation, risk etc.
  • Case studies – are effectively simulations that need you to workaround to find the best possible solution which can be practically applied for a given set of circumstances.
  • Group assignments – usually consist of 4 or 5 students that have the opportunity to analyse complicated business problems and present their findings and outcomes as a team.

Assessment is carried out over individual assignments, written examinations at the end of each term and  group assignments.  The course concludes with a major business project that allows you to put your new knowledge into practice.

Course Content & Modules Found In A Typical MBA Curriculum

Some MBAs are generalist covering many topics whilst others place more focus on particular areas of commerce such as International Business, Global Banking and Entrepreneurship so the modules available to you will be primarily driven by how general or focused the course is.  There is a set of compulsory modules found in the typical MBA curriculum that all students must study and a set of elective modules that can be bolted on to tailor the course to your specific requirements.

So that you have an idea of what you might be learning, the following types of modules (not all) can be found in most MBA course syllabus;

Core modules

  1. Accounting & Financial Management.
  2. Measuring and enhancing financial performance.
  3. Innovation and Creativity in Organisations.
  4. Leadership & Managing in a New World.
  5. Marketing.
  6. Operations Management.
  7. Organisational Behaviour.
  8. Designing and managing operations, systems and processes.
  9. Strategic Thinking: Strategic Evaluation & Analysis.
  10. Crafting strategy, innovation and enterprise.
  11. Creating and Delivering Customer Value.
  12. Managing a socially responsible organisation.

Elective modules

  1. Global Business.
  2. Entrepreneurship: New Firm Growth.
  3. Management & Leadership.
  4. Strategic Human Resource Management in a Global Context.
  5. E-Business Strategy.
  6. Strategic Global Outsourcing.
  7. Technology-Led Service Strategies.
  8. International Business.
  9. International Finance.
  10. International Marketing Management.
  11. Risk Management.
  12. Advanced Strategy.
  13. International Cooperative Strategy.
  14. Business Communication.
  15. Contemporary Topics in Banking and Finance.
  16. Corporate Governance.
  17. Entrepreneurial Finance.
  18. Ethics in Global Business.
  19. Financial Statement Analysis.
  20. Global Marketing Leadership.
  21. Implementing Strategies and Managing Change.
  22. Infrastructure and Project Finance.
  23. International Banking: Regulation and Supervision.
  24. International Business Experience.
  25. International Business Finance.
  26. Models of Capitalism and Financial Crises.
  27. Strategic Procurement and Supplier Management.

Accreditation’s That Ensure Course Quality

AMBA – Association of MBAs.

AMBA accreditation is only awarded to the best programmes internationally which demonstrate the highest standard of achievement in postgraduate business education and is recognised as a “gold standard”.

AMBA is committed to developing the highest standards in postgraduate management teachings around the world. Only the very best courses ever receive this accreditation as they must consistently demonstrate “the best standards in teaching, curriculum, and student interaction”.

It’s also seen as an innovation catalyst challenging business schools to “continuously perform at the highest level”.

AACSB – Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

The AACSB is a two tiered system first adopted in 1919 which provides institutional and specialised accreditations which are well established for business courses taught at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level.

Business schools are challenged to strive for excellence and continuous improvement within their business courses.

Accreditation is known, worldwide, as the longest standing, most recognised form of specialised/professional accreditation an institution and its business programmes can earn.

EQUIS – The European Quality Improvement System

EQUIS asses institutions as a whole and is not primarily focused on the MBA, rather it looks for a balance between high academic quality and professional relevance and internationalisation.

Institutions found in the best MBA lists online will usually be triple accredited meaning that all of the above accrediting agencies will have ratified the school and its course.

MBA Degree Requirements For Course Entry

If you have little experience then a good academic background like an honours degree 2:1 or 2:2 would be a typical minimal requirement.

You may also be required to take the Graduate Management Admission Test or GMAT and achieve a score of around 700 or more.

However, if you have considerable professional experience over say 10 or 20 years then this by itself may be good enough for some school.

Combining both experience and academic background will probably get you straight onto the course at most great schools if your interview is solid.

Costs Of An MBA Programme

Costs vary widely and depend on the type of course as well as the school and your living costs.

Course fees on a good quality full time MBA programme in the UK typically start around £25K, then increase to around £38K for an excellent school and the very top or elite schools come in around £50K to £70K.

Good online or distance learning courses start around £15K and an increasing number of low cost programmes come in around £4/6K which could be an interesting proposition for some.

Living expenses vary depending on the location of the school and whether you’ll be commuting from home, moving to be closer or have a family, partner or funds that can support you.  Having support and living near your school is far more cost effective and it’s another reason why people take distance learning courses as location is not an issue.

That costs and return on investment should be carefully weighed up when determining what is an mba course worth to you.

Impact Of An MBA Degree On Your Career

Becoming an MBA alumni signals to potential hirers that you have a solid set of leadership and business skills which when combined with your experiences and other training which increases your chances of securing and performing well in more strategic roles.

It could be that you already have a lot of the experience covered in this course, however for potential hirers it’s sometimes difficult to tell how your experiences have transitioned into skills unless you’ve worked at a large established business with known career paths and development programmes.

The average salary for MBA graduates is typically around £80/90K GBP and most will receive promotion and career progression or fulfill personal goals.

How To Apply For Business School

Most course applications are made online.  I’ve included links to the main schools that I applied too along with some screen shots as examples and later on in another article I’ll provide a behind the scenes look at what the process involves up to the point where you get made an offer (without undermining the admissions process).

The Aston MBA Application – This page contains a very clear call to action (“Apply Now”) that does not require a lot of searching around to find.  It has a business feel about it which also gives you a sense of what is to come.

Aston MBA Application Intro

Applying For The Birmingham International MBA – Unfortunately you need to scroll all the way down to get to the call to action even though the page design takes advantages of an increased screen size.  It generally feels a more academically orientated course from the look and feel of the page.

Birmingham MBA Application Intro

Apply For The Warwick MBA – Very clear call to action (“Apply Online”) placed at the top of the page and an interesting balance between the very business like approach taken by Aston and the academic orientation adopted by Birmingham.

Warwick MBA Application Intro

Some application specifics include;

  • Personal details
  • Qualifications
  • Language proficiency
  • GMAT (if applicable)
  • Work experience – which usually focuses on your management and leadership experiences.
  • Finance / Scholarship – how you will fund the course and what support you might need.
  • Questions / Tasks – designed to make you think retrospectively and demonstrate why you should be on the course and what value you might bring.

The next step is the interview.  In my case I had 2 Skype interviews that lasted around 30mins each and 1 panel interview which was approximately 1hr 30mins long.b

Assuming you do well here and all aspects of your applications check out, then you will typically receive an offer of a place and possibly a Scholarship.  All your left with now is deciding which school is for you, so make sure you visit the campus and talk with its staff and students.

Difference Between MSc and MBA Programmes​

The obvious difference between the two is that a standard MBA programme is geared towards the pre-experienced market, meaning you should have a solid number of years in professional employment behind you (see section on entry requirements), whereas most MSc programmes don’t require that you have any prior work experience and you can apply to them as a fresh graduate.

An interest analogy is to think of the degree as an airplane ticket, with enhanced career prospects the final destination. A Master of Science (MSc) is an economy class ticket, while a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a business class one.”

An MBA is also recognised globally and tends to carry more weight than a standard MSc in Management since your working alongside more experienced individuals and you gain a lot just by interacting with your cohort.  MSc’s though offer more specialised courses with a narrower focus which may suit the needs of some.

There is also an MA awarded in business and management however these courses are targeted more towards graduates from academic disciplines which were not business or economics, so it could be seen as more of a bridging course than building on your existing business experiences and skills.

What Payback or ROI Could Your Masters Award Deliver

This is an interesting question and it depends on a number of factors like when you take your MBA, where you get your MBA from, the total costs (after scholarships and other free funding) over the duration of the course, your previous experience, how you apply yourself and how you represent the payback such as in monetary or progressive terms (career advancement, change in career)  and over what timeframes like an entire lifetime or for a given fixed period.

In the Alumni Perspectives Survey of 4,000 MBA graduates, conducted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council in 2012, it claimed that, on average, respondents had recouped one third of the cost of their studies within a year of graduation and the degree had paid for itself within four years.  This is good news.

Data from the Financial Times 2015 Global MBA rankings show that the pay increase of younger graduates in the three years after graduation outperforms that of their older counterparts in both percentage terms and absolute terms.

So in general you can expect a decent return from a good MBA.  I’ve included a few more ways of viewing the return below.

If the speed of payback in the early years is a concern to you then you might find the following employment chart useful;

MBA ROI Based On Employment
Looking to pursue an entrepreneurial endeavour ?, then this chart is also quite revealing;

MBA ROI For Entrepreneurs

For those concerned about costs, then this table comparing low cost courses and their payback is also an eye opener;

MBA ROI For Low Cost Courses

Extracted from the QS Return on Investment Report 2015.

It’s also worth pointing out that every year league tables change and the tables are different depending on whose table you read so at the end of the day you need to make the decision that’s right for your situation, not just be swayed by the league tables.

Avoid This Happening To You After You Graduate

indicted mba course graduate
MBA graduate indicted

I said at the beginning of this article that an MBA is no golden ticket in life as a lot of what you’ll get out of an MBA will come from what you put in and how you apply yourself afterwards.  Surprisingly this MIT graduate Nicolai Mork, 40, has been indicted on weapons of mass destruction and terror charges as police found explosive materials that were ‘strong enough to penetrate a military tank’ on the premises of his Vegas home.  Wow, that’s some serious fire power if it turns out to be true and a sad waste of a useful mind.

Whatever you do, make sure your MBA isn’t a waste of your money or time and that it makes a positive difference to your life and hopefully the lives of others by taking constructive action.

So What Is An MBA Course Really About ?

Ok, you’ve come this far and you’re looking for the simplest answer to this question ? It’s an opportunity to certify your skills in a globally recognised and applied way and more importantly its personal development that needs you to apply yourself and what you’ve learned and nurture the value of your network long afterwards.

You can find an encyclopaedic MBA degree definition by following this wiki link and I hope you’ve finally found your answer to what is an MBA degree in the 21st century.

Thankyou for reading this article on what is an MBA course and I hope to read hear your views in the comments below.

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