What is an MBA: Facts & Myths

What is an MBA
Why do you want to go to business school?
Where do you fit into the MBA?
What does applying for MBA programs entail?
What do top MBA programs look for?
How do I pick which MBA programs to apply for?
What are my MBA program options?
Getting started with MBA application planning
What myths or blindspots should I be aware of?

What is an MBA

An MBA (a Master of Business Administration) is a graduate degree that teaches management skills needed for leadership roles in corporate, nonprofit, and government entities. An MBA might be the ideal degree if you want to accelerate their career, transition into a new field, or become an entrepreneur.

I shared insights on how to decide whether to get an MBA here:

The most popular MBA program is two years in duration, includes a summer internship, and is targeted at young professionals who are roughly 3-7 years into their career path. There are alternative programs such as part-time, executive, and one year programs that have surfaced in recent years.

“Applicants see an MBA as a long-term investment in their future,” shared Beth Tidmarsh a SBC Consultant who is also a former Kellogg MBA Admissions Officer.  “Thus, the long-term brand reputation and credential of a top-tier B-school is appealing.”

Adds a current top-five MBA career coach who works on our SBC team: “The reason top U.S. MBA schools are in demand is that top employers continue to source their talent from these pools of students — and this is especially critical for students wishing to make an industry and/or functional pivot post-MBA. Between the on-campus recruiting opportunities and broad-reaching alumni networks, there is tremendous value in an MBA.”

Request a free consultation with a Principal
on our SBC team to evaluate your MBA candidacy.

The average starting salary of an MBA graduate is $115,000, which is twice that of a typical professional at the same age who has only an undergraduate degree. Top MBA graduates can often earn up to $200,000 inclusive of salary and incentives upon business school graduation.

Top INDUSTRIES people go into after earning an MBA:

• Consulting      • Financial services      • Consumer products.     • Education
• Government      • Nonprofit      • Energy     • Healthcare
• Manufacturing      • Technology

Top ROLES people go into after earning an MBA:
• Senior leadership      • Entrepreneur      • Marketing      • Strategy      • Finance
• General Management      • Operations      • Technology

Many young professionals consider the question of what the MBA is and the value it can deliver. Before deciding what type of program you will attend, selecting your school, and determining your application strategy, you need to make the crucial decision of whether an MBA is the right next step for your life and career. Think about the reasons why you want an MBA, and what your alternatives are.

A recent SBC client shared, “Given the U.S. current climate, I feel as though many of the world’s biggest social problems could be better tackled and improved using business-oriented solutions. This realization has influenced my desire to pursue a long-term career in business, as opposed to government, therefore strengthening my desire to pursue an MBA.”

What will the MBA do for you?

Are you considering an MBA for career advancement, personal development, or a career switch? While your MBA could be a transformational experience changing everything about your life, it’s more typically a tool to polish existing skills, build your network or expose you to new industries.

  1. You’ve learned as much as you can in your current role and crave something more. If you find yourself stagnating in your present role or that you’ve plateaued in your job and there’s no room for upward mobility, an MBA can help you navigate and leverage your next career step. The business school experience will show you how to integrate your skills, passions and goals against the backdrop of current global market conditions. 
  2. You have a new professional goal. Ask yourself what you plan to accomplish after your MBA. If you know what your long-term goal is, that’s a great way to start. What do you need to know to accomplish that goal? How does your resume need to look? What skills do you need to build? And who do you need to know? Think about the aspects of that future that will be developed through your MBA and your short-term post MBA career. Applicants for top MBA programs often seek to pivot industries and/or function professionally through the MBA. 

    If you are not someone with a clear long-term goal, critically consider what you think the MBA will do for you. Business school offers clear skill building in teamwork, leadership and practical skills like accounting and finance. There is also a strong professional network you will build with classmates and alumni, domestic and global.“Top-tier MBA programs offer the skills, experience, and networks to excel professionally within the U.S. and globally,” says Meghan, a former admissions officer of Wharton Lauder and current SBC Consultant. “Top MBA programs train students to navigate global management issues or even take their career overseas.”

  1. You need the degree to move up the ladder. If you are seeking advancement in a career where an MBA is valued, it may be an important next step. If you are simply looking for a larger salary or a change of pace, make sure that an MBA is the right professional degree for you to pursue. Applying for business school is an expensive and time consuming activity, and that’s before you even start school! Dedication and passion for the path you are embarking upon are crucial. 
  2. You’re missing key skills that an MBA program can provide. Business school provides a safe space to experiment and hone those skills in a variety of situations. For applicants with strong technical expertise but who are light on general management skills or anyone looking to bridge the gap between the liberal arts and business, an MBA will catapult you to the next level and expand business acumen. 
  3. You want to significantly expand your professional network. Your alumni network helps you stay connected to the university and to countless professional opportunities beyond graduation. While the quality of the education at the most elite programs is guaranteed across the board, when you’re spending two years of your life and paying more than $100K, keep in mind the network of contacts you build during your MBA experience truly is priceless. Beth Tidmarsh, a former Kellogg MBA admissions officer who now works on the SBC team, shared, “Top schools are committed to creating a class that brings in diverse perspectives from around the world to enhance student learning and the overall classroom experience. Managers and leaders of the future will tackle problems in a highly interconnected world, do business on a global scale, and the issues are only getting more complex.”

Request a free consultation with a Principal
on our SBC team to evaluate your MBA candidacy.

Where do you fit into the MBA?

Here are the basics of business school demographics, generalized across programs:

  • Male/Female ratio:  55% – 45% 
  • Age range:  25 – 28 years old
    • trend getting younger
  • Previous Industry Experience
    • Investment Banking/Management* 23%
    • Consulting 18%
    • Manufacturing-Other** 14%
    • Non-Profit/Government 12%
    • High Tech (Services & Manufacturing) 9%
  • Undergraduate Majors
    • Humanities/Social Sciences 52%
    • Engineering/Mathematics/Natural Sciences 32%
    • Business 16%
    • Advanced Degree Holders 9%

*Includes Asset Management, Hedge Funds, Investment Banking, Private Equity, and Venture Capital

**Includes Aerospace, Automotive, Chemical, Consumer Products, Industrial Equipment, and Pharmaceuticals

What does applying for MBA programs entail?

Prepare for and take the GMAT or GRE

  • Consider a prep course
  • Can take the test more than once
  • Secure test score prior to Spring of application year

The MBA application includes:

  • Resume
  • Prior education and transcripts
  • Summary of work experience and extracurricular activities
  • Test scores
  • Essays
  • Recommendations

What do top MBA programs look for?

The average applicant is qualified to attend. But, the admitted applicant is more than qualified. Top business schools look for:

  • Vision
  • Broad view of role as a leader
  • Proven track record of leadership and success

Essays, recommendations and interview are important touchpoints to capture these themes across attributes of leadership, teamwork, initiative, creativity and others.

How do I pick which MBA programs to apply for?

We wrote about school choices in our Which MBA? series that compares between top MBA programs and also via our career placement comparisons and Value of the MBA article.  Essentially, the first step is to outline your priorities:

  • Geography
  • Areas of focus (e.g., industry, function)
  • Teaching method
  • Class size 
  • Brand
  • Alumni network
  • Joint degree programs
  • Fit, culture

Then, do your research online: 

  • School websites
  • MBA application rounds and deadlines
  • US News, Financial Times, WSJ, Business Week rankings
  • Understand what is behind the rankings
  • Stacy Blackman Consulting blog
  • Visit schools
  • Talk to alums

“MBA program reputation matters,” says Kim, a former Chicago Booth MBA admissions officer who now works at SBC. “Rankings are a significant driver of MBA program reputation. I personally saw the uptick in applications as Chicago Booth began to take the lead and tie for first place in the U.S. News & World Report ranking. Throughout my time as an admissions officer, there were countless times candidates called out the school’s ranking and its importance to them.”

However, we view the most critical factor in selecting MBA programs that is often overlooked is: likelihood of being admitted. “Throughout my 20-year career in MBA admissions, the one constant is the incredible allure of top programs, the high caliber of students that pursue those programs, and the core attributes that those programs seek,” Stacy Blackman says. 

Talk with an expert to assess the right balance of reach versus reasonable programs for your profile.

Request a free consultation with a Principal
on our SBC team to evaluate your MBA candidacy.

What are my MBA program options?

  • 2 year vs 1 year MBA programs

The 2 year program is the staple of MBA education and the dominant preference for the vast majority of the MBA applicant pool. It’s a fully immersive experience, allowing for optimal networks and growth, and it features a summer internship, often seen as an essential prelude to career recruiting.  

Several programs in recent years initiated a shorter degree, called the 1 year program. Cornell Tech , NYU Tech, Emory and Kellogg are the main 1 year program options in the US. The 1 year program is an excellent alternative for applicants who are slightly vulnerable in terms of “admit chances,” for reasons such as mature tenure or understated GMAT.   “We have seen through our Stacy Blackman Consulting client pool that the 1Y program is a bit less competitive than the traditional 2 year program, assuming of course that all the criteria are met,” commented a former Kellogg Admissions Officer who works on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team. For those applicants with a business undergrad and who don’t need an internship, it’s a really great program, especially as there is very little difference in brand power between the 1Y and two-year programs in the professional world. 

Just last year, Kellogg launched its MBAi program, an accelerated five-quarter joint MBA,in partnership with the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. The MBAi integrates AI and data science with business-driving innovation. 

  • US vs European

If your professional goal is to live and work in Europe, pursuing a European MBA is arguably the best introduction to local business life. Keep this fact in mind: INSEAD and LBS place less than 13% of graduates into North American-based employment roles. Meanwhile, they place about half of their graduates in Europe. 

Average salaries upon graduation are $104,200 and $106,220 for INSEAD and LBS, respectively– which are different from the average $150,000 annual salaries for the top US MBA programs excluding signing bonus. Yet, European MBA programs, such as INSEAD and LBS, can show a higher return on investment compared to two-year US MBA programs because of lower tuition and opportunity costs. You can complete an MBA program at INSEAD in as little as ten months and at LBS in as little as 15 months. Even for the longer MBA program of LBS, tuition fees are lower than that of the US, not accounting for cost of living in London. In a study that Stacy Blackman Consulting conducted across our applicant pool, shorter duration and lower tuition costs were European program advantages endorsed by 48% of respondents.

More on the differences between US and European programs can be found here.

  • Full time vs EMBA

Most EMBA programs look for a minimum of 8-12 years of work experience, including years of managing people or large projects. By contrast, full-time MBA admits usually have around 3-5 years of work tenure. The average age of EMBA program participants is 35. At Columbia’s EMBA program, the average student age is approximately 32, while it’s 37 at Wharton’s EMBA program.

Jordana, who is a Sr Consultant on our SBC team and comes from LBS MBA Admissions, shared, “An EMBA program offers candidates the opportunity to further develop their leadership skills in an environment designed to challenge their existing paradigms and biases developed over many years of working. Candidates typically apply to an EMBA program when they feel they need to hone the skills necessary to take the next step in their careers. This often means C-level positions that require significantly different skills than the ones that got them to their current roles.”

More on the differences between EMBA and full time programs can be found here.

Request a free consultation with a Principal
on our SBC team to evaluate your MBA candidacy.

Getting started with MBA application planning

Here is a recent interview on advanced planning for the MBA:

Key is defining your personal brand:

Brainstorm 4-5 stories to form your strategy.

  • Highlight different aspects of your background
  • Weave the stories into various aspects of application
  • Educate recommenders on your stories

Articulate what you bring to the community: understand what a school values and present yourself as part of the solution.

Confront your flaws, show you understand them, and make your self-awareness a strength.

Define goals.

  • Demonstrate the program can have a direct impact on goals
  • Articulate how past experience impacted goals

Extracurriculars are important – even if you think you do not have time.

Additional tasks:

  • Take a leadership role in or out of the office.
  • Consider taking a class to prove your academic abilities.
  • Get involved in community service – office sponsored projects count!
  • Look into past achievements & build on them.
  • Take a GMAT class & put the test behind you.
  • Research schools.
  • Review last year’s applications.
  • Start thinking about choice recommenders and build relationships.
  • Attend information sessions.

What myths or blindspots should I be aware of?

Myth #1: I have a sub-3.0 GPA so I shouldn’t apply.

Facts:

  • There are no minimum GPA or GMAT requirement
  • GPA and GMAT are simply 2 components of your application the AdCom uses to assess analytical and intellectual capability 

Myth #2: I scored 800 on my GMAT so I’ll definitely get in.


Facts:

  • In prior years, Stanford accepted 0 of their applicants with perfect GMATs
  • GMAT scores have been trending up
  • The GMAT will not get you in

Myth #3: My friends were successful with this approach in their application, so I’ll be too.

Facts:

  • Many get admitted despite some strategy or tactic, not because of it
  • What works for one person will not necessarily work for another

Myth #4: I don’t feel that I have enough work experience so I’ll wait and apply in ~2 years.

Facts:

  • More work experience is not better
  • Average work experience and age are trending down
  • Opportunity cost increases if you wait

Myth #5: I am not sure if I’m ready, but what the heck, I’ll just apply and if I don’t get it, I can always reapply.

Facts:

  • Overcoming a ding is difficult; you have to demonstrate a significant change
  • Apply once and do it right
  • Applying is expensive

Request a free consultation with a Principal
on our SBC team to evaluate your MBA candidacy.