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What Is An MBA?

What Is An MBA? main image

This month, TopUniversities is publishing its first-ever ranking of full-time MBA programs around the world. But what is an MBA? And why is it so important that it deserves its own ranking? Allow us to answer these questions and cover the basics of what a Master of Business Administration degree (to give it its full name) entails.

So, what does an MBA involve?

As you’ve hopefully realized from its name along, the MBA is a business-focused postgraduate program which is currently responsible for producing many of the top graduates working in finance and business around the world. Although it’s a relatively new qualification (compared to more traditional master’s degrees anyway), it produces approximately 100,000 graduates in the US every year.

The course is designed to perfectly prepare you for the world of business, with teaching revolving around a series of case studies, real-world examples of business problems for students to find a solution to. Traditional lectures and tutorials feature less frequently, with students instead breaking into small groups or “syndicates” to tackle these business issues. As a result, an MBA degree typically involves less independent study than other master’s programs.

Who typically studies an MBA?

Unlike other postgraduate programs, MBA students have typically chosen to return to studying after a period in work. At London Business School, for example, the average MBA student is 29 years old with five years of work experience under their belt. This is because MBA programs are often seen as a fantastic way to switch careers or develop the tools required to start your own business.

MBA classes are typically also extremely diverse. Although there are high-quality MBA programs available around the world, students will often travel great distances to study at the most prestigious business schools in Europe or the US. To use the London Business School as an example again, their MBA class of 2018 contains 70 different nationalities.

How can I tell an MBA is right for me?

Perhaps the simplest way to decide whether it’s worth studying an MBA is to look at your current career status and analyze whether an MBA would significantly open new doors for you. If you’re still at university or only just starting out in the world of work, it’s potentially too early for you to justify investing in an MBA. If, however, your current career trajectory is beginning to stall and you feel developing new skills will enable you to apply for that big promotion, move to a bigger company or even set up your own, then the broad skill base you’ll acquire from studying an MBA could make it worthwhile. It’s quite common to find MBA programs which are taught over evenings and weekends too, so you might be able to continue working while you study.

What are the alternatives to an MBA?

If an MBA isn’t right for you, one alternative is to study a specialized business master’s degree instead. These offer more of a chance to deepen your expertise in a particular area – such as finance, management or business analytics – and will potentially give you a greater chance of career progression in those specialisms than the more general MBA would. Want to learn more about the best business master’s programs around the world? We’ll be publishing our first-ever ranking focused specifically on management, finance and business analytics master’s later this month!

Where can I find out more about these rankings?

To learn more about the QS Business Masters Rankings 2018, or the QS Global MBA Rankings check out our two preview pieces here and here, or watch the video interview with QS CEO Nunzio Quacquarelli below. These rankings will be published on 28 November, so be sure to check back then for lots more content related to these postgraduate study options.

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Written by Craig OCallaghan
As editor of, Craig oversees the site's editorial content and network of student contributors. He also plays a key editorial role in the publication of several guides and reports, including the QS Top Grad School Guide.

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