Graduate Business School: What is an MBA Program Like?

mba programAre you considering going back to school to earn your MBA? If yes, you may be wondering what an MBA program is like. While all graduate business schools are unique, there are many common characteristics and themes. If you are contemplating earning your MBA, the insight provided in this article will let you know what you can expect from the program.

A few points of distinction before we begin:

  • This article is intended discuss “traditional” MBA programs (in classroom) rather than online MBA programs. Earning an online MBA may have some similarities, but there will be some substantial differences between the two.
  • Traditional MBA programs can either be full-time or for working professionals (these are oftentimes called Executive MBA or EMBA programs).  Many graduate business schools offer both programs. There may be some slight differences between the full-time and EMBA options. However, in my experience, these differences are usually negligible. The main distinction between the two is fairly obvious – the full-timers will graduate more quickly than the working professionals.
  • Finally, there will also be nuances depending on the type of graduate business school you attend. A top 10 nationally ranked business school will vary compared to a small private university or a state school. Most schools will be similar in how they are structured although there will emphasis placed in certain areas depending on the school’s teaching philosophy.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s take a close look at what your MBA experience will be like.

The MBA School Experience

Graduate business schools will include most of the following elements:


  • Group Work – Chances are there will be a heavy emphasis on group work. Why? Because leading and working on teams is a stark reality in the business world. What better way to have students learn to cohesively come together than by having them do group work?  The majority of your classes will require some sort of group assignment. These assignments can range from group papers, oral presentations, and even collaborative homework. In some cases your entire grade may be based on team assignments, but more often than not the group work will account for a portion of your grade while individual tasks (often mid-term and/or final exams) will constitute the rest. Oh, and be prepared to be in groups with all types of people. Sometimes you will have responsive, responsible team members and other times you will be matched with unreliable members who do subpar work. But, hey, that is just like the real working world! You will have to learn to cope with all types of co-workers.
  • Case Studies – In your undergrad studies, you most likely learned straight from your textbooks. Your professor would assign a chapter and the corresponding homework or project. There will still be plenty of that in your MBA program. However, you will also encounter “case studies.” Case studies are essentially write-ups of real life business stories. In other words, these detailed articles chronicle classic cases where corporations or other business entities faced obstacles and found their way to success through innovation, strong management, etc. Most of these case studies will be sourced from the Harvard Business Review.
  • Presentations – If you are anything like me, you dread standing up in front of a large, well-informed and smart audience to give a speech or presentation. Despite any aversions you may have, you will still need to be well-versed in giving presentations because doing so is a core component of being a business professional. As such, presentations are abundant in MBA school. Sometimes you will have to deliver a presentation by yourself, but most often you’ll have to work with several others in a team effort.
  • Connection to the Real Business World – The entire point of getting your MBA is to prepare you to be the best business person possible. To this end, graduate business schools go to great lengths to establish connections with the local business community. There will be guest lectures made by corporate executives, projects where you join forces with or consult for a local business entity, and, of course, internship opportunities.
  • Curriculum – The good thing about your MBA program is that you will not have to spend any time on general education courses that have nothing to do with your major. You won’t have to take a foreign language class (although being fluent in a foreign language can be an asset in the business world!) or history or sciences classes. You will have to take some basic or “core” business classes in the beginning of the program. If you were a business major as an undergraduate, most of these core classes will be a refresher. For those with different educational backgrounds, these courses will expose you to business fundamentals. After completing the “core” courses, most MBA programs let you tailor your experience as much as possible by letting you select which classes to take. There may be some guidelines or requirements to take a certain amount of classes in specific subject areas (such as Finance or Organizational Behavior), but for the most part you should have some latitude in charting your MBA pathway. Of course, freedom of choice may not apply if you are getting a specialized MBA such as a Masters of Accounting. Also know that advanced niche courses will be available in the program – ones that probably were not available in undergraduate business schools.
  • Competitive – Do not be surprised if there is a healthy amount of competition among your classmates. The business world is competitive – why wouldn’t graduate business school be the same? I am not talking about devious competition. Rather, MBA students represent the cream of the crop. It is only natural for students to set the bar high and strive to reach those goals. As a result, students pit themselves against others who are also pushing to be the best. To go along with the competition there will also be camaraderie among fellow students.
  • Networking Opportunities – The camaraderie mentioned above leads to invaluable networking opportunities. Building a network is one of the most important aspects of graduate business school. In fact, obtaining your MBA could be a waste if you slack on networking opportunities.
  • More Interactive – In general, MBA programs are more hands on and interactive than undergraduate programs. It is common for undergrad classes to be massive in size with a professor merely lecturing to students. Conversely, MBA classes are smaller and interaction is encouraged – sometimes required as part of your grade! You can also have more direct dialogue with professors during class or after since they are often quite accessible via office hours or through e-mail.
  • Higher Standards – This should not come as a surprise – MBA programs require a high level of standards. You will not be able to coast through like you might have done in your undergrad studies. Unless you don’t have a problem with throwing your tuition money away, you will need to dedicate yourself to quality performance. Otherwise you will stand out – in a bad way!
  • Thesis – Lots of MBA programs will require you to prepare a thesis project (not all with though – mine did not). Thesis requirements will vary, but be aware that, in addition to all of the other coursework, you might have to prepare an in-depth, comprehensive project. Be thinking about your thesis in advance since it might be a struggle to come up with a good topic. And, don’t procrastinate! There will be nothing worse than getting near the end of your class requirements yet still having most of your thesis waiting to be completed.

Well, there you have it. You now should have an idea about what to expect when pursuing your MBA at a “traditional” business graduate school. If you have any questions then be sure to ask them by leaving a comment below. Also, if you have already earned an MBA or are currently in grad school and have further insight, please feel free to share.

Good luck in your studies!

I’m trying to drive up my Twitter followers, Facebook Likes, and E-mail subscriptions. You can also follow along via Google+, BlogLovin, or RSS. Please help me reach my goals by selecting one or all of these options!

Image courtesy of LifeSupercharger at Flickr.
Read Entire Article
career advancement jump ship

Career Advancement: Stay Put or Jump Ship?

Career advancement is on the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind. From entry level to middle-management, employees seek ways to enhance their upward mobility. Even executive management jockeys for position in the hopes of advancing higher up. The way a junior employee seeks a promotion will be different from a senior manager. For instance, someone just […]

Read Entire Article