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A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is one of the most popular graduate degrees for its versatility and return on investment. This degree can prepare students for entry or advancement in a wide variety of careers, including management, human resources, finance, marketing, and more.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that there will be an average of 1.1 million new job openings for management positions through 2032. The median annual wage for managers is $107,360. MBA graduates can also use their degree to pursue high-paying, fast-growing jobs like financial analyst, management analyst, health services manager, and more.

Most MBA programs can be completed in 1-2 years of full-time study, depending on the student’s educational and professional background. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average annual tuition for graduate programs during the 2021-22 academic year was $12,596 at public institutions and $29,931 at private non-profit colleges.

How to Choose an MBA Program

Choose your area of study

Because of the diversity of available MBA programs, it’s beneficial to establish some parameters for what you’re seeking before you begin exploring your options.

First, consider what level of MBA program is appropriate. Students who don’t have an educational or professional background in business should seek out an entry-level MBA program that covers foundational as well as advanced business concepts and skills. Meanwhile, those who have work experience and want to use their MBA to help them prepare for high-level positions can consider executive MBA programs, which focus on advanced coursework.

Specializations are another consideration. While most MBA programs include a general core curriculum that covers key areas of business, many also offer students the opportunity to specialize in a particular topic. Popular MBA concentrations include finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, human resources, international business, and information technology. Consider your career goals and what type of coursework you’ll need to achieve them. This will help you focus your search on programs that offer the specialization you seek.

Based on your interests and career goals, you may also want to explore other types of graduate degrees. For example, if you have an interest in finance, your options also include a Master of Finance (MFin) and a Master of Science (MS) in finance. All these degrees will prepare students for a career in finance, but an MBA is the only one that includes general business courses.

Lastly, consider your practical needs, such as scheduling and budget. If you’re working while earning your MBA, you may need to find a program that offers evening and weekend courses. If fitting in-person courses into your schedule is challenging, you can also explore online MBA programs.

Research schools and programs

The parameters you set will help guide your research when you begin exploring MBA degree program options.

Visiting a school’s website is a good place to start gathering information about potential programs. You can also speak to admissions counselors and program representatives or visit the school for an open house or information session to learn more.

When researching programs, here are some questions that can help you determine if the program is a good fit:

  • What is the curriculum, and does it align with your interests and goals?
  • Who are the faculty members, and what are their qualifications?
  • What networking opportunities are available to students?
  • Is there an internship or other experiential learning component?
  • What support services are available to students?
  • What scholarship and financial aid opportunities are available?
  • What type of accreditation does the institution and program have?

Accreditation is important because it can affect students’ financial aid eligibility, employment options, and future educational opportunities. Schools in the U.S. can be regionally or nationally accredited, with regional accreditation being the more widely recognized accreditation status. MBA programs can also have programmatic accreditation through agencies like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). Students can verify institutional and programmatic accreditation through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s database.

Prepare for tests and applications

When researching MBA programs, find out what the application requirements and deadlines are for schools you’re considering. Each program has its own admissions policies and procedures, so if you have questions, contact the school’s admissions office to clarify. Eligibility requirements also vary for MBA programs. Some programs have flexible criteria, while others specifically require that students have an undergraduate degree in business or work experience in a business-related field.

Generally speaking, applicants must submit the following for an MBA program:

  • Completed application and required fees
  • Official transcripts from all undergraduate institutions attended
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • Resume or CV
  • Personal statement
  • GRE or GMAT scores

There are multiple opportunities throughout the year for students to take their GRE or GMAT exam, which are standardized tests for graduate admissions. These exams can be challenging, so it’s recommended that students give themselves ample time to prepare. This can include self-paced study or prep classes. Students should also account for time to retake the exams if they don’t achieve their desired score on the first try.

Select your program

Once you have a shortlist of MBA programs, you can choose how many of them you want to apply to. Because MBA admissions can be competitive, many students apply to multiple programs to increase their odds of acceptance. However, your preferences and interests should be the main guide to how many applications you submit. If you’re accepted to multiple MBA programs, compare your options to the priorities you outlined in step one to help you decide which program is the best fit for you.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

If you haven’t yet collected information about tuition and fees for your MBA program, now is the time to do so. This information is usually available on a school’s website, or you can contact their financial aid office to speak to a financial aid counselor.

Students who are planning on working while earning their MBA should find out if their employer offers tuition assistance benefits. Due to the desirability of MBA skills, many employers offer financial assistance to help employees earn this degree.

In order to access federal student aid, such as student loans and grants, you must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Colleges use the information from this application to determine eligibility for federal and institutional need-based aid. Graduate students are eligible for Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans through the U.S. Department of Education. Many external organizations, including professional associations, nonprofits, and community and religious groups, also award scholarships and grants.

Best 50 Accredited MBA Degree Programs

Best MBA Programs

University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School

Harvard Business School

Cornell University

MIT Sloan School of Management

Northwestern University

University of Chicago

University of Michigan

Georgia Institute of Technology

Columbia University

University of California, Los Angeles

University of Texas at Dallas

Washington University in St. Louis

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Duke's Fuqua School of Business

University of Southern California

Stanford University

University of Georgia

Carnegie Mellon University

Georgetown University

UF Warrington College of Business

University of Connecticut

Temple University

University of Virginia

Boston College

Emory University

Dartmouth College

University of South Carolina

University of California, Berkeley

University of Notre Dame

BYU Marriott School of Business

The University of Texas at Austin

Yale School of the Environment

Indiana University-Bloomington

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of San Francisco

University of Washington Foster School of Business

Louisiana Tech University

Texas A&M University Mays Business School

West Chester University of Pennsylvania

Virginia Tech

University of Maryland

Pennsylvania State University

Texas Tech University

The University of Alabama in Huntsville

James Madison University

Weber State University

Stevens Institute of Technology

Purdue University

University of South Alabama

Rice University

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the best MBA programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, regionally accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education. Many of the options on our list also have programmatic accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), both reputable organizations that assess business programs for educational excellence.

We evaluated each school’s program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and the resources provided for on-campus students. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of MBA programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can You Expect From an MBA Degree Program?

The curriculums for MBA programs typically include a core curriculum of courses focusing on key business practices and topics, including leadership, management, communication, economics, and marketing. Once students complete these courses, they can use electives and advanced coursework to specialize in a particular business area, such as human resources, finance, information technology, healthcare management, entrepreneurship, or marketing.

Many MBA programs include an experiential learning component, such as an internship, to give students the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge they gain through classes in a real-world setting. There may also be a capstone project requirement in which students synthesize their academic and internship work.

Most MBA programs require between 36-60 credits, which translates to 1-2 years of full-time study. Longer programs are typically geared toward students who don’t have a business background or extensive work history. Executive MBA programs, which are designed for professionals who have five or more years of work experience, tend to be shorter but more rigorous, focusing on advanced business skills and practices.

An MBA is an incredibly versatile degree that students can use to help them advance toward management and C-suite positions, pivot to a new career, increase their earning potential, or start their own business. Many industries employ MBA grads, including tech, finance, healthcare, marketing, and consulting.

Potential courses you’ll take in an MBA degree program

  • Business Strategy: Introduces students to principles and conceptual frameworks for evaluating and formulating business strategy, with topics including analysis of industry economics, strategic positioning and competitive advantage, and the role of resources and capabilities in shaping and sustaining competitive advantages.
  • Leadership in Organizations: Provides students with the tools needed to solve organizational problems and prepares managers to understand how to best organize and motivate the human capital of the firm, manage social networks and alliances, and execute strategic change.
  • Financial Accounting: Acquaints students with the process used to construct and understand the financial reports of organizations to develop an understanding of the decisions that must be made in the financial reporting process and the ability to evaluate and use accounting data.
  • Marketing Management: Focuses on the influence of the marketing environment on marketing decision-making; the determination of the organization’s products, prices, channels, and communication strategies; and the organization’s system for planning and controlling its marketing effort.
  • Operations Management: Familiarizes students with the problems and issues confronting operations managers and examines how different business strategies require different business processes.

MBA Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an MBA degree program?

Most colleges now accept applications and supporting materials online through an admissions portal. If you have questions about what application materials are required and how to submit them, contact the school’s admissions office for more information.

Depending on the school, admissions for MBA programs can be competitive. It’s important to be mindful of application deadlines and start terms, as some programs only admit new students once or twice per year. Failing to submit all required application materials by the deadline can impact a student’s ability to start on time.

Eligibility criteria for MBA programs also vary. Some programs are open to all students, regardless of their undergraduate area of study and professional background. Others require students to have a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field and a certain amount of business experience. They may also have a minimum undergraduate GPA requirement.

How much does an MBA degree cost?

The average cost of an MBA is $56,850, according to the Education Data Initiative. However, the amount that each student pays for their MBA varies based on multiple factors.

For example, tuition differs greatly based on whether an institution is public or private. Public universities typically charge lower tuition than their private counterparts. An MBA at Binghamton University, a public school, costs $34,940, compared to $112,760 at Harvard University, a private school.

However, at public schools, tuition will also vary based on a student’s residency status. In-state students get a lower tuition rate, while students from a different state pay higher tuition.

Students should also take into consideration how scholarships, grants, discounts, and tuition assistance can help lower the amount they’ll pay for their MBA. For the most accurate information about the cost of an MBA, speak to a financial aid counselor at your school.

How long does it take to earn an MBA degree?

The amount of time it takes to complete an MBA is largely dependent on the number of credits the program requires. Most MBA programs in the U.S. require 36-60 credits. Programs that are 36 credits can typically be completed in one academic year, while the standard minimum time to complete a 60-credit program is two academic years.

Another factor that influences how long it takes to get an MBA is whether students enroll full-time or part-time. Part-time students take longer to earn their degrees because they take fewer classes each term. Meanwhile, accelerated full-time programs may include more classes per term to help students finish faster.

Students who transfer previously earned credits from another MBA or graduate program can complete their MBA faster than those who start from scratch. There are also many MBA programs that grant students credit or waive certain requirements if they have applicable work experience, which can shorten program length. On the other hand, students without a business background may need to complete prerequisite coursework, adding time to their program.

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