master in business administration

Master of Business Administration

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a master's degree in business administration, which attracts people from a wide range of academic disciplines. The MBA designation originated in the United States, emerging from the late 19th century as the country industrialized and companies sought out scientific approaches to management. The MBA degree has since achieved worldwide recognition.

Accreditation bodies exist specifically for MBA programs to ensure consistency and quality of graduate business education, and business schools in many countries offer MBA programs tailored to full-time, part-time, executive, and distance learning students, with specialized concentrations.


The first American business school, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was established in 1881. The Tuck School of Business, part of Dartmouth College, was the first graduate school of management in the United States. Founded in 1900, it was the first institution conferring advanced degrees (masters) in the commercial sciences, the forebearer of the modern MBA. The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business first offered working professionals the Executive MBA (EMBA) program in 1940, and this type of program is offered by most business schools today.

In 1950 the first MBA degrees were awarded outside the United States by the University of Western Ontario in Canada, followed in 1951 with the degree awarded by the University of Pretoria in South Africa. The Institute of Business Administration, Karachi in Pakistan was established in 1955 as the first Asian business school by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In 1957, INSEAD became the first European business school to offer an MBA program.

The MBA degree has been adopted by universities worldwide.


Business schools or MBA programs may be accredited by external bodies which provide students and employers with an independent view of their quality, and indicate that the school's educational curriculum meets specific quality standards. The three major accrediting bodies are The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) which accredits research universities, the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) which accredits junior colleges and teaching colleges, and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE) . The AACSB and the ACBSP are recognized accrediting agencies for business schools in the United States by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). MBA programs with specializations for students pursuing careers in healthcare management also eligible for accreditation by the Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME).

In the United States, a college or university must be accredited as a whole before it is eligible to have its MBA program accredited. Accrediting bodies that accredit institutions as a whole include the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA): Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA), New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASCSC), North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA), Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Accreditation agencies outside the United States include the Association of MBAs (AMBA), a UK based organization that accredits MBA, DBA and MBM programs worldwide; the Council on Higher Education (CHE) in South Africa; the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) for mostly European and Asian schools; and the Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation (FIBAA) in Europe.

Basic types of MBA programs

Two year MBA programs normally take place over two academic years (i.e. approximately 18 months of term time), in the Northern Hemisphere beginning in late August/September of year one and continuing until May of year two, with a three to four month summer break in between years one and two. Students enter with a reasonable amount of prior real-world work experience and take classes during weekdays like other university students.

Accelerated MBA programs are a variation of the two year programs. They involve a higher course load with more intense class and examination schedules. They usually have less "down time" during the program and between semesters. For example, there is no three to four month summer break, and between semesters there might be seven to ten days off rather than three to five weeks vacation.

Part-time MBA programs normally hold classes on weekday evenings, after normal working hours. Part-time programs normally last three years or more. The students in these programs typically consist of working professionals, who take a light course load for a longer period of time until the graduation requirements are met.

Executive MBA (EMBA) programs developed to meet the educational needs of managers and executives, allowing students to earn an MBA or another business-related graduate degree in two years or less while working full time. Participants come from every type and size of organization – profit, nonprofit, government — representing a variety of industries. EMBA students typically have a higher level of work experience, often 10 years or more, compared to other MBA students. In response to the increasing number of EMBA programs offered, The Executive MBA Council was formed in 1981 to advance executive education.

Distance learning MBA programs hold classes off-campus. These programs can be offered in a number of different formats: correspondence courses by postal mail or email, non-interactive broadcast video, pre-recorded video, live teleconference or videoconference, offline or online computer courses. Many respectable schools offer these programs; however, so do many diploma mills. Potential students should check the school's accreditation before undertaking distance learning coursework.

Dual MBA programs combine MBA degree with others (such as an MS or a J.D., etc) to let students cut costs (dual programs usually cost less than pursuing 2 degrees separately), save time on education and to tailor the business education courses to their needs. Some business schools offer programs in which students can earn both a bachelor's degree in business administration and an MBA in four or five years.

Admissions criteria

Most programs base admission on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), significant work experience, academic transcripts, essays, references or letters of recommendation, and personal interviews. Schools are also interested in extracurricular activities, community service activities and how the student can improve the diversity and contribute to the student body as a whole. All of these qualifications are important for admission; however, some schools do not weigh GMAT scores as heavily as other criteria. In order to achieve a diverse class, business schools also consider the target male-female ratio and local-international student ratios.

Most schools are first concerned with whether or not the applicant can handle the quantity of course work. The GMAT (the quantitative score) and academic transcripts help determine this. Once the school determines that the student can succeed academically, they examine the remainder of the application to evaluate the applicant's experience and leadership abilities.

Program content

Most top MBA programs cover similar subjects within their core required courses. For information about the typical content of an MBA program's core curriculum, see the overview at the School:Business/Masters of Business Administration topic page.


MBA programs expose students to a variety of subjects, including economics, organizational behavior, marketing, accounting, finance, strategy, operations management, international business, information technology management, supply chain management, and project management. Students traditionally study a wide breadth of courses in the program's first year, then pursue a specialized curriculum in the second year. Full-time students typically seek an internship during the interim.


Many programs allow students to specialize or concentrate in a particular area. Standard concentrations include accounting, corporate strategy, decision sciences, property management, economics, entrepreneurship, finance, general management, human resources, international business, marketing, information systems / information technology, telecommunication, organizational behavior, project management, and operations management. Unspecialized MBA programs often focus second-year studies on strategic management or finance.

In addition, a program may offer more specialized concentrations such as Asian business, consulting, sports management, or degrees emphasizing real estate or insurance. Many schools offer unique concentrations available nowhere else.

The MBA degree in Europe

History of the MBA in Europe

In 1957, INSEAD became the first European university offering the MBA degree, followed in 1964 by IESE (first two-year program in Europe), UCD Smurfit Business School in 1964, Manchester Business School and London Business School in 1965, The University of Dublin (Trinity College), the Rotterdam School of Management in 1966, the Cranfield School of Management in 1967 and in 1969 by the HEC School of Management (in French, the École des Hautes Études Commerciales) and the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris. In 1991, IEDC-Bled School of Management became the first school in the ex-socialist block of the Central and Eastern to offer an MBA degree.

Bologna Accord

In Europe, the recent Bologna Accord established uniformity in three levels of higher education: Bachelor (three years), Masters (two years in addition to three years for a Bachelor), and Doctorate (eight years). Students can acquire professional experience after their initial bachelor degree at any European institution and later complete their masters in any other European institution via the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System. A European masters degree in Management is therefore equivalent to the American MBA having additional scientific content; for example, a European MBA requires writing and defending a master's thesis.


Accreditation standards are not uniform in Europe. Some countries have legal requirements for accreditation (e.g. most German states), in some there is a legal requirement only for universities of a certain type (e.g. Austria), and others have no accreditation law at all. Even where there is no legal requirement, many business schools are accredited by independent bodies voluntarily to ensure quality standards.

United Kingdom

The UK based Association of MBAs (AMBA) was established in 1967 and is an active advocate for MBA degrees. The Association's accreditation service is internationally recognised for all MBA, DBA and PEMM programs. AMBA also offer the only professional membership association for MBA students and graduates. UK MBA programs typically consist of a set number of taught courses plus a dissertation or project.

Persons holding an MBA from the world's top 50 business schools (according to the list published by the UK government) automatically receive the minimum score necessary to qualify for the UK's Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, which is being phased out. This program entitles the person to a two-year UK work permit, renewable for an additional three years, if that person is gainfully employed at the time of renewal.

Germany and Austria

Germany was one of the last western countries to adopt the MBA degree. In 1998 the Hochschulrahmengesetz (Higher Education Framework Act), a German federal law regulating higher education including the types of degrees offered, was modified to permit German universities to offer master's degrees. The traditional German degree in business administration was the Diplom but since 1999, bachelor's and master's degrees have gradually displaced the traditional degrees (see Bologna process). Today most German business schools offer the MBA. Most German states require that MBA degrees have to be accredited by one of the six agencies officially recognized by the German Akkreditierungsrat (accreditation council), the German counterpart to the US-American CHEA. The busiest of these six agencies (in respect to MBA degrees) is the Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation (FIBAA). All universities themselves have to be institutionally accredited by the state (staatlich anerkannt).

In Austria, MBA programs of private universities have to be accredited by the Austrian Accreditation Council (Österreichischer Akkreditierungsrat). State-run universities have no accreditation requirements, however, some of them voluntarily undergo accreditation procedures by independent bodies. There are also MBA programs of non-academic business schools, who are entitled by the Austrian government to offer these programs until 2010 (Lehrgang universitären Charakters). Some non-academic institutions cooperate with state-run universities to ensure legality of their degrees.

France and French speaking countries

In France and in the Francophone countries such as Switzerland, Monaco, Belgium, and Quebec (Canada), the MBA degree programs at the public accredited schools are similar to those offered in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Most French Business Schools are accredited by the Conférence des Grandes Écoles, which is an association of higher educational establishments outside the mainstream framework of the public universities system, with selective admission. English is the main learning language but French language may also be necessary for admission at some schools.


Italian MBAs programs at public accredited schools are similar to those offered in the anglo-saxon countries. Best Italian Business Schools are accredited by Equis and by Asfor


Recently MBA programs appeared in Ukraine where there are now about ten schools of business offering a variety of MBA programs. Two of these are subsidiaries European schools of business, while the remaining institutions are independent.

The MBA degree in Australia, Africa and Asia

Today, MBA and Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) designations can be found in many countries and even accessed through on-line, distance learning or e-learning. Because of the varying standards of MBAs worldwide, many business schools are accredited by independent bodies.


In Australia, 42 Australian business schools offer the MBA degree. Universites differentiate themselves by gaining international accreditation and focusing on national and international rankings. Most MBAs are one to two years full time. There is little use of GMAT, and instead each educational institution specifies its own requirements, which normally entails several years of management-level work experience as well as proven accademic skills.

Ratings for Australian MBAs are carried out by the Graduate Management Association of Australia, which publishes an annual Australian MBA Star Ratings.

South Africa

In 2004, South Africa’s Council on Higher Education (CHE) completed an extensive re-accreditation of MBA degrees offered in the country. The process was the first of its kind in the world to be undertaken by a statutory body and attracted widespread international media attention for its innovation and thoroughness.


Business schools of the traditional universities run a variety of MBA programs. In addition, foreign accredited institutions offer MBA degrees by distance learning in Ghana.


There are 22 business schools in Nepal offering two year MBA programs, mostly by government universities. Government schools do not have exam criteria for selection.


There are 1600 business schools in India offering two year MBA programs; predominantly targeting fresh students without any experience. Among those schools, the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) are the oldest institutions for management education in India. Gaining admission to any of the IIM schools requires passing the Common Admission Test, which qualifies candidates for entrance into other institutions in India also. The IIM offers a post-graduate diploma in management which is recognized in India as similar to an MBA degree. Non-government accredited, one-year fast-track MBA programs have grown in India, especially for candidates with work experience. Such programs are commonly known as Post Graduate Programme (PGP) in Business Management.

Rest of Asia

International MBA programs are acquiring brand value in Asia. For example, while a foreign MBA is still preferred in the Philippines, many students are now studying at one of many "Global MBA" English language programs being offered. English-only MBA programs are also offered in Pakistan, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. For North American students who want a different experience, many Asian programs offer scholarships and discounted tuition, to encourage an international environment in the classroom.

Rankings have been done for Asia Pacific schools by the magazine Asia Inc. which is a regional business magazine with distribution wolrdwide.

MBA program rankings

Each year, well-known business publications such as Business Week, US News & World Report, Fortune, Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal publish rankings of selected MBA programs that, while controversial in their methodology, nevertheless can directly influence the prestige of schools that achieve high scores.

The MBA degree has become one of the most popular masters' degrees. As more universities started offering the degree, differences in the quality of schools, faculty, and course offerings became evident. Naturally, establishing some criteria of quality is needed to differentiate among MBA programs, especially for prospective students trying to decide on where to apply. As MBA programs proliferated, a variety of publications began providing information on them. Some of these consisted of compilations of information gathered from the universities offering the degree, usually published in book form. Eventually periodicals began publishing articles describing various MBA schools and ranking them according to some perceived quality criteria. One of the most prominent of these is Business Week, which devotes a biennial issue to ranking MBA programs. Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News & World Report also publish MBA program rankings. See the External links section below to view some of these rankings.

Different methods of varying validity were used to arrive at rankings of MBA programs. The Gourman Report, for example, did not disclose criteria or ranking methods, and these reports were criticized for reporting statistically impossible data, such as no ties among schools, narrow gaps in scores with no variation in gap widths, and ranks of nonexistent departments. In 1977 The Carter Report published rankings of MBA programs based on the number of academic articles published by faculty. Periodicals based their rankings on interviews with company recruiters who hired MBA graduates, surveys of MBA schools' deans, polls of students or faculty, and a variety of other means. The defunct MBA Magazine asked deans to vote on the best programs. The methods of obtaining ranks often changed from year to year. Initially, rankings included only a small number of universities consisting of the largest and best known Ivy League and state schools. There are also many privately compiled rankings, including the Global Top 100 Business Schools compiled by the QS network.

The ranking of MBA programs has been discussed in articles and on academic Web sites. Critics of ranking methodologies maintain that any published rankings should be viewed with caution for the following reasons:

  • Rankings limit the population size to a small number of MBA programs and ignore the majority of schools, many with excellent offerings.
  • The ranking methods may be subject to biases and statistically flawed methodologies (especially for methods relying on subjective interviews of hiring managers).
  • The same list of well-known schools appears in each ranking with some variation in ranks, so a school ranked as number 1 in one list may be number 17 in another list.
  • Rankings tend to concentrate on the school itself, but some schools offer MBA programs of different qualities (e.g. a school may use highly reputable faculty to teach a daytime program, and use adjunct faculty in its evening program).
  • A high rank in a national publication tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Some leading business schools including Harvard, INSEAD and Wharton provide limited cooperation with certain ranking publications due to their perception that rankings are misused.

One study found that objectively ranking MBA programs by a combination of graduates' starting salaries and average student GMAT score can reasonably duplicate the top 20 list of the national publications. The study concluded that a truly objective ranking would be individualized to the needs of each prospective student. National publications have recognized the value of rankings against different criteria, and now offer lists ranked different ways: by salary, GMAT score of students, selectivity, and so forth. While useful, these rankings still are not tailored to individual needs, and their value is diminished if they use an incomplete population of schools, fail to distinguish between the different MBA program types offered by each school, or rely on subjective interviews.

See also

Related information

Other business degrees and certifications

MBA accreditation agencies

References and Notes

External links

MBA ranking resources

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