The Master of Business Administration (MBA) has been the most popular graduate degree in the United States over the last decade. Over 250,000 students around the world are currently enrolled in MBA programs.
This trend (or a strong case of FOMO) probably has you wondering if you should go to business school. Once you’re down that path, you might get to wondering what you actually learn in business school.
Now, that’s a good start. Because you don’t want to throw 2 years of your life and thousands of dollars of debt at an MBA just because everyone else is doing it.
You need a reason. And, preferably, a very good one.
While MBAs tend to lead to higher salaries and fast-track career development, do they actually teach you anything special? Do you learn anything in business school that you can’t pick up on the job or from a more affordable online alternative?
Those are the questions we’re going to help you answer. Below, we’ll walk you through what you learn in business school and help you decide if business school is the right path for you.
What Do You Learn in Business School?
Business school curriculum focuses on training students to be executives. It teaches you how to analyze information, think critically, manage people, and communicate effectively.
“An MBA degree is designed to teach everything needed to run your own business,” says Michael Provitera, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Barry University.
“However, the program caters to managers that want to become leaders and students aspiring to climb the corporate ladder.”
Here’s a list of the classes you’ll typically take in business school:
- Project Management
- Human Resources
- Organizational Behaviors
- Business Ethics
- Information Technology
With such a wide breadth of courses, you won’t become a subject matter on anything specifically. However, you’ll have a broader understanding of how everything in business works and how it’s all tied together.
While these are the courses you take in business school, you learn other things, too. You learn how to network with peers, colleagues, and faculty. You learn how to climb the corporate ladder. And you learn the sad corporate lifestyle lesson that who you know is more important than what you know.
How Long Is Business School?
Business school tends to last 2 years, but different MBA programs offer accelerated options—especially international schools outside of the United States.
Full-time students can crank out their MBA full-time in just 12 months, or they can pace themselves for a few years as part-time students. While you can find on-campus and online MBA options, studies show that in-person MBAs are much more valuable. In-person settings make it easier to meet new people and create connections, and these connections are some of the most beneficial takeaways of an MBA program.
How Do You Get into Business School?
Getting into business school can be tricky. While the requirements on paper seem simple enough, some schools’ restrictions make it nearly impossible for students’ current circumstances.
Take Brigham Young University’s MBA program, for example. The program takes a full 4 semesters (2 years) to complete, and students aren’t allowed to be employed (at all) during their first year.
That means no making ends meet at Taco Bell and (entrepreneurs, close your ears) no running your own business.
MBA schools tend to look at GMAT or GRE test scores to evaluate your application, though you can find a handful that waive standardized testing. You’ll also need a top-notch resume, academic transcripts, recommendation letters, and well-written essays.
Sometimes, you’ll interview with faculty and administration as part of your application process. Other times, you’ll submit video essays. Most business schools like to see you obtain work experience before beginning an MBA program, but the requirements vary between schools.
Should You Go to Business School?
Now, here’s the million-dollar question: should you go to business school?
If you asked the question a decade ago, the answer would have been a resounding “yes” from just about anyone you asked. Nowadays, things are different.
People can gain formal and informal education online from the comfort of their homes—and it doesn’t cost $70,000 per year. And businesses are starting to value experience and know-how rather than diplomas and plaques.
While business schools like to throw around enticing salary numbers for post-graduate students, some research reveals a different story. One 2020 study on MBA programs found that “the average MBA raises a student’s net lifetime earnings by just 1%, after accounting for tuition and opportunity cost.”
Not all MBAs are the same. If you’re not getting your degree from Wharton, Stanford, Harvard, or one of the elite business schools, you might not be adding much (or any) value to your career.
The Entrepreneur’s Questionnaire
Still on the fence about business school? Take our quick entrepreneur’s questionnaire to see if it’s right for you:
- Do you learn by doing rather than studying?
- Are you limited on time and cash?
- Do you hate taking orders, working for someone else, and performing trivial tasks?
- Do you currently have skills that someone will pay for?
- Can you problem-solve quickly on your own?
- Have you successfully made money through a side hustle?
- Can you network on your own?
- Do you already have a passion for an industry?
- Do you have a vision for a company you’d like to build?
If you answered “yes” to at least 3 of the questions, there’s a good chance you’re primed for entrepreneurship and should bypass business school.
Read more: Is an MBA Worth It?
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