What Is an MBA and Why Does It Matter?

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An MBA (Master of Business Administration) can help boost your salary and open career opportunities. This postgraduate qualification gets a lot of attention from business professionals and is consistently the most popular course offered by university business schools.

But do MBAs deserve the hype, and what exactly is it about them that sets them apart from other types of Master’s degrees? Could an MBA degree be a game-changer for your career path?

Understanding the Basics of MBA Programmes

The MBA curriculum is designed for career professionals to build a solid foundation in business concepts and theory at postgraduate level. MBA graduates are equipped with a toolkit to perform strategic quantitative and qualitative analysis, identify growth opportunities and implement business initiatives. MBA students also develop the leadership skills to motivate teams and manage projects effectively.

MBAs are intense and cover a lot of ground in the available time. The admission of suitable candidates plays a big part in the success of the MBA programme.

Career Experience Before you Take an MBA Degree

To gain a place on an MBA degree, you need to have professional experience at the right level. MBAs are designed for learners with management experience and the decision-making process within an organisation. The level of experience varies between business schools and courses, but as a general rule, you will need at least three years of work experience.

Relevant career exposure is required for three reasons.

  1. One, to make sure that students on the course are already on the right career trajectory to benefit from the course and;
  2. Two, to have exposure to and understand what is involved in management and strategic thinking, and finally,
  3. Three, to bring real-world insight to their work, group projects and discussions.

What is The Structure of an MBA?

Most MBA programmes follow a standard postgraduate degree structure- a set number of core modules followed by a choice of one or two specialisation modules and finishing with a major project or academic dissertation.

MBA Core Modules

The core modules on an MBA give students a solid foundation in the fundamental concepts of business administration and the hard and soft skills required for strategic planning and leadership. These are compulsory units generally taken in a set order, with each unit covering a key business administration function.

Example core modules on an MBA

  • Finance
  • Accounting
  • Micro and Macro Economics
  • Marketing
  • Strategy
  • Technology and Operations Management
  • Ethics
  • Business and Data Analysis
  • Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources


MBA Specialisation/ Elective Modules: What They Are and Which One to Choose

Specialisations, called electives at some universities, bring together the areas covered in the core modules and focus on a specific business topic or function. Elective courses can cover an area in greater depth or focus in on a specialised niche.

Example MBA Specialisation modules.

  • Psychology of Pricing in a Digital World
  • Managing Negotiations
  • Pricing Strategy
  • Financial Reporting Analytics
  • Mergers & Acquisitions


The range of electives available across all UK MBAs is vast. Each university business school is unique, meaning each MBA you look at will have a different suite of Specialisations. Taking the time to research and find an MBA with specialisations that match your career goals is an important step in narrowing down your choice of MBA.

MBA Dissertation or Major Project

A UK MBA’s core modules and specialisation culminate in an academic dissertation or a major project. This final part of the course can be research-based or organisation based.

If you are entrepreneurial, you can use this project to create a detailed business plan. Alternatively, you could use the project to solve a business problem or identify market opportunities.

Funding Tip- Speak with your current company about support with the MBA fees and using the major project to investigate a current company problem. Many MBA students leverage this piece to impact their career progression and get help with tuition costs.

The History of MBA Programmes and How They Have Evolved

Harvard University launched the first MBA in 1908 with an initial cohort of 33 students that quickly rose to 1,007 by 1930. The two-year syllabus was based on Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management, which looks to increase economic efficiency and productivity by applying the science of engineering to business processes.

At the time, Harvard was famous for its law school and method of teaching with the students discussing court cases. Harvard business school still uses the case method in its MBA programmes today.

The Insead MBA was the first in Europe and was the first one-year MBA in 1959. It wasn’t until 1965 that Manchester business school launched the first UK university MBA.

The core aims of an MBA remain the same today as they did in 1908, but the MBA syllabus has changed as much as the international business environment. As technology has transformed business and society, it has also impacted how MBAs are delivered and taught. For example, in 2020, 43% of MBAs were taught online, with continual growth in applications year on year.

MBA vs Other Graduate Degrees: How They Differ and Which One Is Right for You

The key difference between an MBA and other Master’s degrees is the scope and breadth of the syllabus. An MBA is designed to provide a solid foundation by covering a number of business areas, whereas a standard Master’s degree focuses on an advanced idea in a specific subject. For example, it would make sense to take an Accounting MSc if your interest is to advance your career within accounting.

Having said that, there are some business-focused master’s degrees that also cover a range of areas, such as a Business and Management MSc. The difference between these courses and an MBA is the applicants’ prior experience.

Typically, an MBA requirement is a minimum level of career experience at the appropriate level. Whereas a Business and Management MSc would be an option for a fresh graduate or someone without sufficient career exposure to benefit from the MBA format.

MBAs and Business Master’s degrees are both valued by employers and can boost career and earning potential, but to gain a place on an MBA, you will need to already have a certain amount of professional experience and exposure at the right level.

Types of MBA Programmes: Full-Time, Part-Time, Executive, and Online

MBAs offered by UK universities fit into four categories.

On-campus MBA Programmes

Thee are generally one year full-time and require at least three years of management experience.

Online MBA Programmes

These are usually part-time from 2 to 5 years, although some universities offer a full-time schedule. The career experience is typically the same as an on-campus MBA of around three years of management experience.

Executive MBA Programmes

Executive MBAs are part-time and can be on-campus or online with set campus sessions. When campus-based, the teaching is usually over long weekends or in set blocks. The career experience for an Executive MBA is generally five or more years in a senior management position.

MBA Programmes with Specialisation in the Title

These MBAs cover a particular area in more detail and incorporate the topic in the actual certificate title, for example, MBA with a Specialism in Strategy or MBA (Data Analytics)

This type of MBA degree still provides a foundation in business management concepts but will have a higher percentage of core modules and specialisation options that focus on the title subject. In general, this type of MBA requires three years of relevant management experience and can be on-campus or online.

The Benefits of Earning an MBA: Career Advancement and Salary Potential

Climbing the corporate ladder, competition for executive roles is fierce, and every little helps. Taking an MBA has been shown to have an impact over time, and many companies actively look for and hire MBA graduates. AMBA surveyed 2,000 MBA graduates to assess the value they perceived taking the MBA gave them, with the majority answering positively when asked if the MBA had made them better at business, increased their network and boosted mental resilience.

An MBA is not a magic bullet that will guarantee you a place on the board. But the salary increase from taking an MBA is an important reason why the courses are so popular. Payscale tracks the average MBA graduate salary at £57K, and top UK business school graduates report around double that amount in earnings three years after graduation.

These graduate earnings at top Business schools reflect the fact that applicants who can pass the admissions and afford the tuition fees are already on track to be in a position to earn significant salaries.

MBA Admissions: What It Takes to Get Accepted into a Programme

To gain a place on an MBA, you will need an undergraduate degree at 2:1 or above and relevant work experience at the right level. Some universities will accept a lower grade if an applicant has strong career experience. Generally, the MBA admissions team is looking for both management skills and leadership experiences.

To gauge an applicant’s experience, the business schools’ admissions team generally ask for the following.

  • An up-to-date CV,
  • 2 X Professional References
  • A Personal Statement.


Some business schools also ask MBA candidates to attend an interview with the course director or one of the academics to assess their business knowledge and get a feel for the type of student they will make. This interview is the final step before making an offer of a place.

Unlike the majority of Master’s degrees, having the right level of professional experience is a crucial part of gaining admission, and this is especially the case for top-ranked MBAs.

Is an MBA Worth It, and What Are Your Next Steps?

Taking an MBA is a significant investment in time and money that deserves careful planning and consideration. The choice to take an MBA ultimately depends on your career goals, financial situation and existing time commitments.

An MBA is not for everyone, and if the time you have available or the costs involved do not add up for you, there are many other ways to pursue your professional and academic development, from short business courses to a postgraduate diploma or specialist workshops.

If you decide an MBA is the right choice for you, then taking the time to research and compare MBA programmes to find the best courses for your goals and tailoring each application to that course is vital in gaining an offer of a place.

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