Earning an MBA is a step that many business professionals take to advance their careers and hone their leadership, business, and management skills. But just how hard is an MBA to complete? The answer to this question is subjective; there are many variables to consider, including the school, program, attendance basis, field of study, and more.
What “hard” is to one person may be easy to another, or vice versa. To give you an idea of how hard an MBA is, we will explore what an MBA is and the pros and cons you can expect during your pursuit of this prestigious business degree.
You will also find sections related to how hard acquiring an MBA is, common MBA misconceptions, and some excellent tips to help you overcome specific MBA challenges. An MBA can be challenging to obtain, but this guide should help you to decide what path is right for you.
Understanding the MBA Degree
A Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) is an internationally recognized business degree with a history dating back more than 100 years ago. The MBA is one of the most prestigious qualifications one can obtain, and having an MBA is a fantastic addition to a resume.
The degree's reputation is exemplified by its appearance on the resumes of numerous Fortune 500 executives. Most individuals pursuing an MBA will already have at least four or five years of work experience before applying and feel ready to take the next step in their professional lives.
MBA students will gain the skills they need to succeed in the business world through the theoretical and practical knowledge highlighted in core and elective courses. This graduate degree has been designed with future business leaders in mind and prepares students for the nuances of fast-paced business management.
The MBA is a popular choice for those looking to secure high-ranking corporate work in major companies or entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses. Whatever your career goal, pursuing an MBA can certainly help you climb the corporate ladder.
However, receiving an MBA does not mean that your hard work will be over upon graduation. Elissa Sangster, CEO of the Forté Foundation, said that "There's nothing about getting an MBA that doesn't require initiative from that point all the way through your career.”
Although business schools often have many specific MBA programs to offer prospective applicants, there are three main types of MBA degrees: the full-time MBA, part-time MBA, and the Executive MBA (EMBA).
Full-time MBA programs often take students two to three years to complete, although some accelerated programs can earn you an MBA in one year. These programs often require students to spend full weekdays in classes, so holding down a full-time job is not possible during this time.
Students will be well connected in full-time programs, as they will spend a lot of time networking and working as a team with their peers. The tuition costs for full-time MBAs at top business schools can significantly vary, but you may pay approximately $60,000 to over $120,000 for a two-year program at leading business schools.
The amount of time it will take you to complete a part-time MBA is program and schedule-specific, but completion time usually takes somewhere between two and six years. Part-time programs often take place on weekends or weekday evenings, but some hybrid models allow you to take a mix of both or even take some of your classes online.
A part-time MBA may be right for you if you want or need to continue working full-time or have other family or community obligations. Part-time programs are often a fraction of the cost of their full-time counterparts, and often the MBA you receive will be the same no matter what schedule you choose.
Executive MBAs (EMBA)
Executive MBAs are also typically completed on a part-time basis and usually finish within two years. The EMBA is aimed toward those with much more work experience and those who hold senior or high-level management positions.
These degrees are often pretty pricey, often with costs exceeding that of a full-time MBA. Usually, employers will pay a fraction of the entire tuition cost and may have you sign a contract stating that you plan to stay in the company for a set amount of time after you graduate.
Pros and Cons of an MBA
Upon graduation, an MBA provides many benefits. Listed below are a few of the excellent outcomes associated with completing an MBA degree.
Better Job Opportunities and Higher Salaries
Although the process of getting an MBA can be lengthy, obtaining one can help you access better and higher-ranked jobs. An MBA can help you set yourself apart from your peers because employers know that you have the theoretical and practical training required to tackle business issues and management head-on.
MBA graduates often qualify for various higher-ranking jobs that were not available to them before business school. Seventy-five percent of students from a recent survey said that graduating from an MBA program accelerated their career advancement; 93% of these students said the MBA experience was so personally rewarding that they would do it again.
With your path widened to these high-ranking positions, it’s no surprise that you can expect a healthy increase in your wages. MBA graduates often see a great return on investment and can more than double their earnings after completing their degree. How much more money you can expect to make depends on the specifics like your industry, job title, and choice of business school.
With that said, a recent study suggests that MBA graduates earned salaries averaging over $105,000 annually, not including signing bonuses. Graduates from the top business schools in the U.S. can expect to see even more significant financial compensation for their work, with average annual earnings of over $170,000. Despite the potential for lost wages if you choose to pursue your MBA on a full-time basis, the return on investment is relatively high.
Broader Networking Opportunities Await
An MBA can positively impact the growth of your professional and personal networks. In the classroom, you will have the opportunity to network with other students from diverse backgrounds and industries as you work and study together. Maybe these people are your future business partners, coworkers, or even your lifelong friends.
Along with your connections to current students, you will also have the opportunity to connect with your school’s alumni network. Your school’s alumni are often well-settled in their roles and companies and can give you great advice and tools to succeed, and can also help connect you with other professionals.
You can also connect with your school’s faculty, guest speakers, and anyone else associated with your business school. The word networking can come across as a little robotic and inauthentic, but to truly succeed in building your connections, you should see networking as more relationship-building rather than transactional.
It’s helpful to remember that in the business world, "everyone is connected in some way - and even something that seems very niche may one day be useful or even vital to one of your undertakings.” Keep an open mind, and you can foster many meaningful relationships that result in mutual gain.
New Skills and Better Business Understanding
During your MBA program, you will acquire new skills and build upon the foundation of skills you already possess. MBA programs facilitate personal and professional growth in students as they navigate the complexities awaiting them in the business world.
Getting an MBA can be hard because the classes are pretty challenging, but they will help you become a better critical thinker. Many schools have students take the same core courses revolving around themes like leadership and teamwork, but most programs offer various electives to tailor to your MBA experience.
An MBA will also allow you to think critically about business issues on local, national, and global scales. You will have the opportunity to approach current problems in a solution-oriented way and reflect on the outcomes of these solutions.
Getting an MBA will help you understand the nuances and complexities of the business world and how you fit into it. MBA graduates can help positively change the world by tackling global issues like climate change, poverty, and homelessness.
While there are numerous other benefits to pursuing an MBA, there are also some considerations to keep in mind.
An MBA education can come with a hefty price tag. The annual tuition you can expect to pay is school-dependent, but these fees do not come at a low price. However, there are ways to offset the cost, including attending on a part-time basis or applying early to different MBA scholarships.
The tuition you need to pay is not the only cost of an MBA program; you must also consider the potential wages you will lose in doing a full-time schedule. The silver lining of this situation is the excellent return on your investment you can expect after graduation. Still, the prospect of a lost salary for the duration of your program can be daunting.
Time and Balancing Other Obligations
Time and money are perhaps the most significant downsides of pursuing an MBA. If you attend a full-time program, expect to have your weekdays and even weekends dedicated to coursework and other projects for at least a year or two. You must also consider how you plan to achieve a healthy work/life balance if you complete your MBA on a part-time schedule. Consider that you will have to allocate time for work, coursework, and any other family obligations.
How Hard is an MBA?
The definitive answer is there is no real way to quantify how hard it is to acquire an MBA. The complexity of getting an MBA is highly individual-specific. Here is a list of things to consider when deciding how hard an MBA may be for you to complete.
How Do You Manage Your Time with Heavy Workloads?
Perhaps the most crucial factor to consider in how hard an MBA will be for you is your understanding of how well you can handle a full course load. Staff writer for Poets & Quants, Jeff Schmitt writes, “Used to working 70 hour weeks? Start preparing for 90-100 hours.”
Between a full course load, extracurricular activities, networking events, and your personal life, you must be prepared to juggle responsibilities. The heavy workload can be a little overwhelming, and you may think to yourself that things are happening too quickly.
Hand-in-hand with large workloads is the need for excellent time management. Time management can be difficult when juggling so many distinct components of your life; thankfully there are ways to make the wheels of your days run smoothly. If you are the type of person with exceptional time management skills, an MBA may not be that hard for you to handle.
What Courses Are You Taking? What Areas of Study Are You Proficient In?
When deciding how hard an MBA will be for you, it’s worth examining what courses you will take or those you would like to take. Some potentially more challenging classes you will encounter will be in areas like accounting and economics, management communications, capstone courses, or practical projects.
Students may underestimate “the extent to which numbers, mathematics and statistics will be heavily involved” in classes surrounding accounting and economics. Students may face many advanced concepts in these areas of study like regression analysis and managerial economics. If you are a highly analytical person with a penchant for challenging mathematics, these classes may not be that difficult for you.
In contrast, those without a super-strong math foundation may find getting an MBA hard if these are the focused areas of study.
As for management and communications, these courses will require “sound written and verbal communications skills,” as well as a “sound knowledge of sales and marketing strategies, as well as basic psychology.” These classes may not be as challenging as more mathematical courses if you are proficient in the language and know the ins and outs of sales and marketing techniques.
Finally, capstone courses or other practical projects are typically the final courses in MBA programs (if one is offered) because they involve “a demonstration of the student’s ability to apply theoretical knowledge to practical problem-solving, usually through the completion of a project designed and structured by the student themselves.”
These projects can be difficult because they are time-consuming and apply all the knowledge and skills you gained in the program into a summarized conclusion. These projects require an excellent grasp of the knowledge you’ve acquired, as well as the know-how to execute it well.
Are You Prepared to Be Humbled?
Business school can be a big transition fraught with fast-paced learning, new experiences, and other like-minded individuals. This transition can be a humbling experience, and sometimes that can be hard for people. For instance, even if you graduated at the top of your class, most of your cohort probably did as well.
Business school teaches you that “everything you thought you knew about prioritization, mental stamina and your relative level of intelligence is basically false.” These realizations can be shocking, uncomfortable, and even make you doubt yourself and your abilities. Recent MBA grad Audrey Horn from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business Audrey Horn said that she “had many moments during my first semester when I doubted whether I deserved to be here.”
Remember that your peers are probably going through these same thought patterns and that you are not alone. If you are accepted into business school, you deserve to be there.
Common MBA Misconceptions
Some people may have preconceived notions about MBAs that influence their decisions to pursue one. Here we will explore and debunk some common MBA misconceptions.
1. You Need A Business Background to Pursue an MBA
If you studied something other than business during your undergrad, this doesn’t mean you’re automatically not a great candidate for business school. MBA programs accept students with a wide range of bachelor’s degrees, whether in music, English, education, or science.
MBA programs provide “foundational training in basic business areas, and they also develop skills students need to achieve higher-level positions within their communities.” If you are prepared to enter the business world, an MBA is a great way to do so.
2. Only People Who Manage Others Need an MBA
This misconception can keep people from benefiting from MBA training in other areas of business. Although many people go off to management jobs after graduation, the MBA is versatile enough to open many employment options for you.
People interested in entrepreneurship, finance, healthcare systems, and bookkeeping also go on to fulfilling careers after graduation. Getting an MBA can help you excel in any concentration you choose, regardless if you manage others or not.
3. MBA Programs Are Not Diverse and Students Are Mostly Male
While this used to be the norm, this is not true today. CNBC reported that women often make up approximately 40% or higher of the MBA student body. Most schools will also openly share their class profiles annually, providing statistics on student demographics, which includes gender, industry, race, country of origin, and many other factors.
4. My Application Has to Be Perfect Before I Apply
Most admissions committees view applications holistically, meaning they judge your application as a whole and don’t focus too heavily on one component. If you feel apprehensive about the state of your application, there are services available to help you submit an excellent application.
Tips to Overcoming MBA Challenges
Although you are bound to face a few obstacles on your way to an MBA, here are some great tips to overcome them.
1. Take Some Time to Adjust to Your Campus and New City
Often, students will have to move to a new state or at least city to attend a full-time MBA program. Moving to a new place alone can feel a little scary and isolating, so be sure to take a few days before your program starts to get settled and explore your new neighborhood or city.
When it comes to your new campus, familiarize yourself with your new surroundings and the available resources during your studies. The more comfortable you feel with your environment on the first day of your program, the better you will feel going forward.
2. Be Organized - Time Management is Your Best Friend
This may sound obvious, but you should really invest in a planner or make the most out of your calendar app on your chosen device. MBA student Barbara Sanches, studying at EMLYON Business School, said that the worst thing about MBA life is how demanding the program is at the start. “The worst thing is the intensive schedule at the beginning. We needed to be very organized in order to keep everything going in that period. Sleepless nights and an empty fridge were a constant part of my schedule as well!”
Getting your MBA can be hard if you try to balance too many things without a great schedule to follow. By being prepared to segment your days and weekends, you give yourself less of a chance to feel overwhelmed, which will allow you to prioritize projects as they come.
3. Connect With Others Whenever You Can
Perhaps one of the best parts of an MBA education is the new connections and friendships you will forge in your time at business school. Because of the diverse student body, you can count on an enhanced cultural and global understanding. Even if you’re feeling pressured or stressed, know that your peers are likely feeling the same way. Getting your MBA can be hard if you don’t have a support network in place to help you along the way.
4. Understanding the Subject Matter
Some of the courses you take on your path to an MBA can be hard. These courses will introduce “new ideas, concepts and subjects—and even if you’ve been an excellent student in the past, you might struggle with some of the new materials in your courses.” If you feel you’re struggling, be proactive and reach out to your peers, professors, and other academic resources. Know that with the right approach, you can overcome difficult subject matter.
1. Should I pursue an MBA on a full-time or part-time basis?
The answer to this will be dependent on your lifestyle. If you can afford to take off a year or two from work, you may be able to pursue an MBA on a full-time basis. If you’re not comfortable leaving your job, require an income, or have other life or community responsibilities, a part-time program may be better suited for you.
2. How much free time will I have?
The answer to this is subjective, and you can decide for yourself how much “free time” you will have beyond class schedules. Some weeks may be a lot busier than others, and it can be typical to spend long hours working on projects or course materials well into the evenings and weekends.
3. Will there be financial aid available?
Many schools automatically consider students for merit-based scholarships, but be sure to check your school’s website for other available scholarships. Be sure to apply early not to miss out on any financial aid. If you are a military veteran, you may also be eligible to have your tuition partially or fully paid by the Yellow Ribbon Program. (link to MBA Veterans article).
4. Besides tuition, how much will an MBA lifestyle cost?
Besides tuition, you must consider the price of books and other associated costs. The rest of the cost will be dependent on the location. Some cities cost more to live in, so you must consider the cost of rent, food, and transportation.
5. Is the work done when I graduate?
The only work that is finished when you graduate is the work you needed to do to gain your MBA. An MBA is not a magic portal to success, and you should prepare to put in hard work and long hours in your high-paying (and likely high-stakes) job after graduation. However, you’ll be prepared to handle the hard work because of the training you received in your MBA program.
6. How do I know my application is good enough for business school?
“Good enough” is subjective, depending on the school. While we don’t recommend submitting a hastily drafted application to any business school, striving for perfection can prevent you from applying at all. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way to achieve your goals. Services that specialize in MBA applications will be your best bet to ensure your application is polished and ready to be viewed by an admissions committee.
Although getting an MBA can be challenging, how hard an MBA is to achieve will depend on your level of preparation and perseverance. You should consider the downsides of pursuing an MBA, including lost wages, tuition costs, and the amount of time the program will take to complete.
However, these downsides can easily be outweighed by the prospective benefits, like better job opportunities, a more substantial professional and personal network, and by gaining new skills to help you excel in the business world. Make sure that you are prepared to handle heavy workloads, have a handle on the course material, and are ready to be humbled.
MBAs can be hard to obtain because they break you down and reconstruct you into a more capable and skilled business professional. So, how hard is an MBA? The process can be challenging, but certainly not unattainable. If you are ready to commit to the process and put in the time and effort required to succeed, you can undoubtedly complete the MBA program of your choice.
About Inspira Futures
At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.