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How Long Does it Take to Get an MBA?

It can take a year or more to get your MBA – it all depends on the program and institution you select as the number of classes you want to take each term.

A business professional wondering how long it will take to get an MBA.

There are a lot of factors that can go into your decision to return to school and pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree – and likely a lot of answers you'll need, too. So, as you begin to think about your short- and long-term goals and what you want from an MBA program, be sure to jot down your questions.

Some may look like this:

  • How long does it take to get an MBA?
  • Am I too old to advance my career with an MBA?
  • What's the most affordable way to get an MBA?
  • Is getting an MBA hard?
  • Could an MBA really make a difference in my paycheck?
  • Is getting an MBA really worth it?

If you're looking at a particular program or institution, don't be afraid to reach out to their admission team with your questions. You should feel comfortable with the responses you receive as you move closer to enrolling in an MBA program.

How Many Years Does it Take to Get an MBA?

There are some schools that offer 12-month programs, so it's possible to earn an MBA in one year.

You'll want to research what's involved in a degree that can be completed in this timeframe. Will it mean you're taking on too much work? And can it fit into your schedule – whether that's work, family or other commitments?

Dr. Joseph Ahlo with the text Dr. Joseph Ahlo

Choosing an online MBA program that allows you to meet weekly goals at times that work for you might be one way you can balance everything while advancing your education. If you want to fast-track your degree, online programs with a rolling admission process and several terms per year can also help you start sooner and finish faster.

It's understandable why a student would want to earn an MBA faster.

"The MBA has become a vehicle for professionals to elevate their careers," said Dr. Joseph Ahlo, an adjunct instructor at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). "One year of concentrated study allows them to transition and elevate their careers as quickly as possible."

Dr. Mark Hobson, a senior associate dean of business at SNHU, said one of the most frequent questions would-be students ask is "how long does it take to get an MBA?" They want to know how soon they can earn the credential, recognizing it as a professional growth opportunity. So, SNHU revised its MBA model to 10 classes, or 30 credits, allowing full-time students the opportunity to complete the program online in about one year.

If a full-time schedule is too much – or you want to ease into it – not to worry. You can always opt for part-time pacing or switch off between the two as your circumstances allow. An academic advisor can help you plan for each term, adjusting your registrations as needed and providing you with an updated timeline to graduation.

What is the Best Age to Get an MBA?

There's definitely no right age to get an MBA. This will be entirely different for everyone.

If you're in your early to mid-20s and just out of college, it could be a good time in your life to get an MBA. You might be one of the youngest ones in your class, but it may be more convenient for you to earn your master's now rather than later.

Many MBA programs recommend that you have a few years of business experience under your belt. You'll need to talk with the admission counselors at the schools you're considering to see if this would position you for more success in a program. Other universities – SNHU included – may have more of an open-enrollment policy, welcoming most students as long as they meet the minimum admission criteria.

Your 20s aren't the only time in your life when it may be good to earn your MBA. Your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond are all great times to learn more about the business world today if you're ready to take your knowledge and skills to the next level.

And, as a more seasoned member of the working world, you'll have the added benefit of bringing real-life experiences to assignments. Earning your MBA is an opportunity for you to evolve as a professional. Whether your role is expanding or you're looking for something new, an MBA education can help you position yourself for careers across a broad number of industries.

Dr. Mark Hobson with the text Dr. Mark Hobson

A number of schools can set you up for success – at any age – by offering foundation courses. These classes prepare you with the background knowledge that other students would have gained in an undergraduate business degree program.

For example, "students without an undergraduate business degree may need to take up to two foundation – or preparation – courses for three credits each," Hobson said. The number of foundation courses may vary from school to school.

How to Get an MBA

The logistics behind finding and actually earning your MBA may have your head spinning, but it helps to break them down by cost, admission process and academic success.

What's the Most Affordable Way to Get an MBA?

Earning an MBA has the potential to be quite expensive, depending on the school – but it also has the possibility to be budget-friendly too.

First, you'll want to compare tuition costs. Some programs on the market could put you back six figures in total, while others on the opposite end of the price range can be closer to $20,000.

Dr. Andrew Gallion with the text Dr. Andrew Gallion

"College education costs are skyrocketing at a higher rate than inflation," said Dr. Andrew Gallion, an adjunct instructor at SNHU. It's why SNHU debuted an online MBA program with a total tuition cost of just under $19,000.

"This MBA program breaks that trend and creates a price point that makes it highly competitive and attractive," Gaillion said.

After you've looked at the tuition investment, you'll next want to see if you can apply any types of financial aid toward your cost. Just like you may have done for your undergraduate degree, it's important to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form to determine if you qualify for grants and/or loans.

Accept all of your grants – money that doesn't need to be repaid – before looking at your loans. Remember, loans come with interest, meaning you'll pay back more than you borrowed. Work with student financial services at each university you're applying to so that you can get a personalized payment plan.

Subtract the financial aid you're accepting from the tuition, and you'll have your cost-of-attendance amount. This is what you'll want to compare between schools.

Need to lower your out-of-pocket cost even more? Speak with your employer's benefits manager. A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey showed that, in 2020, about 47% of organizations offered tuition assistance to employees (SHRM PDF source).

At that rate, you could earn your MBA for little – or even no – money. If you find yourself in that situation, you've earned the ultimate return on investment.

Navigating the Admission Process

Once you've identified where you want to get your MBA, you'll need to look into the admission process. Contact the admission team of each school that interests you, and counselors can walk you through this process, making you aware of any deadlines, fees and application requirements.

Note that every program may approach the application process differently. For example, some schools may require you to pay an application fee, while others don't. Some programs may ask you to provide your standardized graduate testing scores, while other MBAs do not require the GMAT – or Graduate Management Admission Test.

Once you receive the financial award letter and college acceptance you've been waiting for, you can enroll in the program and get to work. Your academic advisor can help you create a course plan that makes the most sense for you. If you're earning your MBA online, you might sign into your virtual classroom and get acquainted with how online classes work, too.

Is Getting an MBA Hard?

Hard is subjective. But thousands of students continue to earn them each year – thanks to their life-changing potential – so plenty of people across the country and even the world are proving that it's definitely doable.

When searching for an MBA program that fits your life, take a good look at the degree's curriculum and learn more about the assignments you'll be working on. Will you be writing papers, or are you going to be learning skills and performing the same kind of work you'd be doing in the workforce?

Gallion said that SNHU's revised program, launched in February 2021, is preparing students for the latter.

"While the exercises are academic, their application is absolutely based on actual scenarios in industry, and the resulting work products are measured against industry standards," Gallion said. "The new program is more centered around creating the kinds of deliverables, including analyses and reports, that will be expected from an MBA in real-world practice."

Translation: If the type of work that you'd do in an MBA program like SNHU's appeals to you, then you might not think of your program as "hard," but more like "necessary" to what the business world is expecting.

Commonly referred to as scenario-based learning, these opportunities can give you a feel for what to expect as an MBA employee. That way, you're not in for surprises on your first day of work.

Dr. Jessica Rogers with the text Dr. Jessica Rogers"Scenario-based learning begins with a scenario example that allows learners to practice the course content in a real-world scenario of a likely business problem," said Dr. Jessica Rogers, SNHU's senior associate dean of marketing and one of the academics responsible for revamping the university's MBA program. "The learner will be immersed in an experience with learning tools and an instructor who acts like a mentor. The scenario solution is mapped for the student to break challenges into sub-tasks, leading to a conclusion and assignment submission."

And post-pandemic, these skills – along with business needs in general – will have evolved.

"The forward-looking degree cultivates students for the future of management and business," said Ahlo. "We are in the midst of another massive transformation in the world of work. This MBA is designed with the intent of preparing learners to excel in times of sudden change, turning upsets into opportunities."

What Can I Get Out of an MBA Program?

Real-world, practical applications and experiences, Ahlo said.

Throughout the coursework, he said, "academic skills are further developed throughout the program while business practices, concepts and approaches are deeply practiced."

With those three letters after your name – and those skills you pick up through your courses – so many doors could open for you. Your resume could move to the top of the pile, or your employer could take note of your motivation to take on more responsibility.

A blue infographic piece with the text Choose from 15+ MBA ConcentrationsOther benefits of an MBA include learning more about areas of business beyond the department you work in. This is important if you plan to keep moving up the ladder in an organization, as you'll need to have some background in various areas of the business. (That's also why MBAs can be applied to so many industries.)

"The MBA is even more critical as professionals work to differentiate themselves in a more competitive landscape," Ahlo said. "This includes those looking to grow and create more value for the companies where they are already working and hope to remain in the long term."

You could also pick up additional skills and knowledge if you choose to add a concentration to your MBA. There are many types of MBA that might align with your interests, including:

Justin Brigham with the text Justin BrighamYou'll also want to see what a program offers beyond the outcomes. Can you actually get more out of an MBA program?

You can, said Justin Brigham, an academic program manager at SNHU.

"Not only will students leave with their MBA, but along the way, they will have the opportunity to gain badges and certificates that can be immediately shared out to their network and potential employers," he said.

These include industry-recognized credentialing in skills like Excel and Tableau, as well as badging in soft skills like emotional intelligence and strategic development and implementation.

Preparing for the Future

Many in business have spoken to the idea of the "Fourth Industrial Revolution." This revolution focuses on automation and how it will more seamlessly weave through our lives.

At SNHU, "the curriculum is designed around the needs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: It is built for the learner of today and the business leader of tomorrow," Rogers said. "This is important as the business landscape is changing, and universities must evolve as well."

But automation doesn't just mean technology-driven change.

"As we look to the future of work, students will need specific sets of skills," Rogers said, listing off "complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordination with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision-making, service orientation, negotiation, cognitive flexibility, environment and society conscious" as necessary traits.

Those who teach courses, like Rogers, also bring years of experience to the table. And at a university like SNHU, many of the instructors are adjuncts – meaning that they're using modern business practices every day at their full-time jobs – allowing them to add greater context to coursework through their real-world experience and applications. Practices that they can then pass on to you.

Howard Brodsky with the text Howard Brodsky

Like being taught lessons by Howard Brodsky, co-founder, chairman and co-chief executive officer of CCA Global Partners, one of the largest privately held companies in the United States. He's also one of the many featured mentors – "rock star" business professionals who, along with the professors, add contextualization to classes through their experience.

"We have lined up successful business experts from many industries who will be present in every course through video messaging," Hobson said. "Their message will be inspirational, aspirational and informational. The videos will inform students about the course content while the expert will share their own life lessons. ... In short, these experts will share advice and expertise by video in every course."

How Much Does an MBA Increase Salary?

An MBA certainly has the potential to boost your earnings.

A blue infographic piece with the text GMAC reports MBA grads earned a median salary of $115,000 in 2020According to a survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the median base salary for the class of 2021 was projected to be $115,000. That's 77% more than those with a bachelor's degree, GMAC reported.

And, money-wise, it's not just your salary that you'll want to think about once you finish your program. You need to consider your financial situation.

For example, if you choose an MBA program that will cost you well into the six figures, your return on investment won't be as great because you could be spending a bit of that potential salary increase on the debt you most likely incurred.

But if you choose a less expensive MBA program, then the salary bump that you're hoping for can go much further in your day-to-day life.

Consider both your potential salary and debt when you choose a school for your MBA.

The Bottom Line: Is an MBA Degree Really Worth It?

If earning an MBA can help you reach the goals you've set for yourself, then, yes, getting one can be worth it.

2020 was a year that forced us to change. And with an evolving workforce comes a number of new skills that need to be learned.

"The current world situation requires a lot more autonomy in the business world, as many – if not most – of us are spending much less time tethered to the physical workplace and more time remotely working," Gallion said. "This requires us to actually communicate more efficiently and succinctly. It also lends to less direct supervision and mentoring."

From working from home to remote locations across the country and from flexible schedules to better understanding technology, looking forward means acknowledging that the workforce has changed – and will continue to do so.

"The MBA program provides enhanced communication skills, as well as fills in knowledge and skill gaps that are sometimes gained through on-the-job experiences – and that is a big advantage in the current situation," Gallion said.

Deidre Ashe '18G is a copywriter in higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.