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What Does MBA Stand For?

An MBA stands for Master of Business Administration. It's a graduate-level degree geared toward current and aspiring business professionals.
Two professionals learning what MBA stands for as they sit in a business meeting

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Perhaps you've seen "MBA" listed as a preferred or required job qualification. Or maybe leaders in your organization have those three letters listed beside their names in business communications.

But what do they mean? And what is an MBA degree, exactly?

MBA stands for Master of Business Administration. It's a master's degree that offers a broad-based business education designed to teach skills that can help you succeed in any business area, from economics and marketing to financial management and social responsibility.

What Does Having an MBA Mean for You?

If you’re considering whether you should get an MBA, you’re likely wondering what kind of return on investment you can expect — and how soon you can get it.

Dr. Charlene Spann with the text Dr. Charlene Spann There are many reasons why you might earn an MBA, including increased salary potential and personal achievement. However, Dr. Charlene Spann, an adjunct instructor of business at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), said the credential will be the most beneficial if you follow it up with ongoing growth in knowledge and skills.

"If one is seeking an MBA to truly understand the nuances of business so that their skills after graduation can expand and grow ... I believe it can future-proof a career," she said. "The key is that the person needs to continue developing their skills after the schoolwork is done."

How long it takes to get an MBA depends on the program you choose and your preferred pacing. For example, at SNHU, you could start and finish your MBA online in just over one year if you take two classes per 10-week term. That means you can begin reaping the credential's rewards sooner.

What is the Salary Potential of an MBA Professional?

An infographic with the text GMAC reports MBA grads earned a median salary of $115,000 in 2022

While your income as an MBA degree holder can vary significantly based on the industry and position you work in, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) shows that employees with a master’s degree earn a median income of 16% more than those with only a bachelor’s degree.*

Still, with so many advanced business degree options out there, you may be wondering, “Why should I earn an MBA?”

Data from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) indicates a greater starting pay with an MBA degree. Its 2022 Corporate Recruiters Survey revealed that the annual median starting salary is $115,000 for U.S. MBA hires compared to $75,000 for those with just a bachelor's degree (GMAC PDF source).*

An infographic with the text GMAC reports 9 in 10 recruiters expected to hire MBA graduates in 2022

Achieving the advanced credential could also increase your job security. In 2022, workers with a master’s degree faced an unemployment rate of 1.9%, compared to 2.2% for workers with only a bachelor's degree and 4% with only a high school diploma, according to BLS data.*

MBAs are in demand across a range of industries and organizations. Nine in 10 recruiters expected to hire MBA graduates in 2022, according to the GMAC report, with the top employers in product/service, technology, nonprofit and healthcare fields.*

Types of MBA Programs

While broad-ranging business knowledge is one of the key values of an MBA, if you know you want to enter a particular area of business, choosing from more than 15 types of MBA concentrations could add even more value to your business degree.

From information technology management, public administration and leadership to international business, engineering management and finance, MBA concentrations are a great way to strengthen the skills most relevant to you. They are designed to help you gain the fundamental business understanding you need to be flexible and think strategically in today’s ever-changing economy.

Some other types of MBAs include:

Selecting a concentration when earning your MBA can also provide valuable experience if you plan to use your degree to change careers.

Are you currently working in finance but want to move into a marketing career after completing your degree? An MBA in Marketing can help give you the marketing know-how you need to stand out to employers and succeed in a new field.

Is an MBA Hard to Get?

The MBA curriculum varies by institution, but some colleges and universities ensure their students have a chance to apply what they're learning to situations they might encounter in the real world. Scenario-based learning — the approach SNHU's MBA uses — and other methods like it can help grow the skills needed to increase your business knowledge.

"Using real-life scenarios, students can apply what they are learning immediately and then adapt the scenario to their current work function," Spann said. "I have had several students say that they immediately applied what they learned in class to their job."

Through scenario-based learning, Spann said students are also strengthening their technical skills. For example, in one of her classes, students are assigned middle management roles at an auto company and must create an innovation strategy to present to the Chief Technology Officer.

"The students aren’t just reading and writing papers, but they need to use data analytics, PowerPoint and Excel to convey their information to senior leadership," she said. "It’s exactly like what happens in the real world."

Dr. Katie Carpen with text Dr. Katie CarpenHigh-demand workers need a strong understanding of their chosen field and a strong foundation of fundamental business principles. With courses ranging from leading people, organizations and change to organizational strategy and success measurement, what you learn in an MBA program can give you the universal skills you need to succeed across various industries.

Some schools, such as SNHU, offer courses that weave various aspects of business together. "The MBA learning design uses 'interleaving,' where students mix ... two or three topics to improve learning and help make (information) stick," said Dr. Katie Carpen, an associate dean of business programs at SNHU. "Students revisit information ... throughout the program, yet in different contexts or scenarios."

Instead of learning about different areas individually, she said this learning method improves long-term retention.

So, is an MBA Really Worth It?

The value of an MBA can be far-reaching: from potential career and salary growth to personal and professional development. It can also prepare you for the future, equipping you with industry-relevant credentials and important hard and soft skills. In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven economy, employers are seeking workers who can be flexible and learn and adapt on the fly.

Nikki Bennett with the text Nikki BennettOnce Nikki Bennett '22MBA started her MBA, she said her career trajectory began to shift. "When I started my MBA program at SNHU, I was acting director of human resources," she said. "I was then promoted to senior director of business management about halfway through my program."

Earning your MBA can be a great way to open new career possibilities. While Bennett doesn't know what she'll be doing in five years, she said that many new opportunities have already begun to present themselves since earning her MBA.

Throughout your MBA program, you'll also have the opportunity to earn credentials. These credentials include certificates sought throughout the business sector, which are built right into the MBA program at SNHU.

In addition, you can gain experience with using common business platforms such as Microsoft Excel, PowerBI and Tableau, to name a few. The combination of learning various business scenarios, earning additional business credentials and utilizing business technology and platforms helps prepare you for whatever your next step may be.

How Online MBA Degrees Transform Lives

In 2016, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted that as technology advances, employers would place a higher value on workers with leadership and management skills, including complex problem-solving, critical thinking, coordinating with others and decision-making.

By 2021, recruiters noticed that talent pools lacked candidates with some of these important soft skills. There's a shortage of applicants with problem-solving and critical thinking skills in particular, despite their growing need in an increasingly automated workforce, McKinsey & Company reported in a McKinsey Quarterly briefing.

Future-forward MBA programs can help to solve this issue. Course designers at SNHU kept critical thinking, analytical and communication skills in mind as they developed the MBA in Business Analytics, a concentration intended to train business professionals to interpret data and leverage it throughout their organizations.

Earning your MBA can help you develop the hard and soft skills needed to future-proof your career and begin opening doors you may not have considered.

Discover more about SNHU’s MBA program: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you’ll learn and how to request information about the program.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

Two students walking in front of Monadnock Hall

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.