Getting an MBA is an important step in the career of any future entrepreneur or top manager. In this article, we will talk about what an MBA is, where the best business schools are located, are there inexpensive options and what you need to do to enroll.

What is an MBA?

MBA — Master of Business Administration — is an academic degree in business management. MBA is one of the varieties of Master's degree and is equal to Master of Science (MSc), Arts (MA) and other second-level degrees. The main feature of MBA is its applied focus. The teaching process is based on case study methods and revolves around practical problem-solving. This brings students as close as possible to reality.

MBA programs have different specializations. The most popular of them:

  • International MBA;
  • Strategy MBA;
  • MBA in Marketing;
  • Operations Management MBA;
  • Supply chain management MBA;
  • MBA in Human Resources[1].

There are also specializations in specific market sectors: fashion industry, pharmaceuticals, computers and information technology, and so on.

EMBA — Executive MBA Program
EMBA is a subtype of MBA programs, created specifically for senior managers. Only people with experience in business management can apply for it. As a rule, these are entrepreneurs, top managers, deputy directors, heads of companies, and so on. For this reason, EMBA programs offer training in short modules or only on weekends. Below is a table with a generalized comparison of two programs. The details depend on each specific business school.
  • Bachelor's degree;
  • Work experience in business from 1 to 5 years
  • Bachelor's degree;
  • Work experience 5+ years (professional businessmen and managers)
  • GMAT — from 600 points;
  • IELTS — 7.0-7.5
  • GMAT — no (if the student has a business education);
  • IELTS — 7.0
Duration1-2 years6-12 months
Type of studyFull-time on-campusStudies in modules — on weekends or in evenings
Average cost/year35,000 USD80,000 USD

Why get an MBA?

The MBA program is a must-have for those working in business. It provides new knowledge and structures the existing, helps to develop strategic thinking and leadership qualities. You will learn how to evaluate the market, set the right goals and choose the best way to achieve them. And through working on joint projects, you will improve your communication skills and make useful contacts. The MBA program is suitable for those who aspire to:

  • Get knowledge and skills in the field of business management;
  • Increase competitiveness;
  • Expand the network of business contacts;
  • Start to earn more;
  • Start their own business;
  • Change career.

Most MBA graduates evaluate the learning experience positively. 95% note the importance of the course for their personal growth, 91% for their career and 79% for their finances[2]. MBA is a great investment in your future, but it's not cheap. Consider the price of the program itself and the cost of living. You also need to understand that an MBA degree does not guarantee an instant salary increase. It all depends on you and how you use the knowledge gained during the course.

Benefits of an MBA

  • Potentially higher salary. Research shows that MBA graduates earn more than their degreeless counterparts. For example, the average salary of a specialist with an MBA in the USA is 89,000 USD/year[3]. The exact figure depends on the position of the person, work experience and what school they graduated from. Some alumni of Harvard Business School or Wharton University of Pennsylvania get a salary of no less than 300,000 USD[4].
  • Better job opportunities. An MBA degree puts a noteworthy line in your resume. This increases your chances of getting a job faster. People in the business world understand the importance of this kind of education.
  • Practical knowledge and skills. Business administration courses involve more practice than theory. The latter is also included in the compulsory education program, but it is always combined with specific cases. MBA not only provides knowledge, but teaches to apply it in real life.
  • Programs in English. Whichever country you choose, most MBA courses are taught in English. Therefore, even to study at the Milan SDA Bocconi, you do not need to speak Italian. However, your English level must be at least C1.

Disadvantages of an MBA

  • Price. MBA is one of the most expensive types of programs. The average price is 35,000 USD/year. And in the best schools, it reaches 80,000 USD/year. Many universities provide scholarships and grants to students, but the cost of the programs is so high that they rarely cover it in full. At the same time, having an MBA does not mean quick employment.
  • Narrow focus. Business management programs are designed for specific specializations. It is worth applying for an MBA only if you plan to work in this area. Otherwise it will be a waste of money. Even such a prestigious degree might not get appreciated in the wrong place.
  • Prestige. The salary level of an MBA graduate directly depends on which school he attended. The more popular your university is, the greater are the chances of getting a job quickly and making good money. There is no point in studying at an unknown online school. For work in business, alma mater matters.

Best Business Schools

#UniversityCountryCityPriceTermExamsMin. work experienceCost of a dormitory
1Stanford Graduate School of BusinessUSAStanford74,706 USD/year24 months.
  • TOEFL — 100/IELTS — 7.0;
  • GMAT — 734
4 years26,700 USD
2Wharton University of PennsylvaniaUSAPhiladelphia83,230 USD/year24 months.
  • TOEFL — 110;
  • GMAT — 722
5 years21,600 USD
3Sloan school MITUSACambridge77,168 USD/year24 months.
  • IELTS — 7.0;
  • GPA — 3.6;
  • GMAT — 670-760
5 years20,700 USD
4Harvard Business SchoolUSACambridge73,440 USD/year24 months.
  • TOEFL — 109/IELTS — 7.5;
  • GPA — 3.7;
  • GMAT — 620-790
2 years

28,260 USD

5HEC ParisFranceParis79,645 USD16 months.
  • TOEFL — 100/IELTS — 7.0;
  • GPA — 3.5;
  • GMAT — 690
2 years13,833 USD
6INSEADFranceParis93,269 USD10 months.
  • TOEFL — 105/IELTS — 7.5;
  • GMAT — 670-750
2 years13,623 USD
7London Business SchoolUKLondon112,117 USD15-21 months.
  • TOEFL — 105/IELTS — 7.0;
  • GPA — 3.5;
  • GMAT — 600-780
2 years12,090 USD
8Columbia Business SchoolUSANew York77,376 USD/year24 months.
  • GPA — 3.6;
  • GMAT — 690-760
5 years21,375 USD
9IE Business SchoolSpainMadrid75,663 USD12 months.
  • TOEFL — 100/IELTS — 7.0;
  • GMAT — 600-770
3 years11,318 USD
10Haas School of BusinessUSABerkeley68,444 USD/year21 months.
  • TOEFL — 90/IELTS — 7.0;
  • GPA — 3.6;
  • GMAT — 690-760
5 years25,658 USD
11SDA BocconiItalyMilan61,830 USD12 months.
  • IELTS — 7.0;
  • GMAT — 540-750
3 years7,860 USD
12Said Business School Oxford UniversityUKOxford76,167 USD12 months.
  • TOEFL — 110/IELTS — 7.5;
  • GPA — 3.5;
  • GMAT — 650/GRE — 160
2 years8,463 USD
13LSEUKLondon39,730 USD/year17 months.
  • TOEFL/IELTS — 7.0;
  • GMAT — 660
3 years15,717 USD
14Copenhagen Business SchoolDenmarkCopenhagen46,370 USD12 months.
  • IELTS — 7.0;
  • GMAT — 655
3 years8,150 USD
Full list of business schools
National University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
University of California at BerkeleyUSABerkeley
Graduate School of Commerce in Paris (HEC Paris)FranceParis
University of CambridgeUnited KingdomCambridge
University of MelbourneAustraliaMelbourne
University of ChicagoUSAChicago
Erasmus University RotterdamNetherlandsRotterdam
Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong KongHong Kong
New York UniversityUSANew York
University of New South WalesAustraliaSydney
Columbia UniversityUSANew York
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)USALos Angeles
University of MichiganUSAAnn Arbor
University Hong KongHong KongHong Kong
Northwestern UniversityUSAChicago
University of WarwickUnited KingdomCoventry
Yale UniversityUSANew Haven
Chinese University of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong
Ramon Llull UniversitySpainBarcelona
University of ManchesterUnited KingdomManchester
Nanyang University of TechnologySingaporeSingapore
University of SydneyAustraliaSydney
Seoul National UniversitySouth KoreaSeoul
Universität St. Gallen (HSG)SwitzerlandSt. Gallen
Imperial College LondonUnited KingdomLondon
Australian National UniversityAustraliaCanberra
McGill UniversityCanadaMontreal
Vienna University of EconomicsAustriaVienna
Duke UniversityUSADurham
Monash UniversityAustraliaMelbourne
Stockholm School of EconomicsSwedenStockholm
University of Texas at AustinUSAAustin
University of BeijingChinaBeijing
University of TorontoCanadaToronto
Koryo UniversitySouth KoreaSeoul
City University of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong
University of AucklandNew ZealandAuckland
University of QueenslandAustraliaBrisbane
Yonsei UniversitySouth KoreaSeoul
International Institute for Management Development (IMD)SwitzerlandLausanne

How to apply for an MBA?

Usually, Master's programs become an extension of your undergraduate studies. In some European countries, for example, Germany or France, it is obligatory that the Master’s degree be in the same field as the Bachelor’s. The advantage of MBA is that it is available to everyone, regardless of previous education. You can even enroll after studying design. The main thing is to meet the requirements of the program and collect the necessary documents.

An academic degree

MBA is a Master's degree, so you must already have a Bachelor's degree to apply for it. In most cases, the specialization of previous education is not important. Although for people with specialties other than business, more stringent selection criteria apply. For example, they need to pass GMAT and generally have excellent academic performance. Some schools accept students with no higher education at all. French HEC Paris, for instance, considers 5 years of professional experience as the equivalent of a bachelor's degree.

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Work experience

Experience is required for admission to most MBA programs. Some schools set clear criteria: usually 2-3 years. Others write that they consider all candidates, regardless of professional experience. At the same time, the average work experience among applicants is 5 years.

People go to MBA not so much to learn something new, as to improve. The standard age for students at prestigious business schools is 25-28 years old. This contributes to an effective learning process and networking. Lesser-known universities also accept those who are just starting their careers in business. In this case, the program is built somewhat differently. It includes more theory and basic courses in economics, finance and marketing.


Unlike other Master's programs, during an MBA more attention should be paid to working experience rather than academic achievements. Requirements for resumes vary. Some universities request a regular CV, but some ask candidates to describe their activities in detail. For example, indicate the reasons for periods of unemployment. Some universities provide a sample CV to show what they want to see. Details can be found on their official websites.

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Letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation are needed for all types of Master's programs abroad. However, in the case of an MBA, the letter should not be from previous professors, but from current colleagues and supervisors. For example, Stanford Business School requires a recommendation directly from the head of the company in which the person works. The letter should describe your leadership qualities, management skills, and business potential.

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Passing an interview is one of the common conditions for admission to MBA programs. It is conducted face to face or in video format so that the commission can assess the applicant's motivation. Some universities ask you to provide it as a recording, while others will interview you online. The process can also have several stages.


Essays are not required everywhere. If the school wants to see it, they will indicate it in the admission requirements. For example, Stanford asks two questions in advance:

  • What is most important to you?
  • Why Stanford?

Whatever the assignments, your goal is to show yourself, your interest and potential in the field of management. Although this document is called an essay, it works more like a motivation letter. Explain what an MBA means to you personally and what you plan to achieve.

5 Types of MBA essays
5 Types of MBA essays

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International exams

For admission to the MBA abroad, you will definitely need to pass two international exams:

  • GMAT or GRE. Both test your mathematical and analytical skills. Business school applicants are most likely to take the GMAT. The websites of universities state the preferred results specifically for GMAT. Generally, you need to get a minimum of 600 points. For prestigious schools — 700 and above.
  • TOEFL or IELTS. MBA programs are taught in English. Therefore, you need to confirm that you have at least level C1. Standard expected scores are 105 TOEFL and 7.0 IELTS.

To find out what an "ideal" business school candidate looks like, visit its official website. There you can often find information about the average age of applicants, their work experience and exam results. These “profiles” provide a rough idea of ​​what will be required to successfully enroll.

INSEAD MBA class profile
INSEAD MBA class profile
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Business School Tuition Fees

It is a fact that MBA is expensive. The average cost of a two-year course is 60,000 USD, and in prestigious business schools — over 100,000 USD. And yet, cheaper programs exist. Affordable countries include France, Germany and Finland. There you will find programs within the range of 9,432 USD/year. But do not forget about the costs of accommodation and other expenses as well. They add significantly to the overall training costs.

Another way to save money is to study online. It is suitable for those who want to learn the basics of business management for themselves. The downside is that such programs rarely issue a diploma, at best — a certificate. But they are definitely cheaper and shorter.

MBA Scholarships

Many business schools provide scholarships for students. But to qualify for them, you need to be a top-notch candidate. What does it mean? The answer depends on the specific institution. For detailed information on financial assistance and the profiles of those who received it, check the school website. In general terms, a potential scholar looks like this:

  • Excellent academic performance, high GPA — from 3.5;
  • 5-10 years work experience in management and business;
  • High GMAT score — 750+;
  • Early application submission;
  • Outstanding essays, recommendations and interviews.

Best business schools for scholarships:

  • Harvard Business School. HBS provides students with need-based scholarships received by up to 50% of the students. Average amount of payments — 42,000 USD/year[5].
  • INSEAD. The French school INSEAD has about 90 scholarships in different categories: for women of certain nationalities, for excellence in studies, need-based, for leaders of the generation, and so on. The size of the grants varies from 10,480 USD to 31,439 USD[6].
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business. Stanford University issues scholarships on a need-blind basis. This means that the commission does not take the income of the students into account. The chances of admission for a rich and a poor applicant are equal. Once you are enrolled, the school will look at your income and calculate how much assistance you need. On average, Stanford students receive a scholarship of 40,000 USD[7].
  • Wharton University of Pennsylvania. All students at Wharton Business School are eligible to apply for one of 10 scholarships. The main criteria are personal, academic and professional achievements. Help is provided by various companies and foundations cooperating with the university[8].
  • London Business School. Some grants from the London School of Economics cover up to 100% of the tuition fees. All applicants to the MBA program are automatically considered for a scholarship. There are options from both LBS itself and external sponsors. A student can receive up to 6,045 USD[9].

Remember that a scholarship is always a lottery. So choose a school that you can pay for yourself. View financial aid as a possible nice bonus, but not a 100% guarantee.

Affordable Business Schools

Below is a list of low-cost business schools around the world. In them, prices start from 2,096 USD/year.

UniversityCountryCityPrice/yearTermRequirementsMin. work experienceCost of a dormitory
KU LeuvenBelgiumLeuven4,087 USD12 months
  • TOEFL — 94/IELTS — 7.0;
  • GMAT — 620/GRE — 156
n/a5,030 USD
Indian Institute of TechnologyIndiaKharagpur840 USD24 months
  • GMAT — 750
2 years900 USD
West Pomeranian Business SchoolPolandSzczecin2,389 USD12 months
n/a1,467 USD
Institute of Economics of the Polish Academy of SciencesPolandWarsaw5,554 USD12 months
n/a2,620 USD
Putra UniversityMalaysiaKuala Lumpur9,118 USD16 months
  • TOEFL — 80/IELTS — 6.0;
  • GPA — 3.0;
  • GMA — 550
5 years848 USD
ESERP Business SchoolSpainMadrid13,833 USD12 months
3 years3,668 USD
International University of Applied SciencesGermanyBonn7,435 USD12-18 months
  • TOEFL — 80/IELTS — 6.0;
  • GPA — 3.0
1 year2,096 USD

Preparation for MBA — Pre-MBA

Pre-MBA is a special type of preparatory courses. They are suitable for those who have just graduated from university and do not have the necessary work experience for admission, or people with an education from another field. Pre-MBA programs can include different elements, there is no single standard. Typically, this includes preparation for international exams: GMAT, TOEFL or IELTS. There are also classes in additional disciplines: management, finance, marketing, and so on.

Typically, pre-MBAs are programs from independent institutions. There are preparatory programs at the business schools themselves, but there are few of them. For example, Harvard has an online course, CORe, and the University of San Francisco offers a one-year Pre-MBA followed by a major program. The requirements for admission to them are lower than for MBA programs: IELTS 5.5, and the optionally, GMAT.

What does Pre-MBA give? It helps to prepare for challenging exams, as well as introduce the student to what awaits them in a full MBA program. Taking these courses increases the chances of admission and the subsequent effectiveness of the studies. However, they cost not much less than the MBA themselves. The average price in the USA is 13,400 USD/year, and in England — 12,090 USD/year. Whether it is worth the time or money depends on the circumstances. For experienced managers, these courses will not give anything, but for beginners they can be useful.

MBA in the USA

USA is the birthplace of MBA. The first program in the world was opened at Dartmouth in 1900. Today, there are over 400 accredited business schools in the United States. Some are affiliated with large universities, others are independent institutions. American MBA programs are quite expensive (like all higher education in the country). Their cost is 1.5 or even 3 times higher than other disciplines. The lowest fees can be found in public universities: for example, at Ball University, one semester of MBA costs 20,000 USD, about the same amount students pay at the University of North Dakota. The best American business schools are located at the most prestigious universities: MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, and others. The cost of studying might be scary — prices for a year of MBA start at 70,000 USD. But there is also a good side — these universities offer generous scholarships that potentially cover 15-80% of the costs.

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MBA in Europe

The cost of MBA programs in European universities is much more appealing than in American ones. The exceptions are Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK — there the cost of education is comparable to the USA and Australia.

MBA prices in Europe range from 5,240 USD at public universities to 93,269 USD at prestigious business schools. Such large sums cover not just the training. For example, at INSEAD, the cost of the program also includes educational materials, access to the library, access to the sports complex, insurance and more. In European universities, MBA can be completed in a year or a year and a half in a special part-time program. This means that the cost of living in another country will be less. In addition to the low cost and shorter course duration, European business schools have another advantage. Many of them (INSEAD, Bocconi) are recognized as leading research centers. Getting a degree there will not only be cheap, but also very prestigious.

Their requirements for applicants are also lower — recommendations are often excluded from the general package of documents, the expected GPA is lower, sometimes you don't even need to take GMAT. However, this only applies to programs at public universities. Prestigious business schools have the same requirements as American ones.

MBA in Asia

Business schools in Asia are a budget-friendly and easy way to get an MBA. However, a lot depends on the country and the chosen university. Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Japan offer the most expensive MBA programs. In India, Malaysia and Thailand, they are much cheaper. The cost of the programs there starts from 3,000 USD per year, and the requirements for applicants sometimes include only a Bachelor's degree. Although it is still difficult to enter there because of the language and the general specifics of these countries. And the prices are low only from the European point of view.

People often question the quality of education in such universities. Indeed, not all Asian universities have the best academic staff. However, many local business schools create ambitious and highly competent programs. Plus, some Western employers value work and study experience in developing countries.

MBA in Russia

  • Duration of the MBA course: 1-2 years
  • Cost: 2,025-7,087 USD/year
  • Requirements: CV, motivational essay, work experience.

There are MBA programs in Russia as well. Prices, like in the rest of the world, are higher than for other specialties. Business administration programs never cost less than 1,012 USD/year. The upside is that most universities do not need GMAT or IELTS. For admission, you need a Bachelor's degree, a CV, and an essay, followed by an interview. Some schools also conduct admission tests in the form of a case study. Among Russian universities, the highest quality MBA programs are offered by:

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