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What Do You Learn in an MBA Program?

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

Many undergraduate programs focus on major-specific learning and skill development. By contrast, most MBA programs teach a wider set of both hard and soft skills as they pertain to the business world. While of course each MBA program functions differently, generally MBA programs work to provide a holistic learning experience that mirrors the different ways students will need to process information when working in their chosen business field. While there are standard business topics that MBA programs address, students also learn critical thinking, management, and problem-solving skills to take into their post-MBA careers.

MBA Program Core Curriculum

Core classes focus on building a solid foundation in standard business topics. While not all programs feature core classes, many schools require students to take at least one class in each of the core subjects. Some common core course topics include:

  • Accounting: Accounting is all about how to make informed financial decisions as an organization. Accounting will typically be split into two types: financial and managerial. Financial accounting focuses on the financial documents every business must use, like income statements and balance sheets. Managerial accounting focuses on how businesses make their financial decisions, such as how to allocate indirect costs and how to manage an organizational budget.

  • Economics: To provide a wider view of the business environment, many MBA programs offer core classes in Economics where students learn to model supply and demand and other key economic concepts. From microeconomics (looking at decisions at the firm-level) to macroeconomics (looking at trends within an entire market, which combines the actions of individual firms), students learn to understand the larger market and how those trends influence the decisions they’ll need to make for their own individual organizations.

  • Finance: While also related to money management within an organization, Finance classes focus specifically on acquiring funding. From raising capital to taking out debt and creating loans, Finance classes explore different ways firms manage their funds. Typically these classes are more math and model dominant, including reviewing how to calculate key business formulas like Net Present Value and Future Cash Flows.

  • Management and Leadership: Often some of the most popular classes within MBA programs are the classes that focus heavily on the soft skills required to manage and lead people. Students often take these classes to develop their personal leadership skills which can be helpful regardless of future industry or role. Some common management class topics include Negotiation, Leading Teams, and roleplay as CEO of an organization and then navigating different business challenges.

  • Marketing: Marketing classes focus on how to encourage consumers to purchase an organization’s goods or services. These courses often combine both math work (calculating estimated market size and determining the ideal product price) and creativity (developing new products and sales promotions) to explore how to use marketing to drive product sales.

  • Operations: Operations classes use excel models and efficiency concepts to outline how businesses work. Often with a focus on organization supply chains, these classes will use lectures, simulations, and problem sets to teach students how to measure and improve business operating models. Operations courses often run through key methodologies like Lean Six Sigma and Kaizen so students are prepared to understand and even implement solutions that help streamline their future organization operations.

  • Strategy: Compared to other core classes, Strategy classes are often more discussion-based. While many will utilize popular business model frameworks, most strategy classes focus on evaluating different business scenarios, or cases, and discussing what those businesses did well and what they could improve. Strategy classes often walk through the logic of what decisions to make as a business leader, both for overcoming short term setbacks and for setting the longer term vision and strategy for an organization.

Electives and Non-Business Classes

Having completed the core curriculum, students finish out their MBAs with a combination of business electives and non-business classes. These courses offer an opportunity for students to explore different topics in more detail, both as preparation for future careers and to fulfill their personal interests. While core classes help students build a strong business foundation, there are additional benefits to taking additional classes beyond the core:

  1. More Detailed Learning: Core classes all focus on providing broad but introductory information about a specific subject. After completing these courses, students can select electives that go into more detail within those same areas. Often more complex and challenging, these electives can be some of the most interesting available, and offer the benefit of a classroom of like-minded students who chose to pursue the same topic and learn together.

  2. Specialization Opportunities: For students with goals to focus on one specific area or industry, many programs offer a specialization option. Students take a certain number of qualifying courses within the same topic and then receive a formal certification or specialization from completing those courses. Some common areas to pursue formal specializations include healthcare management, data and AI, sustainability, and operations.

  3. Diversified Topics: Some schools also provide the opportunity to take classes outside of the business school. Whether students choose to pursue a full dual degree or simply enroll in a non-business course for one semester, non-business classes offer the opportunity to broaden learning outside the traditional business lens. Students often pursue public policy, education, design, sustainability, and law as subjects that both enhance and expand their learning.

Learning Outside the Classroom

While classes make up the majority of formal learning during most MBA programs, the true value of pursuing an MBA isn’t limited to schoolwork alone. Projects, internships, interpersonal networking, and mentorship are some other key aspects of the business school experience and are often just as valuable as classroom learning.

Ultimately, what you learn from an MBA program will depend in part on the program itself. When considering an MBA for your future, look for a school that offers the resources to fulfill your specific career and learning goals. If you’re having trouble figuring out what school fits your goals, check out our list of the Best MBA Programs of 2021 and the Best Online MBA Programs of 2021! You can also speak directly to a Crimson MBA advisor for more individualized support.

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