What is an MBA?
The Master of Business Administration (known to most as the MBA) seeks to provide students with an understanding of how people and processes work within the business world and, ultimately, prepare students for life at the top of the corporate ladder. For students who already work in management roles, MBA programs put theory to practice and assist with the development of core management skills that may not have been gained in the workplace.
Today, around 21,300 people are enrolled in MBA or similar programs in Australia. There are 77 internationally recognised MBA programs available across the country.
What do MBAs teach?
The traditional MBA introduces students to the following basic business principles:
- business policy and strategy
- data analysis and statistics
- global business
- human resources management
- organisational behaviour.
You may find that this varies between institutions; some may stick to these basics, while others will offer every subject and specialisation under the sun.
Why complete an MBA?
Aside from gaining an internationally recognised qualification, there are many other reasons to undertake an MBA:
- career development — you would like to further your career in a business or qualify for high-level management roles
- change of direction — perhaps you would like to develop your business acumen after completing a science degree, or maybe you would like to swap your role as a nurse within a hospital for a role focused on hospital management
- personal development — some are simply interested in developing their general business knowledge and learning how businesses operate, rather than striving for any particular career-oriented goals.
In many cases, companies require candidates to hold an MBA or high-level business qualification to be hired for a management role or be considered for a promotion.
Top MBA programs demand a remarkable amount of work. During the first part of the program, the workload is often particularly heavy. This is often when schools try to teach all of the major functional areas of a business, as well as key skills such as communication, leadership and teamwork.
Later stages of an MBA tend to be less intense because students are permitted to take elective units that are generally less demanding than the core units (and may be more suited to their interests, pursuits and skills).
An important reason for the time pressure in the MBA program is to simulate the gruelling workload of a senior executive or entrepreneur. The heavy workload also forces students to learn how to manage their time effectively, as they would in any senior managerial position.
What to expect
In the past, key employers of MBA talent criticised programs for turning out overly theoretical graduates who were unable to make things happen and were unaware of the increasingly international dimension of business. These days, many schools make their training more relevant to businesses and global realities.
The case-study approach is a common teaching vehicle, which puts the theories studied in real-world context. Increasingly, institutions are also integrating ‘soft’ skills into their MBA programs, which aim to provide students with an understanding of negotiation, communication and group dynamics. Some programs may also incorporate a focus on ethical business practice. You will also find that many programs require students to work in small teams when completing assessments in a bid to encourage teamwork, enable students to draw on the experiences of their colleagues and simulate a work environment.
Some institutions take these group activities more seriously than others, with some schools in the US running special training programs and packing their MBA students off to destinations such as Antarctica. Here in Australia, less extreme week-long residential retreats and overseas study tours are gaining popularity as students place increasing importance on the chance to learn from their peers.
Business school accreditation
With more schools in the MBA market than ever before, many are finding new ways to set themselves apart from their competitors, not just locally but in the international market as well. Intenational accreditation schemes are very popular with business schools for this reason.
Two of the main schemes are the AACSB (run by the US-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) and its European equivalent EQUIS — the quality assurance scheme of the European Foundation for Management Development.
A rigorous and fairly costly assessment of each business school takes into account everything from academic quality (including the backgrounds and qualifications of teachers) and the corporate connections of the school to its operational integrity.
- Bond University — Bond Business School
- Monash University — Monash Business School
- Queensland University of Technology — QUT Business School
- The University of Melbourne — Melbourne Business School
- The University of Queensland — UQ Business School
- The University of South Australia — UniSA Business School
- The University of Sydney — University of Sydney Business School
- The University of Western Australia — Business School
- UNSW Australia — UNSW Business School
- Bond Business School
- Curtin University — Curtin Business School
- Deakin University — Faculty of Business and Law
- Griffith University — Griffith Business School
- Macquarie University — Macquarie Graduate School of Management
- Monash University — Faculty of Business and Economics
- Queensland University of Technology — Business School
- The University of Adelaide — Business School
- The University of Melbourne — Melbourne Business School
- The University of Queensland — UQ Business School
- The University of Sydney — University of Sydney Business School
- The University of Western Australia — UWA Business School
- University of Technology Sydney — UTS Business School
- UNSW Australia — UNSW Business School
MBA options and alternatives
The MBA has spawned or influenced the development of other programs, many of which were devised due to a perceived gap in the management education market. In addition, with the number of MBA graduates growing exponentially over the years, the demand for even more advanced and specialised management qualifications has grown.
In addition to standard programs, which provide a combination of the basic business principles (see What is an MBA? ), there are many specialised programs that tailor management education to the needs of specific industries, such as accounting, agriculture, engineering and health care. Specialist programs allow students to focus on their professional area while learning the fundamentals of business and management. Alternatively, students may wish to complete a double degree combining their MBA program with a field of interest or a program relevant to the industry in which they work (such as an MBA combined with information technology). If you are considering a double MBA, ensure that you research the workload and time commitment required, and also consult with the institutions you are considering as to whether it offers set double degrees or if there is freedom to make your own choice.
There are a number of other programs for managers, such as the Master of Engineering Management (MEM), which are aimed at people from or wanting to work in engineering, manufacturing and similar industries. Others, such as the Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MEI), are designed for people who intend to start new, innovative businesses or play a leading role in an innovative unit of an established organisation.
The executive MBA
One of the first MBA ‘spin-offs’ was the executive MBA — a typically shorter, more intensive advancement course for senior managers who, lacking tertiary academic qualifications or other prerequisites, would normally be excluded from an MBA. Cynics refer to it as an MBA for those with little time and lots of money, while others see it as a niche program for senior managers who already know many of the things taught in MBAs but who can benefit from some time out, a new learning experience and a chance to interact with peers.
Another development, for professionals who have completed an MBA or equivalent, is the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) — the fourth and final step on a cumulative qualifications ladder. With eight programs operating in Australia alone, the ‘professional doctorate’ has been touted as a worthy new academic niche by some, while others see it as an ill-conceived attempt to create a new trend in an MBA-saturated market. However, if you have the desire to pursue your studies in this field further, there’s no doubt that the DBA presents an opportunity to advance your knowledge in a way quite different from the PhD.
For those wanting to add an international dimension to the MBA, there are three options: enrolling in a local program that has international study options (such as a study tour); completing a specialised 'international' or ‘global' MBA at a local provider; or completing an MBA delivered by an Australian provider offshore.
Completing an international MBA experience can give you a more global understanding of business practice, the knowledge and skills required to run a business in a different cultural environment and the opportunity to network with professionals from across the world. Studying overseas is also a great way to set yourself apart from competitors in the job market and may give you a chance to develop your skills in a foreign language.
As with any study decision, there are a few things to consider when choosing an overseas program. You might prefer an English-speaking country, or you may have a specific business school in mind — perhaps one that offers specialisations applicable to your industry. You will also need to consider the costs involved and investigate any financial assistance options available, such as scholarships or even small bursaries to cover materials such as textbooks. While the costs of an exchange program — aside from flights and living costs — are usually covered by your home institution, completing a full MBA program overseas can be costly. With that said, the international outlook and networking opportunities you will gain may prove very worthwhile in the long run.
Choosing an MBA
When it comes to choosing an MBA, it’s not necessarily a matter of choosing the ‘best’ school. It’s more important to choose the school that best meets your needs. You can find the right institution for you by doing your research — read through course handbooks, speak to business school staff and current students, read graduate reviews and consult the ratings and institution profiles on this website. Use our MBA course search to compare MBA’s side by side and find out which option is the best for you.
We recommend that you consider the following characteristics below when choosing an MBA:
Location and facilities
A conveniently located campus makes it easier to attend classes, but also improves your access to on-campus resources and will come in handy when meeting up with staff and fellow students outside class. You should look out for modern, technologically enabled spaces to study and complete group work; a good library that offers services such as study skills workshops; an online portal that gives you access to learning materials such as online journals; and facilities such as childcare, counselling and career services.
Flexibility is paramount for students trying to fit an MBA into an already hectic schedule, so it is worth exploring which study modes are available. First there’s the question of full-time or part-time study — be sure to check whether classes are held during the day or night, and, if summer semesters are available, that classes are held on weekends or after hours. You might also want to consider mixed-mode or online and distance options. It’s helpful to investigate each institution’s delivery methods too, including their use of interactive technology such as student blogs and online classrooms.
Course structure and workload
MBAs are renowned for their heavy workload, but providers can differ in how they spread it out. Some even offer accelerated or reduced modes. Check how many years it takes to complete the course and what sort of time commitment is required. You should also see which subjects and specialisations are on offer and ensure they are relevant to your career. Many graduates say that their favourite aspects of the program were practical experiences such as field trips, group assignments and subjects that used real business case studies, so it is important to ensure that your provider offers plenty of opportunities to apply concepts to the real world.
The knowledge, experience and connections of your teachers can add a lot of value to the course. Do staff have hands-on business and management experience? If so, where did they work? Have they worked internationally? What academic qualifications do they possess? It is a good idea to do some research on your future teaching staff or get in contact with them.
The student body
Class discussions and group assignments form a significant part of MBA programs, and students often learn a lot through interaction with their peers. You might want to put some thought into who will be completing the course with you. What is the average age of your cohort? What expertise will they bring to the table? Are there any international students who have experience working overseas?
Program accreditation and corporate links
Many business schools distinguish themselves through their accreditation, which can be beneficial if you intend to work overseas in the future. Two of the main international accreditation schemes to look out for are the AACSB and EQUIS. See Business school accreditation for more information. You should also investigate your institution's corporate links as this can facilitate inspiring guest lecturers and networking opportunities. See MBA ratings for more information.
One of the major benefits of completing an MBA is the connections that you form and the constant opportunity for networking. The size and strength of the school’s alumni association is important when it comes to maintaining these links, so be sure to investigate the various alumni associations and the opportunities and events they offer for graduates.
Is an MBA worth it?
An MBA offers skills that are not ordinarily mastered on the job and aims to show how different business functions operate and are related, how companies in different industries compete, and how they manage in different environments.
A good MBA program does all this by being — in part — a boot camp for managers. Students are drilled in the basics, are forced to crunch through massive amounts of material, must cooperate and compete with a broad range of colleagues, and live life at a fast pace. The way MBAs are run ensures that students not only gain knowledge but that they learn how to handle a lot of work and pressure — skills that are essential for high-level managers. The MBA has even become a prerequisite for many of the world's most desirable jobs, as firms seek people with the managerial skill and the understanding necessary to drive their business forward.
But graduates gain more than just a set of skills and attitudes. The reputation and connections of the school awarding the MBA, along with a hard-working career services department, will usually assist graduates to find an appropriate job. The school's alumni network and any professional contacts will be long-term assets, as will the degree itself.
What MBA graduates say
There is no doubt that for many managers, additional qualifications are becoming highly desirable (even essential) to survival and success in an increasingly competitive labour market. In addition to holding strong technical skills, today’s managers must be able to influence people, interact with other departments and negotiate with people from all walks of life. An MBA provides all this and more, proving very beneficial for its graduates.
Read on to discover what real graduates have to say:
“Completing the MBA enabled me to change my career path and move into management consulting. The degree also provided opportunities for growing my professional network and exposure to various areas of business.” Jonathan — Management Consultant
“I now have a much broader understanding of the corporate world, and can understand and add value to business at a much higher scale with greater efficiency than I could do previously.” Hashim — Senior Underwriter
“The MBA has changed the way I think and look at problems both at work and in my personal life. It has provided me with the ability to sort through a lot of data to find the true source of a problem and then identify a number of different and innovative solutions." Daniel — Pharmacist
Visit our student blog section to read about what past MBA graduates have to say about their experience.
The cost–benefit analysis
Although the benefits can be terrific, any benefits that come with completing an MBA should also be set against the costs. While this certainly includes financial costs — with some MBA providers charging in excess of $70,000 for the full program — it’s just as important to consider the non-monetary costs and how they affect your decision.
As you research your options, it can help to think about the following:
- Employment and salary figures vary widely from one institution to another, as do employment prospects. It’s important to research the institutions you are considering to determine typical graduate outcomes.
- Completing an MBA usually means having to balance your time between work, study and family. Students with hectic family schedules (weekend birthday parties, sports games to attend and so on) can find that an MBA puts too much stress on family life. In these cases, you may consider undertaking a less demanding postgraduate qualification.
- MBAs differ in their program length and the time commitment required, so it’s worth thinking about the support you will receive from your employer. This may include investigating schemes your workplace has in place to fund employees' further study.
Think about the little things too, such as your travel time to class (a campus within walking distance of your office may be your best bet) and the specific subjects on offer and their delivery mode.
As with any other business decision, you should also think about opportunity costs. Is further study essential or optional? If you see it as optional, are there other and better ways of spending time and money to achieve your objectives?
Getting into an MBA
If you’ve decided that an MBA or other postgraduate management course is for you, it’s time to think about getting in. While the application process may seem daunting and overly competitive, rest assured that every institution offers different entry criteria and flexible study options — you are bound to find one that suits you.
Who offers MBAs?
MBAs and postgraduate management programs are offered by a wide range of education providers, from prestigious business schools run by Australia’s most prominent universities to specialist private providers of management education that have strong links with industry.
Universities dominate the top end of the market and claim most of the MBAs that are available. Most universities also offer management as a specialisation or 'major' within other postgraduate degrees such as the Master of Business.
Although they don’t offer MBAs, some TAFE campuses offer graduate certificate and diploma courses in management in partnership with universities, which can act as a pathway to higher management qualifications. Big selling points are wide availability and affordability.
Private higher education providers offer management course menus that are similar to those offered by universities — graduate certificates in management to MBAs with a range of specialisations. Many private providers focus specifically on the provision of business and management education, and some have grown out of professional associations and management consultancies.
Use our MBA course search to find business schools in your area that provide MBA programs
How do I get into an MBA?
Most management courses require applicants to have a mix of work experience and a previous qualification in business. However, some will be more flexible than others. For example, while some of the stricter programs require an undergraduate qualification in business or commerce and several years of experience working as a manager, others will accept students who have a relevant degree but little workplace experience. Many institutions also recognise that management experience may be of greater value than an academic background and will admit students who have ‘equivalent’ industry experience (often five years or more) at management level who do not have academic qualifications. What is accepted as 'equivalent' varies from one institution to another and from one individual to another, so it’s best to check with each institution you are considering.
Most decisions about who to admit are made by course coordinators. They look for people who are enthusiastic, persistent and determined, and many use alternative selection tools such as interviews, tests (such as the GMAT), supplementary information forms or personal essays to select the cream of the crop. Use these as an opportunity to explain why you want to complete the course and how your previous qualifications and experience have prepared you for the course (especially if you are lacking in one of these areas). See Getting into a course for more information about selection methods.
Remember that they'll be looking at what you can add to the course and its classes as well as your ability to succeed. Often, it can help to make yourself known to the course coordinator — although we would advise against pushy or constant emails, it can help to get in touch to discuss your suitability for the program and help them remember your name when it comes time to make course offers.
Getting in is one hurdle, but it is also important to ensure that you can fit an MBA into your lifestyle. Luckily, programs are becoming more flexible. While many require on-campus attendance, there are some good online and distance education courses for those who cannot afford the time or travel required for on-campus study modes.
Many on-campus programs also offer part-time options, evening classes and mixed-mode options that combine external study with intensive on-campus workshops that are completed in concentrated blocks of study (over several weekends, for example).
What is the GMAT?
The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is an aptitude test for applicants to business schools. It tests verbal, quantitative and analytical reasoning skills over three and a half hours.
Currently, 23 Australian business schools accept students with GMAT scores, although not all schools require the GMAT for entry. Many treat the test as an optional extra for those who do not meet other academic requirements — those who do not have a previous degree, for example. Check with the institutions you are interested in for details.
A tiny few of the tens of thousands who take the test each year score a perfect 800 but most Australian business schools expect a score of between 600 and 635. The smart move is to do a practice run and see whether you are likely to get the score required. Practice tests are available on the official GMAT website and can be downloaded at a small cost.
The GMAT exam
The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test with software that calculates your score based on the number of questions you answer correctly, the difficulty of the questions you answer and the number of questions you complete.
It consists of four sections:
- the analytical writing assessment, which consists of an essay
- the quantitative section, which consists of 37 multiple-choice questions that measure data sufficiency and problem-solving
- the verbal section, which contains 41 questions testing reading comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction
- the integrated reasoning section, which contains 12 questions on multi-source reasoning, graphics interpretation, two-part analysis and table analysis.
Australian test centres
The GMAT is administered in test centres in selected cities and universities throughout the year under the sponsorship of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). For further information about the GMAT, visit the GMAC website. To find out when and where you can take the test, visit the official GMAT website.
The GMAT exam - why and how
When it comes to applying for business school there are many aspects to an application that must be considered.The GMAT exam is accepted by more than 2000 business schools globally, including 29 Australian institutions. There are many reasons to take the GMAT exam:
- For many leading business schools, it is a requirement to submit a GMAT score with your application.
- Preparing for the GMAT gets you into study and testing mode, and helps refresh your knowledge of key business concepts.
- A GMAT score allows you to stand out on your application.
When studying for the GMAT exam, there are no magic formulas, no secrets, no tricks — just planning and preparation.
The GMAT exam assesses your reasoning skills — specifically quantitative, verbal, analytical writing and integrated reasoning — and was designed to measure the skills you will need to succeed in business school.
1. Make time to prepare
The number one question most candidates ask is 'How much time should I spend studying for the GMAT exam?'. Using data collected from more than 2500 GMAT test takers, we know that 52 per cent of test takers spent at least 51 hours prepping for the exam.
On average, those who do better on the GMAT exam tend to spend more time studying for it. Use the information in the charts as a guideline.
2. Gather information about your target programs
There are 29 institutions in Australia that accept GMAT scores as part of the application process. Identify the schools to which you want to apply and check their application deadlines and admission requirements. Explore our program search to find specific information on schools and programs.
3. Register for the GMAT exam and develop a study plan
Keeping in mind school application deadlines, register for the exam . The further in advance you register, the greater your choice of available exam dates. Develop a study plan that lists not just when but also what you’ll study. Think about how you can best prepare, given your discipline, motivation and personal preference (for example, self-study, one-to-one tutoring, study groups and prep courses).
4. Familiarise yourself with the test structure, format and types of questions you will face
Learn about the GMAT exam structure and get an overview of the four exam sections: Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing Assessment. Download and use the free GMATPrep® software with 90 free practice questions (including Quantitative, Verbal and Integrated Reasoning question types) to access answer explanations and two full-length practice tests based on retired questions from the official GMAT exam.
5. Start studying
Study for the GMAT exam until you are comfortable with the test question formats, timing and pace. You may want to start out with our Official Guide for GMAT® Review, 13th Edition .
For more test-taking strategies and advice on mistakes to avoid in the GMAT exam, see Prepare for the GMAT®.