What is an MBA?

What is an MBA?
SEEK content teamupdated on 17 February, 2024

If you’ve had any contact with the corporate world, chances are you’ve heard talk about MBAs. An MBA is a postgraduate degree that covers aspects of leadership, management and economics for businesses. It’s a course people take to drive their careers to a more senior level. 

The average age for MBA students in Australia is 30 to 35, as most have several years of work experience behind them. However, it’s never too early to plan for one (nor too late) as they’re a significant time and cost commitment – so the sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll have your qualification. 

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about MBA programs, how one could help you advance your career, and if an MBA degree is the right next step for you.

What does MBA stand for?

MBA stands for Master of Business Administration. The MBA is different from other masters programs in that it is an advanced graduate degree for professionals with work experience, while a regular master’s degree is an extra year of study that’s normally tacked onto the end of an undergraduate degree.  

The MBA was created in the early 1900s to meet the demand for business execs. Today, it’s considered the gold standard qualification for executives. 

What do you learn? What is an MBA about?

What you learn in an MBA depends on the individual MBA’s focus and the university you attend. MBAs in Australia begin with the same generalist subjects, then students get to choose their electives – like finance or marketing – based on their preferences from the foundational and core courses. 

While your specialisation will give you specific skills and knowledge, the core subjects give you transferable skills for any industry. Some core MBA studies include:

  • Strategy
  • Leadership and management
  • Marketing for managers
  • Financial analytics
  • Technology and innovation
  • Business data analytics
  • Business consulting

In the US you may be able to choose an MBA in your area or industry of interest, however in Australia the range of MBA options is more limited. It’s also important to note that an MBA is as much about networking as it is about knowledge, so it’s vitally important to choose a university with a good reputation in your field. The top MBA programs in Australia have competitive entry requirements. 

How you’ll learn in an MBA

A typical MBA program includes:

  • Theoretical and practical learning
  • Individual and group projects
  • Hard and soft skills
  • Real-world placements and business simulations

Throughout your MBA course you’ll be required to do group assignments, presentations, individual exams, in-depth case studies and practical assessments. 

What is an MBA for? 

There are many reasons for enrolling in an MBA program. The most common is for career progression and increased earnings. An MBA not only teaches you advanced leadership, management and business-operation skills, it shows potential employers that you are career focussed. Through your studies you will also be introduced to prominent local business leaders, which can help you find roles in management and leadership yourself.

An MBA can also help entrepreneurs launch or expand their own businesses. By teaching best practices in operations, business economics and leadership, and providing a network of like-minded professionals, an MBA can help business owners scale their companies, find funding, forge partnerships and establish themselves in their industry. 

Aside from career progression and business expertise, an MBA helps hone people skills and connects graduates to other professionals to build relationships that could prove mutually beneficial.

What are the entry requirements of an MBA?

The entry requirements for an MBA differ between institutions, but all require either a degree or relevant work experience, plus a GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Not all MBAs in Australia have a GMAT requirement, but those that do are generally considered more reputable.

To apply for an MBA you may need:

  • An undergraduate degree of 3 or 4 years minimum from a recognised tertiary institution 


  • Demonstrated proficiency in analytical, quantitative, verbal and writing skills, etc. through a GMAT score of 560 or more or a GRE of 310 or more.

You will likely also need:

  • Academic transcripts
  • Evidence of citizenship or residency
  • Names and contact details of professional referees
  • A personal statement or essay outlining why you wish to be considered for an MBA

If you have a particular university or MBA program you’d like to be considered for, it’s best to check their website or contact the program advisor for more information. Also research MBA rankings to learn which are the most highly regarded in Australia.

Different types of MBA programs

When considering an MBA, you need to consider the type of MBA degree that will help you reach your career goals. Here are some common types of MBA programs: 

  1. MBA (General): business management and foundational skills, for business owners, entrepreneurs and anyone seeking career progression.
  2. MBA (Specialisation): foundational business knowledge plus industry-specific skills, for professionals advancing within their industry, business consultants and new business developers.
  3. MBA (Dual Specialisation): expertise in two complementary areas, without extra coursework, for people with two interest areas.
  4. Executive MBA (EMBA): An MBA program designed for people with extensive professional experience.

Understanding the core of MBA programs

At its core, an MBA is designed to teach people leadership skills and business principles, whether for their own business or to advance their careers. In an MBA program, you learn finance, marketing strategy, operations management, data analytics and other skills, combined with theory and practical experience. 

The best MBA programs will also evolve to address technological advances and global trends that affect business. This includes coursework that covers the impacts of AI, renewable energy, ethical leadership, and conservation and sustainability.

How much does an MBA cost?

The average MBA in Australia costs $60,643, with programs ranging from $16,000 to $145,000. Every course has different inclusions, though most provide course materials, like soft copies of textbooks. You would be expected to provide your own computer, and pay for your own accommodation and travel. While MBA students in Australia don’t qualify for student concessions, they do get access to discounted or free campus facilities like the gym, library, printers and study spaces. Online courses can help reduce costs by attending MBA classes virtually, though you miss out on the networking benefits of the program.

Many universities also offer partial and full scholarships for MBA programs. Depending on your university, there may be scholarships for women and industry leaders, as well as academic scholarships for high GMAT scores. Aside from university scholarships, you might also find MBA scholarships provided by partnering businesses and corporate sponsors. 

Another way to pay for an MBA is to apply for a FEE-HELP loan from the Australian Government. FEE-HELP loans are like HECS debt – they’re paid off through your tax when your Repayment Income goes above a certain threshold.  

Calculating your MBA return on investment

MBAs are expensive and take considerable effort – but gaining an MBA degree can add exponential value to your career. You hone your skills, expand your network, increase your earning power, and get access to new career opportunities. Calculating your expected return on investment (ROI) on your MBA can help you weigh up if it’s the right option for you.

A simplified way to calculate your MBA ROI, is to subtract your projected salary after an MBA from the cost of your MBA. Look at job boards and find the salary range of the roles you’re aspiring for and that will give you an idea of your return on investment. 

How long does an MBA take?

How long your MBA takes depends on if you’re studying full time or part time, and if you’re undertaking an Executive MBA. A full-time MBA and Executive MBA will typically take from 1 to 2 years to complete, while a part-time MBA will take between two to five years. 

Whether you study a full-time or part-time MBA is up to you and what fits around your commitments. For a recent university graduate or someone with financial support, it makes sense to do a full-time MBA. Someone who works full time or has other commitments, will probably have to join a part-time MBA. 


  • Full-time: 1–2 years
  • Part-time: 2–5 years
  • Executive: 1–2 years

Typical students

  • Full-time: graduates and professionals
  • Part-time: working professionals
  • Executive: mid-to-senior level managers

Course Structure

  • Full-time: 3–4 days per week (no evenings or weekends) 
  • Part-time: evening and weekend classes
  • Executive: modular (weekdays or weekends)

Work experience

  • Full-time: 2–5 years
  • Part-time: 3–5 years
  • Executive: 10+ years


  • Full-time: broad, foundational 
  • Part-time: broad, foundational 
  • Executive: senior management

Networking opportunities

  • Full-time: extensive
  • Part-time: limited by time
  • Executive: high level, executive

Career trajectories: the impact of an MBA

An MBA degree can help fast-track your career. It will give you the skills, knowledge and network to take on managerial or directorial roles in your industry. Some common opportunities unlocked by an MBA include:

Examples of people with MBA degrees

Phil Knight (Nike)

Phil Knight was in the U.S. military and worked in accounting before enrolling in an MBA degree. It wasn’t long after graduating that on a trip to Japan he made a deal with a running-shoe brand to distribute their shoes in the U.S. In 1964, he founded Nike, which is worth US$184.99 billion today. 

Melinda Gates

Co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda enrolled in an MBA to follow an undergraduate degree in computer science and economics. She went on to become the marketing manager of Microsoft, and helped build the travel site Expedia.

Australian public figures

Politician and former trade unionist Bill Shorten completed an MBA at Melbourne Business School. Former Liberal MP Fiona Scott is an alumna of the Australian Graduate School of Management at UNSW. There are countless more examples of MBA graduates across Australian government and industry. 

If you want to set yourself apart from the crowd and give your career a boost, an MBA degree can help in more ways than one. Learning advanced leadership skills and business administration is just part of it – making professional connections and gaining an internationally recognised qualification will propel you even further.

With full-time and part-time study options available, as well as in-person and online study, modern MBA programs are more flexible than ever. Just remember to research different universities, MBAs and scholarships to see which one will be the best investment for you.
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