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MBAs: What You Need to Know About the Most Popular Master's DegreeThis is the first in a series of informational articles for working adults who are considering a master’s degree. We kick things off with MBA and will follow with articles about master’s in accounting, education, public administration, higher education administration, and counseling & human services. Next week’s article is MBA: Is it Worth the Investment?

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a professional, advanced degree that applies science to the art of management. MBA programs are built on a foundation of core studies that include:

  • Accounting
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Management
  • International business
  • Business law

The MBA was created at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business in 1900. The world’s first graduate school of management had a four-student class back then. In 2016, U.S. universities handed out more than 185,000 master’s degrees in business administration, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, as cited in Bloomberg. That’s more than the number of degrees in medicine and law combined.

Business degrees continue to offer students the best return per instructional dollar. In a 2015 interview with Fortune, Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, said: “I believe that full-time MBA programs are the best vehicles by which young people can develop the leadership qualities that allow them to meet the monumental challenges of tomorrow’s business environment.”

An MBA for everyone

One of the reasons for the MBA’s popularity is the great flexibility the degree offers. Students build a diverse set of transferable skills while developing leadership abilities that are applicable to a wide range of industries and positions. Ideal for people hoping to change careers and follow their passions, the MBA makes it easy to transition across departments and into other industries.

This highly sought-after interdisciplinary degree allows students to deepen their understanding of business management and leadership and fine-tune their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students find it easy to move into specialized fields that reflect their interests and deeper career aspirations by tailoring their programs to specific concentrations such as healthcare leadership, sports management, international business, ecommerce, project management, and entrepreneurship.

MBAs are also in great demand from startups and nonprofit organizations. If you feel like you’ve hit a dead-end in your current job, an MBA might be your ticket to a fulfilling new career path. A survey by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) shows that approximately two-thirds of MBA graduates use their degree to change careers. There’s no shortage of opportunity when you’re armed with an MBA from an accredited school.

Is an MBA worth the commitment?

Professionals who obtain an MBA overwhelmingly find the accomplishment highly rewarding — personally, professionally, and financially. The most recent survey of MBA alumni by the GMAC shows that 95 percent of recent business school alumni consider their graduate management education a good to outstanding value. These findings are based on responses from 14,651 graduate business school alumni working in 46 countries worldwide. Nearly all of the survey respondents are employed still: 80 percent for an organization and 11 percent in charge of their own businesses. Other findings from the 2016 alumni survey include:

  • Ninety-three percent said their education was personally rewarding
  • Ninety-one percent considered it professionally rewarding
  • Seventy-six percent of alumni agree their education was financially rewarding
  • Eighty-six percent said their education prepared them for leadership positions
  • Eighty-two percent stated it increased earning power
  • Ninety-two percent would still pursue an MBA knowing what they know now

Online or on-campus?

Online MBA programs have become increasingly more popular and widely accepted by employers over the last decade because the quality of an online MBA education at many institutions is equivalent to one on a physical campus, notes U.S. News & World Report.

Taking full advantage of constantly evolving technology, online MBA programs are tailored to today’s business professional working a full-time job, often with family obligations. By removing barriers such as unrealistic time commitments and high costs, online MBAs are often an affordable and manageable option for many adult students.

Traditional on-campus programs usually require a full-time commitment and offer an immersive and concentrated two-year program for those who’ve recently earned a bachelor’s degree. Industry experts agree that how you get your MBA is not nearly as important as the reputation of the institution and its accreditation.