5 Alternatives to the Traditional MBA

For decades, the MBA has been the gold standard in business degrees. A Master of Business Administration is supposed to prepare students for a fast-paced career in business leadership, and many MBA programs all but guarantee their graduates advanced positions in prestigious organizations.

Yet, the expectations many students have for MBAs are often highly inflated. In truth, because so many MBA grads are entering the workforce, the power of the degree is beginning to wane. Even worse, in an attempt to churn more and more students through their programs, many business schools have watered down their MBA courses, resulting in professionals with credentials that do not adequately describe their level of knowledge and skill. These issues, in addition to the consideration that MBA programs can be expensive — and can interfere with a student’s ability to maintain full-time employment — are compelling many would-be MBA students to look for alternatives.

Fortunately, there are a few different ways to earn comparable knowledge and skill to traditional MBA programs without wasting time and money in a business school classroom. Business professionals and college students might consider these options for improving their credentials and boosting their careers:


Almost everyone is familiar with the concept of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which anyone with any level of business or academic experience can access. There are many benefits to MOOCs, including their low cost and widespread accessibility, and because There are many thousands of MOOCs online, there is almost certain to be a MOOC covering most topics available as courses in traditional MBA programs.

However, with MOOCs, students tend to get what they pay for. Few instructors will engage with students participating in MOOCs, which means students must learn solely with the information provided in lectures and assigned readings. Because MOOCs need to be accessible to students with a wide range of experience levels, many MOOCs do not go beyond introductory levels of explanation. What’s more, MOOCs rarely offer credentials that students include in their resumes. A MOOC might be a useful tool for a student who needs a foundation of knowledge in a particular area of business administration, but for more robust career gains, professionals need to turn to a different MBA option.

Mini MBA

A full-time MBA degree program usually requires students to complete around 60 credit hours, which ensures a robust understanding of business concepts. For students who do not have the time or interest in full MBA might instead pursue a mini MBA, which usually requires between 30 and 40 credit hours — which means it can be obtained in as little as six months.

Most universities that offer a traditional MBA program will have some mini MBA option. The mini MBA is ideal for students who are looking for instruction on business essentials or else specialized training in specific administrative fields. Often, previous MBA grads enroll in mini MBA programs later in their careers to refresh their knowledge and get up-to-date on trends.

MBA Certificates

One of the most popular alternatives to the traditional MBA, an MBA certificate is earned through focused coursework in a particular field. Many MBA certificate programs involve multiple courses, but some involve just a single class.

Certificates are useful to professionals who need to demonstrate competencies on application materials. Thus, many students considering enrolling in specialized MBA degree programs opt instead for MBA certificates. Some of the most popular MBA certificate programs include:

  • Business analytics
  • Finance
  • Human resource management
  • Leadership
  • Marketing

Online Accelerated Programs

Accelerated programs offer all the benefits of a traditional MBA — in less than half the time. An accelerated MBA program can be completed in as little as 12 months, and more targeted accelerated management programs require as little as 8 weeks to complete. Unlike the mini MBA or MBA certifications, accelerated programs are recognized as true MBA programs, but because they are online and occur over a much shorter period of time, they can be more affordable and easier for working professionals to fit into their busy schedules.

Real-world Experience

The MBA is not what it once was, and employers know it. While advanced degrees and specialized credentials continue to hold some cachet in hiring, employers most often prefer applicants who have essential real-world experience. Professionals should always prioritize working in industry and supplement their on-the-job experience with education as their schedule allows.

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