Whether or not you need an MBA to run a business is an age-old debate. Clearly it's not compulsory, as huge numbers of people manage without one. That said, it can really help you understand management practise and give you a more in-depth understanding of business. This guide looks at:

  • What the MBA is
  • How long it takes and how it's taught
  • Whether it's worth it
  • Choosing a course

What the MBA is

An MBA is Masters in Business Administration. It teaches in-depth business lessons, looking at all aspects of management and includes teaching on how to exploit markets, communicate, manage finances and structure a business. It's aimed at those who already have two to three years of business experience and want to refine and improve their skills. It can cost anything from £5,000 to £31,000 per year.

  • Teaches in-depth business lessons and all aspect s of management
  • Aimed at those with two to three years of business experience

How long it takes and how it's taught

It usually takes one to two years full-time, but may take longer studied part-time. You can also study in your own time with an institution such as the Open University, who gear courses specifically towards people who want to achieve the qualification outside the hours of their job. This may take up to four years. It can be taught in a number of different ways, including the traditional university lecture and seminar style, in real-world business situations , self-study and via computer simulations allowing you to formulate and test business strategies.

  • Taken one to two years full-time, usually longer part-time or self-taught
  • Teaching style ranges from lectures to self-study to real-life situation

Whether it's worth it

An MBA is hard work, particularly in the first half of the course. It's also expensive. Whether or not it's worth it really depends on what kind of business you want to run. Some people say that an MBA is for managers, not entrepreneurs, as it's very much focused on tried-and-tested management strategies rather than the risk-taking approach taken by more maverick entrepreneurs. That said, if you're hoping to run a business with tens to hundreds of employees, it can be well worth learning how to structure you company. If you're only looking to run a business with a few people, in-depth management tuition may not be necessary, although learning how to exploit markets and push your product won't hurt. Consider whether the value you get from an MBA justifies the cost and time of completing it, and whether your ambitions match the aggressive business success it encourages.

  • Can be better to suited to managers that entrepreneurs
  • Depends on how aggressive you want your business growth to be
  • Balance the value it will add to your business knowledge with the cost and time it requires

Choosing a course

There are hundreds of different institutions offering MBAs. When making a decision, look carefully at entrance requirements, location, price and whether the structure of the course suits you and the hours you can put in. It's well worth talking things over with the course administrator - ask how the course ranks and where graduates have ended up to get a feel for the quality of teaching. Look at or the Guardian website's course finder, or just search Google.

  • Look at entrance requirement, location, cost and hours
  • Talk to course administrator
  • Look online to find courses

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