MBAs for Small Business Entrepreneurs
As an entrepreneur, you may wonder if earning a Master of Business Administration, or MBA, would give you the edge you need to build a successful venture.
But when you’re running a business, going to school at the same time might not seem feasible. MBA programs can be expensive, requiring money that entrepreneurs often don’t have, said Joseph Cabral, an associate professor of entrepreneurship at Louisiana State University. Nearly half of students at the top business schools across the globe plan to borrow at least $100,000 to fund their education, according to Bloomberg. The time commitment that schoolwork entails could also be an obstacle for entrepreneurs who already have a business up and running.
“Whereas the MBA could improve performance in the long term, there’s a good probability it may stunt business performance in the short term while attention and resources are dedicated elsewhere,” Cabral said.
However, the skills learned through an MBA program could be invaluable to your small business. Critical thinking, persuasion, motivation and presentation skills would be instrumental in growing your business, Cabral said. Some of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face involve “people problems,” like motivating employees, understanding your competition and landing new clients, he said.
If you’re considering enrolling in an MBA program as an entrepreneur, we’ll discuss which schools and programs you may want to consider, as well as how an MBA could affect your role as a business owner.
MBAs for entrepreneurs
If you’re interested in a formal education, check out these MBA programs for entrepreneurs that may be well-suited for those who are already leading their own business. We selected programs that offer online courses and appear on top MBA rankings from outlets like U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review.
1. Kelley School of Business at Indiana University – Bloomington
The online MBA program at the Kelley School of Business is The Princeton Review’s top choice for online MBAs. The program has a 78% acceptance rate and the average age of applicants is 32 years old.
Either GMAT or GRE scores are required to apply, unless you have five years of full-time professional experience. The MBA program requires students to complete 54 credit hours, and tuition costs $1,380 per credit hour, totaling $74,520. The program also calls for a $75 application fee.
2. Kenan-Flagler School of Business at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Kenan-Flagler School of Business’s online MBA ranks high on both The Princeton Review and U.S. News lists. Tuition for the 62 credit-hour program currently costs $125,589.06, and admitted students must also pay a non-refundable enrollment deposit of $1,500 to reserve their spot. The program typically takes two years to complete, though students could graduate in 18 to 36 months.
GMAT or GRE test scores are required to apply, unless you have six or more years of professional experience. Applicants must have at least two years of professional experience, as well as an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university. You would also need to pay a $150 application fee. The school accepts applications on a rolling basis and offers four opportunities each year to begin classes.
3. Hough Graduate School of Business at the University of Florida
The online MBA program from the Hough Graduate School of Business takes 20 to 21 months to complete. The school appears on both The Princeton Review and US News rankings. A hybrid 16-month program is also available for students who received an undergraduate degree in business in the last seven years and can attend some on-campus classes. The hybrid program requires 32 credits, compared to 48 credits in the online-only program.
The online MBA program costs $59,807.52, while the hybrid program costs $49,204.80. Applicants must submit GMAT or GRE scores and must have at least two years of full-time professional experience. Classes begin in January, May and August each year.
4. Lehigh University College of Business
Lehigh’s Flex MBA program earned the school the top spot on Student Loan Hero’s list of best business schools for avoiding debt. (Note: Student Loan Hero is owned by LendingTree.) Annual tuition and fees total about $19,000. The Flex MBA part-time program can be completed online or on campus, or both. Students are admitted on a rolling basis for fall, spring or summer semesters. GMAT or GRE test scores are required, unless you have 10 years of professional experience or you already have a master’s or doctorate degree plus six years of professional experience. The application also comes with a $75 fee.
5. Oklahoma City University
Oklahoma City University also ranks high on Student Loan Hero’s list of low-debt business schools. The Leadership MBA is a two-year online program that requires 36 credit hours and costs $27,900 to complete. Tuition is $590 per credit hour, totaling $21,240 for the required 12 three-hour courses. Additional general fees are $150 per credit hour, and an online course fee is $105 per course. GMAT or GRE scores are not required to apply, but you would need an undergraduate degree with a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher. Three years of professional experience is also preferred.
Should small business owners get an MBA?
There’s more than one way for business owners to be successful, Cabral said. Entrepreneurship is about finding creative ways to gather resources and pursue opportunities, he said, including higher education.
“Everyone has their own learning styles or environments where they are more likely to excel, so to prescribe an MBA as being a necessity is misguided,” Cabral said.
Hands-on experience could be more beneficial for entrepreneurs who are early in the cycle of launching a business, said Ryan Paugh, cofounder of Young Entrepreneurs Council.
“Books and instructors, those things cannot always teach you what you need to know,” Paugh said. “The books and the lessons do not always apply. Going back and getting your MBA too early is a mistake.”
Before jumping into an MBA program, you may want to ask yourself a few questions:
What do you want from your education?
An MBA program should be more than just a heightened version of an undergraduate degree program, Cabral said. However, you would receive a crash course in topics like accounting, finance and operations, which would be helpful if you didn’t study business in undergraduate school. As mentioned earlier, MBA programs teach critical thinking skills and offer alternate perspectives that may be useful when running a business.
“Students spend hours discussing [case studies] as a group, what everyone interprets as being important and what their critical thinking process entailed,” Cabral said. “While someone could learn by themselves ‘on the job,’ they only know what they did and why, but they miss seeing the decisions others would have made if they were in the situation.”
How much time can you spend away from the business?
When you start a business, it will likely consume much of your life for the first few years until you can afford to hire people to take on some of the responsibilities, Paugh said. An MBA program could require you to attend classes in a traditional classroom setting and you would likely have to complete a class project each semester. Even if you complete all or a majority of coursework online, keeping up with business demands and coursework simultaneously could prove challenging for new entrepreneurs, Paugh noted: “It’s naïve to think you can handle all that.”
What alternative educational opportunities would you consider?
An MBA may not be practical because of the large price tag and commitment, but there are other affordable and flexible ways to further your business education, Cabral said.
Online platforms like edX offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are typically free, at well-known schools throughout the world. In particular, edX was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both known for their respective business programs. Author Laurie Pickard used MOOCs to piece together her own business education, coining the term “no-pay MBA.”
Many schools, including most of those listed above, offer business certificate programs. Certificate programs typically take less time, are less expensive and generally don’t require prerequisites. However, certificates are quite different from a master’s, which may be required for certain positions or licenses and give degree holders mastery in their field. Still, if you’re looking to gain a certain skill quickly, certificate programs could be a faster, cheaper option.
You could also find a mentor to offer guidance or meet with other entrepreneurs in your community to discuss their experiences, Paugh said. You could find city-sponsored business classes or workshops in your area as well.
“I have nothing but respect for people who pursue an MBA and want to enrich themselves,” Paugh said. But, he added, “it’s not a prerequisite for entrepreneurial success.”
Costs listed in this article are accurate as of the date of publishing.