Is an MBA Hard? How to Survive the Grind — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
9 min readMay 3, 2023

Many business professionals pursue an MBA to improve their career prospects and develop their leadership, business, and management abilities. However, the difficulty of earning an MBA depends on various factors such as the school, program, attendance schedule, field of study, and more. Therefore, there is no definitive answer to this question.

When people talk about getting an MBA, the usual response is, “Oh, that must be tough,” and they are right. However, the difficulties are not insurmountable, and it is worth it in the end. As a student getting an MBA, there is a sense of belonging and shared pain among classmates, and it is often this shared struggle that brings everyone closer together. Yes, an MBA is hard work, but it is more than just a degree; it is an experience that shapes you as a person.

MBA Degree: The Basics

The MBA (Master’s in Business Administration) is a well-respected business degree that has been around for over 100 years. It’s recognized globally and having an MBA can enhance a resume.

The MBA degree has a good reputation, as it is mentioned on the resumes of many Fortune 500 executives. People who apply for this degree usually have around four or five years of work experience and are looking to advance in their careers.

The MBA program equips students with the theoretical and practical knowledge necessary for success in the business world. The program comprises core and elective courses designed for future business leaders, helping them navigate the fast-paced business management environment.

If you’re aiming for top-notch positions in well-known companies or planning on establishing your own business, an MBA is a commonly preferred option. Pursuing an MBA can be beneficial in achieving your career objectives and advancing in the corporate world.

The Full-Time MBA

Completing a full-time MBA program typically takes two to three years, but some accelerated programs can be completed in one year. These programs usually require full weekday attendance, so students cannot work a full-time job while studying.

Full-time MBA programs offer ample opportunities for students to network and collaborate with their peers. It’s important to note that tuition fees for top business schools offering full-time programs can vary greatly, with costs ranging from around $60,000 to over $120,000 for a two-year program.

The Part-Time MBA

The length of a part-time MBA program differs based on the program and schedule. Usually, it takes around two to six years to finish. Part-time programs usually take place on weekends or weekday evenings. Some hybrid models combine these options and allow for online classes as well.

If you have other commitments like a full-time job or family responsibilities, a part-time MBA might be a good option for you.

The Executive MBA

EMBAs are designed for individuals who have significant work experience and hold senior or high-level management positions. They typically take about two years to complete on a part-time basis.

These degrees can be quite expensive, sometimes even more expensive than a full-time MBA. Employers generally cover only a portion of the tuition costs and may require you to commit to staying with the company for a specific period after graduation by signing a contract.

How Hard Is an MBA?

Firstly, an MBA program is highly rigorous, but it is also very rewarding. An MBA program is intensive and demands a lot of your time and effort. From attending lectures, solving case studies, reading numerous books, and working on group projects, you will hardly have time left for socializing. Plus, the course content is challenging, covering a range of topics from economics and finance, to marketing and research methodologies. But, an MBA program also provides a platform to explore your potential and gain knowledge, and leadership skills to succeed in any industry.

It is difficult to determine the difficulty level of obtaining an MBA because it varies depending on the individual. Here are some factors to consider when deciding how challenging it may be for you to complete an MBA.

Time Management is Key

The biggest struggle that students face when pursuing an MBA is time management. With classes, projects, and case studies, students are required to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. Prioritizing your assignments and studying efficiently can help you build the necessary time-management skills. It means creating more time for your studies by removing unimportant activities like excessive socializing, binge-watching TV shows, or playing video games. Mastering this skill means that you will be required to be meticulous with your calendar and learn when to say no.

It is important to get a planner or use the calendar app on your device to manage your MBA schedule effectively. The program can be very demanding, especially at the start, and being organized is crucial during this period. You may have to sacrifice some sleep and keep the fridge empty, but it’s worth it to keep everything in order.

If you’re trying to juggle multiple responsibilities while pursuing an MBA, it can be challenging. However, having a well-planned schedule that divides your time effectively can minimize feelings of being swamped and enable you to handle tasks as they arise more efficiently.

Collaboration is Key

Collaboration plays a pivotal role when pursuing an MBA. The ability to work constructively with your peers is a critical skill that business school emphasizes, and it is a concept that organizations identify with. Therefore, failure to develop this skill is going to affect you adversely. Keep in mind that the students in your class come from various academic and professional backgrounds, which means that they have diverse perspectives. Working with them enables you to widen your understanding of concepts and solutions.

You will have to learn how to collaborate with peers with different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences to complete group assignments and case studies. The importance of teamwork is not only a crucial factor in MBA but is significant in the corporate world too. You will learn how to communicate effectively, negotiate, and build relationships with others. You will come out of the program as not only a good team player but as an effective team leader, able to inspire and motivate your team.

Learning is Key

Seek to learn as much as you can not just in your class, but from real-world experiences. Listen to talks by industry professionals, participate in case competitions, and attend networking events. Opportunity surrounds MBA students, and it is important to access as much as they can. Learning doesn’t stop with classroom coursework, and it is imperative to make the most of all the available opportunities in and outside the classroom.

To better gauge the difficulty level of an MBA, it’s advisable to analyze the courses that you plan to take or that you’re interested in. You may come across some courses that are comparatively more demanding, such as accounting and economics, management communications, capstone courses, or practical projects.

In accounting and economics classes, numbers, mathematics, and statistics will play a significant role, which some students may not fully expect. These courses cover complex concepts such as regression analysis and managerial economics. However, if you have strong analytical skills and enjoy challenging mathematics, you may find these classes more manageable.

If you don’t have a strong math background, you might struggle with MBA classes that focus on math-related topics. On the other hand, courses in management and communications require good writing and speaking skills and an understanding of marketing strategies and psychology. If you’re already proficient in these areas, these classes might not be as difficult for you as the more math-focused courses.

Capstone courses or practical projects are usually the last courses in MBA programs. They require students to use their theoretical knowledge to solve practical problems by completing a project of their design and structure. It is a way to demonstrate the student’s abilities.

The projects can be challenging as they take a lot of time and require you to use all the knowledge and skills you have gained in the program to create a concise conclusion. To do these projects well, you’ll need to have a strong understanding of the material and the ability to apply it effectively.

The courses required to obtain an MBA degree can present challenging material. These courses cover new ideas, concepts, and subjects that may be difficult to understand, even for high-achieving students. If you find yourself struggling, don’t hesitate to seek help from professors, peers, or other academic resources. With the right approach, you can overcome any challenging subject matter.

Adaptability is Key

The world is unpredictable, and MBA students need to be prepared to adapt. Being rigid in your approach to solutions makes it difficult to handle situations when things don’t go as planned. A successful MBA student is flexible, can pivot, and can adjust to changing situations quickly. In business school, students are challenged to think outside of the box, and that is because to solve real-world problems; there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all solution to any problem. By embracing this reality, you gain the ability to approach situations with fully developed complex problem-solving skills.

Attending a full-time MBA program may require you to relocate to a new state or city, which can be daunting. Take some time before the program starts to explore your new neighborhood or city. Additionally, get to know your new campus and available resources to feel more comfortable on the first day of classes and beyond.

Networking is Key

Networking is an essential aspect of MBA programs. MBA programs offer you a lifetime opportunity to meet and interact with other aspiring professionals, alumni, and business leaders. Networking is a powerful tool, where you can learn from others, hear about the latest industry trends, and enhance your career opportunities. Your fellow peers and professors are your biggest assets not only in your MBA but in your professional career too. They may introduce you to potential recruiters, share job openings, or provide a reference letter when you are seeking employment.

One of the key benefits of pursuing an MBA is also the opportunity to establish valuable connections and friendships with fellow students from diverse backgrounds. This can not only broaden your cultural and global understanding but also provide you with a support system to navigate the challenges and pressures of business school. Remember that your peers are likely experiencing similar stresses, so rely on each other to help make your MBA journey a success.

Practice is Key

The MBA program is not only about textbooks and case studies, but it is also about practical experience. An MBA program offers several opportunities to gain practical knowledge, including internships and real-world projects. You will have the opportunity to work on real projects with different companies and industries, to understand their operations, finances, and management strategies. These experiences help you to build your practical knowledge and apply these skills after graduation when you join the workforce.

Perseverance is Key

Finally, perseverance is an essential character trait for MBA students. The road ahead will always have challenges, and being able to face them head-on is necessary. On several occasions, people drop out of MBA programs, leaving a small but dedicated group. The small group of students demonstrates grit and the ability to adapt to challenges as they arise. It is often this perseverance that stands out the most among successful MBA alumni.

The Bottom Line

The road to an MBA degree is challenging and difficult, but it offers many rewards. The most important takeaway from this blog post is that you don’t have to go through the process alone.

Find a support system of professionals, family, and friends who can help you achieve your goals and provide guidance in your journey. With dedication and perseverance, completing an MBA program is possible. Take time to create strategies and be organized to stay motivated while balancing school, family, and career life.

Finally, if you are still feeling overwhelmed with the application process, don’t forget to check out our MBA application services. The Admit Lab is here to help — as you take steps toward your dream of obtaining an MBA degree.

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Dr. Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Dr. Barr spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Dr. Barr has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on May 3, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/