MBA business professional

Is an MBA Tough? How Hard is an MBA Really?

In some ways, a Master of Business Administration is tough. You need the time, financial resources, intellectual capacity, experience and energy to get through the program. But how hard is an MBA really?

Well, you don’t have to be academically brilliant to get an MBA. Some smarts are required, no doubt, but emotional intelligence is perhaps as important. You need to be able to organise yourself, including your schedule, and find motivation.

Let’s go through the main challenges of getting an MBA and how to overcome them. Difficulties can be minimised or avoided by approaching MBA studies the right way.

Is Putting in the Weekly Study Hours Difficult?

Time pressure

Finding the time each week for MBA study could be easy or difficult depending on your commitments. But, as long as you have some free time, you can make an arrangement that is manageable.

Let’s assume you study at a campus. For a full-time load of four units, you are looking at about 30 hours of study each week to get decent grades. That’s doable as long as you don’t work or only work part-time.

You could halve study hours to 15 hour a week by studying part-time. After accounting for time travelling to and from classes, this would still be difficult to combine with full-time employment.

A rule-of-thumb for getting an MBA is that you need 7.5 hours per week for each subject. If it’s an online course with several study periods annually, about 10 hours per week for each subject is needed. Adjust these times if you study especially fast or slow.

Most MBA students in Australia now choose to study online. They also normally do one subject at a time, meaning they put in about 10 hours weekly. These hours can be scheduled any time, including evenings and weekends.

Students enrolled in online courses are able to keep working. US News estimated that 91% of online MBA candidates had full-time jobs. Many online MBA students are parents as well. They prove every week that it’s possible to get an MBA with limited time.

Is Grinding All the Way Through an MBA Hard?

Female endurance athlete

A suggestion for anyone nervous at the idea of committing to an MBA is to start with a Graduate Certificate in Business Administration. Completing the first four units of a 12-unit MBA qualifies you for the graduate certificate.

You might find that you have good study momentum after the graduate certificate component and continue on. At worst, you stop one-third of the way through an MBA and still leave with a postgraduate qualification.

An MBA is a significant investment of time, as it should be considering the career benefits. Traditionally, an MBA takes 3 semesters and almost a year-and-a-half of full-time study.

Accelerated online MBAs are available to speed things up. Students study through the year, avoiding long breaks and exam periods. You can put in just 10 hours a week most weeks and finish inside 24 months. One-year fast track MBAs are also offered online.

How well you cope with the demands of an MBA program, even with a light weekly load, depends on your motivation to succeed and how much you enjoy the subjects. Often, masters candidates find they have better discipline and focus when returning to university study compared to when they were undergraduate students.

Is the Cost of an MBA a Big Disadvantage?

MBA tuition fees, costs

You might feel like an MBA is daunting because of the financial outlay required. Even for lean online MBA programs, tuition fees are in the range of $33k to $60k. If you take time off work, you could also be sacrificing a large amount of salary.

One way to completely counter the cost disadvantage is to have your employer pay for your MBA while also keeping you in full-time employment. See our tips to get your company to pay.

Even without employer sponsorship, you can avoid having to pay anything up front. The Australian Government offers FEE-HELP loans and providers sometimes have loan facilities as well.

While the financial investment may be significant, you also have to remember that the payoff is often far larger. Studying for an MBA represents a one-off sunk cost. If the MBA helps you climb the corporate ladder or grow a business, you could reap higher earnings for many years to come.

Can an Average Student Do an MBA?

Casual, average online student

Yes – An average student can do an MBA. You don’t need a business degree, or any degree for that matter, and you don’t have to be a top student. But, if you are not strong academically, here are a few things to bear in mind before enrolling.

Expect academic standards may be similar to bachelor degrees

The good news is that, generally speaking, graduate schools are not much different from undergraduate university in terms of academic difficulty. If you were comfortably passing your subjects in a bachelor degree, expect to be able to continue that. Instructors don’t dramatically ramp up standards just because a course is postgraduate.

Choose courses carefully if you are weak at maths

MBA programs teach management and leadership but also cover other business topics such as finance and business analytics. If you are weak at maths, make sure you choose a program that doesn’t have technically difficult subjects.

An MBA is an option for math-averse students. But, if you haven’t done much maths since high school, you might find yourself in classes where you struggle to keep up. Check individual units to see what, if any, technical content they contain.

How you can do an MBA without a bachelor degree

Australia has a system to allow people without a degree to earn an MBA. Many programs allow you to start your MBA by enrolling in a Graduate Certificate in Business Administration. The path is ideal for people who do lots of analysis and report-writing professionally and want their skills to be formally recognised.

You can be admitted to a graduate certificate course based on extensive job experience. For example, you may gain entry on the basis of having 5+ years of supervisory experience. If you do well with the grad cert, you can continue with the rest of the MBA program.

When Can You Start an MBA?


In a technical sense, you can start an MBA after gaining two years of professional experience. Almost all programs require applicants to have relevant experience. Two years is a fairly common minimum.

Starting in your early to mid 20s can, however, put you at a disadvantage. You will be less familiar with management challenges and strategies than if you waited. MBA courses commonly ask students to discuss concepts in the context of their own experiences.

You will need at least two years of work experience for an MBA program. Most MBA programs typically require between two to four years of work experience in order to apply (the average student enters with about five years of professional experience). Some of the top business schools can even require up to seven years.

Augsburg University

In general, you should start an MBA when you feel the time is right. Being younger, with relatively few work and non-work responsibilities, may make study logistically easier. But often MBA candidates commence when they start to feel management studies will refresh and revitalise their career.

Related: Should I Do an MBA Now? 7 Questions to Ask Yourself

7 Responses

  1. Jean Nicole
    | Reply

    As someone coming from a healthcare career who wants to understand the business side of things more concretely, I always assumed that to get an MBA you would need a business or economics degree. Its great to know though that someone like me with not much of a background business wise would still be able to take it! (And of course, survive it!)

  2. Sara Green
    | Reply

    I would say that it is only hard if you cannot manage your time and keep focus. It is a lot of work but most people who are goal-oriented can achieve an MBA with relative ease. It just takes time! I am glad to see stuff like this. It encourages people to strive for more.

  3. Felix
    | Reply

    I think an MBA degree is beneficial in terms of career growth if you are in a corporate job. I’ve noticed a lot of my friends who are more entrepreneurial in nature steer clear from an MBA. I guess its more of a to each his own thing but it may help to identify what path you set your career in.

  4. Kelly
    | Reply

    Obtaining an MBA is really not as far out of reach as a lot of people have been led to believe. I know when I was in school still, they made it seem like you really had to be confident, strict, and able to commit more hours of the day than there were to get that degree. These days, you can get one online which is an amazing option for those students who need to work whilst going through higher education.

  5. Vince Upton
    | Reply

    An MBA degree can be rewarding for job growth and breaking into a new career. The problem is that any masters-level degree requires you to know it’s going to have challenges different than other degrees. Follow the advice here, talk to a career counselor, and talk to people who successfully pursued their MBA degree AND found work with it.

  6. Morgan Christopher
    | Reply

    There are several elements involved in determining your ability to earn an MBA. This article lists some of them but there is no magic formula. You have to be upfront with yourself about whether you have the drive to succeed. I would also add that you want to have an interest in the field. If not, consider something else.

  7. Angel Jenkins
    | Reply

    This article summarizes all you need to know about the basics of whether you can tough out an MBA degree. In my opinion, the big thing about any master’s level course is that you have the discipline to allocate your time and resources to do your work (including homework and attending classes) while balancing the rest of your life. If you can do this, you’re on the right path.

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