Gain business skills without paying for an MBA [Column]

A tassel with “2023” written on it rests on a graduation cap as students walk in a procession to the commencement of Howard University in Washington on Saturday, May 13, 2023. MBA graduates say the investment in their degree has paid off, according to a 2022 Graduate Management Admissions Council survey. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, file)

MBA graduates say the investment in their degree has paid off, according to a 2022 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council, an association of graduate business schools. But what if you don’t have the time or money to get an MBA? Accredited colleges and universities offer graduate business certifications in specialty areas such as entrepreneurship or analytics. However, there are also companies that offer more MBA experience at a fraction of the cost. At the end of these programs, participants do not graduate, but they acquire valuable skills that will help them advance in their careers.

Lindsay Mack received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in 2005. Almost 15 years later, as she pondered how best to develop her business acumen, an MBA wasn’t the right choice.

A Philadelphia native, Mack built her career without an MBA. When she was ready to hone her skills in platform strategy, she chose a faster, lower-cost cohort program instead.

For students like Mack, the cost of a top MBA — averaging $225,605 in the U.S., according to a 2022 report by BusinessBecause — is daunting and the value questionable.

“I had no idea how such a big investment (in an MBA) would really take me to the next level,” says Mack, now executive director of product management at Comcast.

Cost isn’t the only barrier to getting a business degree. BusinessBecause reports that the average acceptance rate for the most competitive US business schools is 16%, based on an analysis of data from US News & World Report and other sources.

If you want access to a business school education without tuition or the hassle of admissions, you have other options.


Consider getting a business certification. A certification offered by accredited colleges and universities differs from an MBA degree primarily in how long it takes to complete the program.

Business certifications typically require about 12 to 15 credits, while a master’s degree requires a minimum of 30 credits, says Karen Rinehart, associate dean of graduate programs at Marquette University Graduate School of Management in Milwaukee.

Since you acquire fewer credits compared to an MBA degree, you have to expect to pay significantly less. For example, tuition for a degree in strategic management from Harvard Extension School, a Harvard continuing education department, is $15,500 based on the 2022-23 academic year. A Harvard MBA costs $73,440 in tuition, fees not included.

Certificate programs are often more specialized than business degrees. “This can be great for those who want to develop specific skills — like business analytics — to advance their careers,” said Olivia Jobson, associate director of graduate recruitment at Oregon State University’s College of Business.


Consider a self-paced online course. With companies like MasterClass, Skillshare, Udemy, and Coursera, you can learn business skills at your own pace.

“Our core tenet is to meet learners where they are,” said Marni Baker Stein, chief content officer at Coursera, based in Park City, Utah. The company offers one-on-one courses, professional and recognized certifications, and full degrees through university partnerships.

Many online companies give you access to some courses for free, but full libraries require a monthly subscription. For example, MasterClass offers unlimited access to existing and new content for $180 per year.

Unless partnered with an accredited institution, these programs typically do not offer credits toward completion. If you need credits to transfer to a university, you should consider enrolling in an accredited degree program.


Consider a commercial apprenticeship cohort. Although it’s difficult to replicate the two-year, in-person MBA experience, some companies have found creative ways to incorporate their key components into online learning.

For example, Section, a New York City-based online business education company, offers one- to two-week online sprints that are structured similar to sections within an MBA program. Members participate in live online classes, group discussions, and even team projects for $996 per year.

Likewise, Texas-based leadership development company Abilitie’s Invited MBA offers a 12-week program that includes live virtual sessions, team business competitions, study groups, and even online happy hours. Tuition is $1,850.

Companies like Section and Abilitie are not accredited universities. Completion of these programs does not lead to an MBA degree, but some graduates of the programs say they provided exactly what they needed — practical business skills, a strong network, and better employability at a fraction of the cost of an MBA.

“I’ve had people who are exactly at the same level as me who got a full-time MBA and have school debt, and now I’m on par with them,” says Nicholas Schroeder, a Seattle-based graduate of the Invite MBA of ability.

After completing the Invited MBA in May 2021, Schroeder, a former U.S. Army officer, transitioned to a career in consulting — the most desirable industry for prospective management students, according to a 2022 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council business schools.

This article was provided to The Associated Press by personal finance website NerdWallet. Trea Branch is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected].