Is a mini MBA right for you?

BY Rich GrisetFebruary 21, 2023, 3:25 PM
Pedestrians walk along Ellicott Street in downtown Buffalo, as seen in December 2022 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by John Normile/Getty Images)

Among the numerous benefits of completing an MBA degree—from gaining business knowledge to expanding professional networks—the potential for career advancements and an increase in salary also can’t be ignored. But attending a traditional full-time MBA program can be quite costly—and isn’t the only way to achieve these goals. That’s where mini MBA programs can offer a valuable alternative.

Similarly called a micro MBA, a mini MBA offers many of the same benefits as a standard MBA program, but at a fraction of the time and expense. These programs usually require fewer than 100 hours of total class time while still offering students an understanding of business essentials. While not as common as the other full-time MBA alternatives—online, part-time, and executive programs—some schools like the University of Buffalo have found the mini MBA option is a good option for some prospective students.

“It’s for the person who knows very little about how businesses operate,” says Courtney J. Walsh, assistant dean of the office of professional and executive development at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York’s School of Management. “If you’re interested in potentially getting a degree down the road, but you’re not sure, this is a way to discover if you’re interested in that. It’s also a way for you to get enough of the basic knowledge so that you can have informed discussions with business people and be able to talk the language of business.”

Here’s what you need to know about a mini MBA program.

What is a mini MBA?

A mini MBA is a certificate program that’s designed to impart a fundamental understanding of business management concepts. These programs are recognized by the broader business community and they typically touch on topics included in a standard full-time MBA program, such as accounting, finance, management, marketing, entrepreneurship, and business ethics. 

“A mini MBA gives you the top two or three most important concepts in each of the business disciplines that would be involved in a full course on any topic,” Walsh explains. “It’s nowhere near as in-depth as a full course, but you’ll get a sense of the most important concepts that you’ll need.”

Available in both in-person and online formats, a mini MBA may or may not include academic credit, depending on the institution offering it.

“It becomes a stepping stone in someone’s journey,” explains Peter Methot, associate dean of executive education and assistant professor of professional practice at Rutgers University’s Rutgers Business School. “In its inception, it was meant to be a shorter version of a traditional MBA program.”

Rutgers, which began offering a mini MBA credential 15 years ago, has a program with 10 distinct learning modules. This credential is offered in three different formats: an accelerated one-week, in-person version, an online asynchronous model that takes 12 weeks to complete, and a virtual, live format that is offered in several durations.

With the accelerated program, students take part in two modules per day over five consecutive days. In the 12-week online model, Methot says students are advised to participate in one module per week, then take two weeks for the program’s project and final exam. The virtual live format features synchronous, live learning via Zoom.

Most Rutgers learners participate in the 12-week online model.

“You’re getting the same amount of content,” Methot says. “We just structure it so that people have the flexibility, whatever works better for their schedule and their learning preferences.”

Meanwhile, Buffalo’s mini MBA is offered online and is self-paced.

“We have people who will knock it out in a weekend, dedicating most of their time, or people who will take a few months to do it,” Walsh says. “They have up to a year, but most people do it in 15, 20 hours—relatively quickly.”

Some mini MBAs are specialized; Rutgers, for instance, offers 15 different variations, including mini MBAs that focus on artificial intelligence, digital marketing, data-driven management, and BioPharma innovation.

As for price, Buffalo’s program—which is currently undergoing an overhaul—is offered for $995. At Rutgers, Methot says the price is comparable to the school’s credit hour price—at $1,166 per credit, which compares to $1,218 per credit for New Jersey residents and $2,114 for out-of-state and international students enrolled in graduate programs. Methot adds that students’ employers pick up the bill for the mini MBA roughly 50% of the time.

Who is a good fit for a mini MBA program?

Two different types of people generally participate in Buffalo’s mini MBA program, according to Walsh. The first group is people who have a background in another discipline—like science or engineering—who are interested in learning basic information about how businesses operate and becoming familiar with the terms and jargon of the business world. The second group of people are interested in upskilling or reskilling in their current line of work, but aren’t interested in pursuing an entire business degree.

At Rutgers, Methot says most of the mini MBA seekers obtained their undergraduate degree at least 10 years ago, have a decent amount of work experience, and are looking to fill a gap in their business knowledge.

What are the benefits of a mini MBA?

Overall, the purpose of obtaining a mini MBA is to learn useful skills, knowledge, and abilities in the realm of business.

“We put a lot of value or a lot of prioritization on highly applicable and relevant learning that meets learners wherever they might be coming from. This idea of stackability and relevance is quite important for us,” Methot says. “To us, that is the primary focus and message of what and why a mini MBA works for some learners.”

Finally, there’s an additional perk to completing a mini MBA—beyond the practical applications students learn. Finishing a program usually comes with a credential, digital badge, and/or academic credit that can help further a person’s career.

“People walk away with a sense of how money is used to move businesses forward, how innovative ideas are used to move businesses forward, and how strategic thinking can help them move a business forward,” Walsh says.

Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.