A Close Look at the MBA Curriculum

A Close Look at the MBA Curriculum

The MBA curriculum contains courses designed to pave the way to a successful business career. It is, so to speak, the soul of the MBA. Scrutinising the different core courses that make up an MBA programme will help us understand why the degree is among the most coveted among business professionals.

MBA programmes typically consist of core courses and elective courses. The core courses are designed to equip students with fundamental business knowledge and skills essential for success in today's business landscape. The elective courses, on the other hand, allow participants to tailor their programme to suit their individual needs.

MBA programmes are diverse and offer a wide selection of courses in different academic areas. However, there is a set of core courses that is largely the same for most MBA programmes. Here is a list of some of the most common MBA subjects:

Accounting

As INSEAD (France) puts it, “a firm tells its story in financial terms via its accounting reports.” This is why accounting is a staple component of MBA programmes across the world. Accounting courses are designed to help MBA students understand how financial accounting and reporting are used in business for decision-making. What are the functions, limitations and challenges of financial accounting?  What constitute financial accounting reporting practices? Accounting courses provide answers to these questions. The aim is to turn MBA participants into knowledgeable consumers of financial information who are able to engage in financial analysis. Graduates can use this knowledge as investors, financial advisors, or management consultants. 

Learn more about MBA programmes at INSEAD by taking a look at this handy school profile.

Finance

The finance course in MBA programmes strives to provide participants with the analytical tools employed in financial statement analysis so they have a strong grasp of the fundamental techniques required for financial management. Topics covered in such courses usually include basic analytical skills and principles of corporate finance, functions of modern capital markets and financial institutions, and standard techniques of analysis, including capital budgeting, discounted cash flow valuation, and risk analysis. MBA programmes usually have not one, but several, finance courses spread across the terms of the programme.

Leadership communication

Business leaders must be effective communicators since they have to deal with complex issues, audiences and situations. They need to be able to successfully pitch new products and ideas or present strategic plans. To do these things, business professionals need a broad set of communication skills. These courses explore the relationship between effective leadership and effective communication. Their objective is to teach students the elements of effective and persuasive communication, with the emphasis often placed on presentations and public speaking. Students polish their communication strategies and methods through discussion, examples, and practice, which includes a variety of in-class exercises.

Read: Can Leadership and Entrepreneurship Be Taught?​

Economics

Business professionals have to be aware of the basic principles of economics. Economics courses usually go through the fundamental principles of microeconomics, including markets, supply and demand, competition, strategic interactions and public policy. Participants learn how to make decisions and formulate strategies by taking into account the local and international business environment. Managers seeking to maximise firm value need to not only understand their markets but also be able to predict future developments.

Organisational Behaviour

The purpose of Organisational Behaviour courses is to develop skills in observing, understanding, and leading behaviour in organisations. Students should be ready to delve into psychology, social psychology, and sociology and explore their implications for leadership and managerial practice. At INSEAD, sessions cover issues such as: communication in organisations; the role of individual differences in explaining behaviour; influence in a group setting; giving and receiving feedback; managing work; negotiation; and leadership. The emphasis varies depending on the business school.  At ESADE (Spain), for example, the course is called ‘Leadership & Organisational Behaviour’ and addresses the human side of enterprise. It focuses on understanding the multi-dimensional facets and key processes underlying human behaviour, how they affect key organisational outcomes and how knowledge of these can maximise one's leadership effectiveness.

Learn more about MBA programmes at ESADE by taking a look at this handy school profile.

Data analytics

MBA participants should be able to analyse data to make business decisions. MBA programmes integrate data analytics in their curriculum in recognition of the fact that in today’s complex business environment informed business decisions cannot be based on intuition alone. How exactly do participants learn to analyse data? Different business schools use different methods. At MIT Sloan (US), for example, the Data, Models and Decisions course aims to familiarise students with the basic tools for using data to make informed management decisions. The course covers introductory probability, decision analysis, basic statistics, regression, simulation, linear and nonlinear optimisation, and discrete optimisation, with examples drawn from marketing, finance, operations management, and other management functions.

Strategy

This course basically helps students develop the skills for formulating strategy and how to sustain a competitive advantage. The Strategic Management field attempts to explain why and how some firms outperform others in the marketplace, developing competitive advantage and sustaining it over time. Students can learn why some companies are consistently more successful than others and why some companies get left behind when their environment changes, while others thrive. Programme participants often step into the shoes of senior managers and executives and devise strategies to boost performance and growth at their companies in the face of intense competition and uncertainty.

Entrepreneurship

The majority of MBA programmes offer entrepreneurship courses to prepare participants for their successful “pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” At ESADE, the Entrepreneurship course seeks to provide useful insights not only for students interested in starting their companies, but also for those seeking to work for big corporations, consulting companies or as investors. The Entrepreneurial Managers course at Harvard Business School (US) aims to teach students “to transform opportunities into companies and institutions that make a difference in the world.” It explores how executives should approach making critical decisions during the different phases of an entrepreneurial company's life. The entrepreneurial courses are very useful because they examine how individuals convert knowledge, aspiration, and insight into action.

Read: 10 Essential Facts about the MBA Degree

Marketing

Courses in marketing analytics, strategy and planning are indispensable for MBA programmes. They are designed to give a solid foundation to enable business professionals to apply marketing concepts and prepare and evaluate marketing plans. To become good marketers MBA participants need to master a wide range of key skills. The ability to analyse markets and plan strategies requires knowledge of behavioural sciences, the social context, and the competition. MBA students learn how to use marketing tools to carry out a firm's strategy in its target markets. They also become familiar with concepts such as segmentation, branding, pricing, distribution, and promotion.

Negotiation

The ability to negotiate is at the heart of a good business deal. Whether you are signing an agreement with suppliers, trying to attract prospective customers, or raising money from investors, you need to be an effective negotiator. Through negotiation courses programme participants learn to design and execute deals, claim their fair share of the value that is created, avoid mistakes, and think strategically. They typically develop their negotiation skills in a series of simulations in the context of deal-making and dispute resolution.

Ethics

In the post-Enron and post-financial crisis era, ethics has become one of the hottest topics in the business world. It is therefore understandable that business schools keep offering courses dedicated to the topic, teaching future managers how to integrate social and environmental issues within their responsibilities. The central objective of ethics courses is to prepare managers to heed social and environmental issues while increasing the competitiveness of their respective companies. Ethical courses often place an emphasis on sustainability and the belief that companies have ethical and societal responsibilities that go beyond their economic responsibilities.

Other courses

These are some of the most common MBA subjects, but there are as many as there are MBA programmes. By browsing through the required core MBA curriculum courses of individual programmes in Europe and the United States one could see subjects such as Creativity Innovation, Organisational Processes, Statistics, Operations Management, and Innovation in a Digital World, to name but a few. In addition, there are unique courses such HEC Paris’ NegoSim, which is a computer-assisted business simulation in which teams are in charge of managing virtual companies that compete in international markets. This diversity of courses requires candidates to do some thorough research taking into account their personal preferences and career plans. Applying for the right MBA programme is much easier when you know what you want and how to achieve it.

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