The letters associated with college degrees can easily begin to seem like alphabet soup, particularly if you're not familiar with the distinction between graduate and undergraduate education. An M.B.A. is a master's degree in business, which you can only seek after completing an undergraduate degree, while a B.A. is an undergraduate degree in one of the arts.

Educational Level

A master's in business administration is a higher level of education than a Bachelor of Arts degree. With an M.B.A., you'll have to take the GMAT and send your college transcripts, while a bachelor's degree usually requires the ACT or SAT, along with high school transcripts. An M.B.A. gains you expertise in the field of business, while a bachelor's degree provides a specific area of concentration along with a core of general education classes in math, science, English and similar subjects.


With a master's in business administration, you'll focus on business-related topics such as economics, finance, accounting, management and operations. A B.A., by contrast, is a Bachelor of Arts degree, and you can major in arts ranging from economics to music. Your specific course structure and focus will be largely determined by your major. A student seeking a B.A. in psychology, for example, will take a wide variety of psychology courses, while a student seeking a bachelor's degree in business administration will take business courses such as accounting and management. These courses will be similar to courses you'd take with an M.B.A., but may be less rigorous and focused since you're not a graduate student.

Time to Completion

Most bachelor's degrees are designed to take about four years to complete, assuming you take a full course load each semester. A master's degree, however, takes about two years, and some schools offer accelerated M.B.A. programs that taken even less time. At Cornell University's Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, for example, you can complete an M.B.A. in as little as a year.

Courses and Structure

Because an M.B.A. is a professional degree, there's generally a strong focus on preparation for a career. You might complete a master's thesis or project, or be required to complete an internship. Your courses will typically be more rigorous than undergraduate courses, and you may be required to maintain a minimum GPA to graduate. With a bachelor's degree, by contrast, you'll get a broader scope of courses, including a wide variety of courses that are not related to your major.