MBA Essentials

Gautam Tambay
, Founder, Springboard
9 Resources
505+ Hours

The MBA Core

We closely studied the curricula of five of the world’s best business schools. The MBA Core consists of subjects that were considered mandatory by every one of those schools, i.e. every student who graduates from any of those schools will have a background in these subjects.

For each subject, we pick out the best course based on our research, and also present an alternative course which you can switch to if you prefer.

80 Hours

Corporate Finance

All businesses, big and small, need to make financial decisions. For instance, how should a business allocate its limited resources? Where should it raise the funds to make these investments? How much of the profits should be reinvested for the business to keep growing? These are some of the decisions you’ll learn to make by taking a course in Corporate Finance.

80 Hours

This course provides an approachable introduction to a topic that is intimidating to many people without a business background. Professor Damodaran is a great lecturer – engaging, funny and incredibly knowledgeable. The title is linked to his page which contains slides, tests and solutions in addition to video lectures. Alternately, you can follow this YouTube playlist. Also worth checking out is his excellent blog, where he posts his analysis and commentary on the latest IPOs, earnings calls, etc.

If you’re looking for a lighter introduction to Corporate Finance, you may want to instead take Wharton’s Introduction to Corporate Finance on Coursera. However, unlike the NYU course, this one is not always available, so you may need to wait until the next start date.

80 Hours

Financial Accounting

Accounting is the language of business. Companies use it to record and communicate their performance. A working knowledge of accounting is essential to be able to read a company’s financial statements (i.e., the income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows) and make decisions based on this information.

80 Hours

Professor Brian Bushee defies all stereotypes about the dullness of accounting and accountants. We can both attest to this, having each taken a course with him (Laurie took his MOOC on Coursera, and Gautam took his incredibly popular elective course on forensic accounting in his second year at Wharton). And if you still have any doubts, check out the stellar reviews of the course!
While the Wharton course is our top pick for accounting, it’s not always available! In case you want a course that starts right away, we suggest this Financial Accounting course from MIT Sloan, which has archived lectures.

50 Hours


A key component of business strategy, marketing is about identifying the market for your product or service, understanding the value your business provides to your customer, and communicating that value proposition effectively.

Let’s say you have something to sell. Who will buy it? Where can you find these buyers? What should you say to get them intrigued about  your product or service? How much should you charge? These are some questions that the study of marketing can help answer.

50 Hours

Wharton’s course on Marketing is top notch, taught by three professors who each focus on a different aspect of marketing - branding, customer centricity and go-to market strategy. 

50 Hours

Operations Management

Have you ever stood in a long line and wondered whether there was a more efficient way for everyone to get a sandwich/check their bags/deposit their paycheck? Operations Management is about finding efficiencies in business processes. How many customer service representatives do you need in order to make sure that no one waits on hold for more than two minutes? How many hospital beds - or doctors - are necessary to make sure that anyone with a life-threatening condition can be treated right away? These are the questions you will be able to answer after taking a course in Operations Management.

50 Hours

We’re recommending yet another Wharton course, taught by Professor Christian Terwiesch. Again, we’ve both taken courses from Prof. Terwiesch - Gautam was his TA at Wharton, and Laurie was a student in the fall 2013 run of the Operations Management MOOC. We both recommend this course for its practical, quantitative (though not too math heavy) approach.

If you’re looking for a lighter, less quantitative introduction to Operations Management, or just a course that’s always available, we suggest checking out this Operations Management course from Kellogg.

30 Hours

Organizations & Managing People

A large part of a business manager’s job is to work with other people, and keep them motivated. Hence, understanding behaviors and actions that make for effective interaction at work is important for anyone in business. Separately, companies are complex organizations where individuals and teams depend on each other in various ways. The organization’s design and structure impact on its effectiveness.

30 Hours

This highly-rated course covers how leaders can develop the emotional intelligence needed to create sustained, positive change for individuals, teams, organizations and communities.

If you’re looking a more theoretical course focused on organizational design and behavior, you may want to instead consider this Organizational Analysis course from Stanford.

80 Hours


In general, in this first section of the MBA Learning Path we’ve included only those courses that are part of the first year curriculum of all five of the business schools we surveyed. However, even though Business Strategy is only represented in four of the five, we’ve included it here because we consider it critical to an understanding of business. 

80 Hours

“Foundations of Business Strategy” from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business covers the basics of business strategy. From SWOT analyses to Five Forces analyses to industry mapping, you will build a repertoire of tools and then apply them to an analysis of a real-world business.

If this course is not in session, and/or you’d like a shorter introduction to business strategy, consider the self-paced Competitive Strategy (it’s only 10 hours) followed by Advanced Competitive Strategy (20 hours).

Quantitative Core (Highly recommended)

Quant skills have always been important for MBAs, but given how businesses are increasingly becoming data-driven, this is perhaps more important now than ever.

No surprise then that each of these subjects appears in the core curricula of 4 of the 5 schools we surveyed. We recommend that you take at least two courses from this section. 

50 Hours


All business managers should know basic statistics, as it plays a role in many decisions, If you are not familiar with statistics, consider this course mandatory.

50 Hours

If you are familiar with statistics and don’t need a refresher, skip to the Data Analysis section below.

50 Hours

Data Analysis

Businesses are producing more data than ever and using it in fascinating ways, ranging from the benign (e.g. Netflix predicts what movies to recommend you, based on what you saw) to the borderline spooky (e.g. Target can predict pregnancy based on customers’ buying habits). As a business manager, you will increasingly be expected to make sense of these large volumes of data, and make decisions based on them. As a freshly minted MBA, you’ll find it handy to handle and interpret simple data sets, rather than have to depend on specialized data scientists.

50 Hours

This course, taught by members of Facebook’s Data Science team, will teach you to develop intuition around data sets and draw inferences from them. You’ll also learn to use the R programming language to explore, visualize, and summarize data

If you are intrigued by Data Analysis and are interested in delving deeper, you should look at our Data Analysis Learning Path, which covers these subjects in far greater detail.

35 Hours


Microeconomics is the study of supply, demand and decisions. Besides helping understand the role of markets and how they function, microeconomics helps explain a number of day to day decision-making and phenomena.

35 Hours

If you decide to skip this course, you may still want to watch this funny 10-minute video on the principles of microeconomics by economist-turned-stand-up comic Yoram Bauman.

Optional and Advanced Topics


While entrepreneurship is best learned by doing, How to Build a Startup by the amazing Steve Blank is a must for anyone thinking of an entrepreneurial career. It covers the idea selection, business model generation, and how to turn an idea into a prototype.

Business Ethics

We are yet to find a great course on this very important subject, but Harvard Business School has some excellent articles and cases, which expose you to the kinds of ethical questions that businesses run into. The reason these are interesting is because businesses often face decisions where the choices aren't obviously morally right or wrong. This is especially true for multinational companies that operate across multiple geographies and cultural contexts.


Ever wondered how the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country is measured, or how interest rates and foreign exchange work? These are handy things to understand, especially for investors and traders. Start with Principles of Macroeconomics from MIT.

Advanced Finance & Accounting

For most business professions, knowledge of introductory finance and accounting is sufficient. However, some professions (e.g. investing, real estate development) require more than a basic understanding of Finance or Accounting. You might consider advanced courses based on the fields you're interested in, like Financial Analysis of Entrepreneurial IdeasReal Estate Finance and Investment or Finance Theory II.

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MBA Essentials

by Gautam Tambay