Do a Self-Study MBA with these 17 amazing resources

Do a self-study MBA on your own with these University-grade resources

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If you are looking for a self-study MBA, this post is for you. We will see together how you can gain knowledge similar to what you would find in a forma Master of Business Administration, but on your own. Let’s dive into this self-study MBA.

I created this post with a simple approach: I looked at the MBA curriculum of top universities such as Wharton and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and identified the detailed topics covered. Then, I found academical textbooks that are used in such courses. My job here is to link you all those textbooks, tell you why they are important, and put them in order so that you can proceed with your studies on your own.

I have been following the very same learning path to craft my own self-study MBA, so this is what I suggest for you are well. Before we dive right into the self-study MBA topic, know that this is not just a bunch of “easy read” books that some motivational coach can throw at you to be the better version of yourself. These are books that you would actually study if you were following a university curriculum. There is no shortcut.

Self-Study MBA Books

How to approach your self-study MBA

In an MBA, you learn how to run a business, how to keep it healthy and how to make it grow. If you are here, you probably know this already, what you might not know is that this is done with three key functions in any business:

  • Marketing and Sales – identifies market opportunity, foresee customer requests, and proposes products and services to customers (it puts them “to market”)
  • Operations – this is what keeps the organization running. It creates and produces products and services, ensure the production process is lean and not wasteful, and get things done in general.
  • Product Development – considers the information from marketing and sales to invent new products and services to meet and exceed marketing expectations

In addition to this, you will have other support functions, those that are not the pillars of organizational success but are nonetheless essential to keep it going: human resources, IT, purchasing, and so on. If you want to be a manager in one of those areas, you will need to dive deeper into these topics as well. Regardless of your area of expertise, I suggest learning more about HR because in any area you need people to get things done, and you need to manage them effectively.

Starting your self-study MBA

I don’t know what your background is, but you need to be able to study and learn from complex MBA textbooks. Most are not really meant to be study from cover to cover, rather they are meant as a companion for a course thought by a professor. With a self-study MBA, you don’t have the luxury of having a professor. This means you really need to understand the context of what you are studying on your own.

To do that, I suggest some “easy reads” to start. These are books you can just read, and they will give you the framework needed to tackle the entire self-study MBA.

If you want to go deeper and get into the right mood, you can also read “Extreme Ownership” (Leif, Babin) and “Principles” (Dalio). These are not MBA topics, but they will certainly help.

Another key suggestion I give is to follow the online MBA of the University of Illinois on Coursera. This can be done for free by auditing the courses and looking at all the material, although you won’t get any certificate upon completion (just search “how to audit Coursera courses”). This online MBA will touch briefly all the points that you need in an MBA, including economics and statistics, so that you can dive into each more confidently later.


In a self-study MBA you will need to learn finance and understand how corporate finance and stocks work
Finance is a pillar topic in your self-study MBA.

Finance is key to understanding how money flow in an organization, make forecasts and plans. It is important to evaluate information at an economic level and see the financial impact of your decision. In this area, you should read at least two books:

I don’t mention the edition, just try to grab the latest you can, but even if you obtain a version that is few years old don’t worry about it. You will still get the big picture, and even most of the details.


Operations Management is an important part of a Self-Study MBA, it will teach you how to run a company
Operations management is crucial to succeed in running a business.

Operations is key to get things done, structure processes in a company so that you can repeat activities constantly and reliably, as well as optimizing costs. There are two books I suggest here:

Any organization will have an operations function in charge of getting some things done. However, the different flavors of operations will vary from industry to industry. I suggest integrating this list with a book if your choice that dives deeper into operations for your industry, such as Healthcare Operations Management, Operations Management for the Services Industry, and similar.

You don’t need to pick such book now. Just start your self-study MBA with finance, then operations. By the time you complete your learning how supply chain, you will have a detailed view and you will now what is important for you to learn, and what isn’t. In other words, you will be in the perfect position to pick the book that you need. I don’t need to suggest it to you now.


Yes, math is a key part of your self-study MBA. We can say that all other skills build on top of math, particularly when it comes to financial modeling or operational forecasting. However, you can approach the previous area without a significant math background.

Math is another important topic you should learn as part of your self-study MBA, covering at least statistics and calculus
Math is important for any business administrator.

I know some people don’t like math, but hopefully this approach of learning finance and operations first will entice you to learn math because you will see where it is applied and how it can make a difference for you. Having a great understanding of math will allow you to hone your models, make better predictions, and be more efficient. The two areas most used in business are statistics and calculus, and you should focus on those for your self-study MBA.

  • Statistics – Agresti, Franklin
    This will allow you to make forecasts and deal with uncertainty.
  • Calculus – Adams, Essex
    Understanding calculus is important to produce complex mathematical models that allow you to better understand and predict cause-effect relationships in complex business settings.
  • Game Theory – Maschler
    Game theory is a self-standing branch of math and modeling that allows you to create models of competitive systems and better understand how to make business decisions in a rational way (as well as how your competitors may make the same decisions).

With these three books, you are pretty covered in terms of math. If you have trouble following, you should start refreshing your basic math concepts on Khan Academy (for free). They have courses from elementary math up to basic calculus, so you can get up to speed with ease.

Human Resource Management

A quick dive into Human Resource Management (HRM) will change your point of view on HR completely. This is crucial, because people get things done and you want to have the best people in your organization. Here, with “best” I mean people that can best match your organization culture and what you want them to achieve.

With a proper training in HRM, you will learn how to create job descriptions that reflect the jobs that you need to do, how to select and hire people, and how to motivate them through incentive (both at financial and non-financial level). I think this is a crucial part of a self-study MBA and it is the thing that can allow you to scale from zero to one.

Most importantly, you will learn how to identify and use the best predictors of job performance in a job interview. In other words, what questions should you ask, and how can you interpret the answer to see if the candidate will succeed in her job?

To me, the best way to have this quick dive is the Human Resource Management course by University of Minnesota available on Coursera. You can watch the entire course content for free by auditing the course. Alternatively, subscribe to Coursera to get a certification before completion.

Innovation Management

We can conclude with innovation management, another important part of your self-study MBA. Here, you should learn how to select the best ideas and make them real. In fact, innovation it is important for any company, and particularly if you work in product or service development where you are tasked to identify and seize new business opportunities.

Here the body of knowledge is still relatively small compared to the other areas, because it is something that has been studied academically relatively recently. My suggestion is to go with Innovation Management – van den Ende, a nice textbook on the matter.

Concluding your Self-Study MBA

Okay, you now completed all the study I suggested for your self-study MBA. Congratulations! You are now a self-thought MBA. However, there is no graduation with self-study. So, you shouldn’t consider this as hitting the finish line, but rather has having a large breadth and depth of knowledge in important business areas. This can only be a starting point to dive deeper into the area you need and like the most.

From here, you can continue with industry-specific material such as Airline Management or Strategic Management. In the end, you are the owner of your career, use your time wisely and I really hope this quick self-study MBA will get you moving in the right direction.

If you want to get practical or have a glimpse about what you will learn, check out this complete guide about Net Present Value and how to use it to financially evalaute projects and make better decisions.

Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.
Picture of Alessandro Maggio

Alessandro Maggio

Project manager, critical-thinker, passionate about networking & coding. I believe that time is the most precious resource we have, and that technology can help us not to waste it. I founded with the same principle: I share what I learn so that you get value from it faster than I did.

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