The Master of Business Administration, or MBA, is a prestigious postgraduate qualification that employers value extremely highly. Taking an MBA in the UK can greatly boost your salary, professional reputation and networking opportunities
If you're a graduate or professional with ambitions for a high-flying career in business, then studying for an MBA could be just what you need. It's a postgraduate course that typically takes one year to complete full time, or two years part time - though some programmes are longer.
You'll gain an overview of key business practices, and develop skills in areas such as management, marketing and accounting. An MBA is often a route to promotion or a career change. However, it's academically challenging and a major financial commitment, so you should be certain that it's the right choice for you before making a decision.
Types of MBA
There are a number of different types of MBA. You'll need to determine which one suits your career goals, current experience and life circumstances. Courses fall under these categories:
- General MBA - the best option for those with some experience but who wish to fast-track their business career and break into a management role, the finance industry or corporate strategy.
- Executive MBA - appropriate if you're already in a senior corporate management position and have ambitions to enter the boardroom.
- Specialist MBA - perfect for those who have some managerial experience and are looking to gain promotion in, or entry to, a particular industry or sector.
- Distance learning MBA - ideal if you can't attend university full time and prefer to manage your studies around other personal and professional commitments, with support from tutors.
Find out more about which MBA you should choose.
What does an MBA involve?
You can find MBAs in full time, part time, distance learning and online formats. Part-time study is among the most popular, and evening and weekend classes are offered by many business schools. In the UK, full-time MBAs tend to last 12 months, starting in September, although some universities also have a January intake.
Programmes vary but generally consist of core compulsory modules, electives and a dissertation or work-based project. You'll be assessed through exams, essays and group activities. Many courses will also offer the opportunity for work placements or study periods abroad.
In addition to networking opportunities and an overview of the business world, an MBA will teach you how to: carry out operational management; develop a marketing strategy; do strategic planning; lead a team; and read and assess financial reports.
An MBA differs from other postgraduate courses as it develops skills a candidate has gained through life or professional experience, while the majority of Masters degrees build on the academic background of the student.
In addition, MBAs are dominated by case studies and real-world examples, while non-MBA programmes are far more heavily dependent on classroom and/or laboratory-based activities such as lectures, tutorials or presentations.
How much does it cost?
Tuition fees for MBA courses in the UK vary significantly between institutions. Most tend to fall between £10,000 and £40,000 for a one-year course, but you'll also find some at either side of that range.
As an example of the variety of fees charged, London Business School's MBA will set you back £70,800, while at Northumbria University's Newcastle Business School taking the equivalent course will cost you £14,500. Fees for home and international students are often the same, though sometimes overseas students will have to pay more.
According to research by the Association of MBAs (AMBA), most people self-fund their MBA. The next most popular method is employer sponsorship, followed by loans and finally scholarships. Get more information on funding an MBA.
Will an MBA help my career?
With the high cost of courses it's important to see a return on investment. The qualification can often lead to promotion, a career change or higher earnings. Graduates from universities in the Financial Times (FT) Global MBA Rankings 2016 saw average salary increases of between 55% and 111% after completing the course.
An MBA is also highly respected around the world, so if you're interested in a global business career then it could be beneficial - particularly as qualifications from UK business schools are so well regarded. It can also help you to specialise in your current sector, or a new industry that you want to move into.
However, given the cost and the requirement for a number of years of work experience before taking an MBA, the decision to apply shouldn't be taken lightly. Think hard about whether you could achieve your goals without taking the course.
What are the entry requirements?
For a general MBA, you'll typically need at least a 2:1 undergraduate degree, although a 2:2 is sometimes accepted. If you don't have a degree, you may be able to get a place if you have extensive professional experience.
Business schools will usually expect you to have three years of relevant work experience, increasing to between five and ten years minimum for executive MBAs. For many general MBAs, you are required to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which is an opportunity to showcase your skills.
Most leading MBAs, both in the UK and abroad, are taught in English. If this isn't your first language you will need to show your proficiency - usually with a score of 6.5 or more in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
How do I apply for an MBA?
Applications are made through the university's website. They involve completing an online form and essay, then sending your supporting documents. You'll usually need two references, ideally one from a professional colleague and the other from an academic tutor.
The business school will then decide whether to offer you an interview. These can be individual or group sessions. You must be clear in your application about your reasons for taking the course, what you hope to gain and your career plans, as these will all be taken into consideration.
The specific requirements will vary between different universities, so check before applying. Try to make your application as early as possible, as it will show your enthusiasm and give you the best opportunity of accessing any available funding.
Where can I get more advice?
- Alumni - ask them what it was like to study at a particular school.
- Careers service - advisers can explore your options, help you decide which course is best for you, and assist your application.
- Current students - they'll tell you how much work is involved, and recommend books and other sources.
- Business fairs - you can meet representatives from numerous universities.
- Tutors - find out more about the course content and how your career goals match up.
The essential guide to studying an MBA
Read an exclusive interview with Katie Bickerstaffe, chief executive of Dixons Carphone in the UK and Ireland, and take a look at our comprehensive course directory.