The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a prestigious postgraduate qualification that is highly valued by leading employers

It can boost your salary, increase your professional reputation and expand your networking opportunities.

Studying for an MBA is often a route to promotion or a career change as you'll gain an overview of key business practices and develop skills in areas such as management, marketing and accounting. In the UK a full-time course typically takes one to two years to complete.

If you're a graduate with some business experience and ambitions for a high-flying career, studying for an MBA could be just what you need to make the next step. However, it's academically challenging and a major financial commitment, so you need to be certain that it's the right choice for you. Search for MBA courses.

Types of MBA

You'll need to determine which type of MBA suits your current level of experience, life circumstances and career goals. Courses fall under these main categories:

  • General MBA - the best option for those with limited business experience (usually around three years) who want to fast-track their career and break into a management role, the finance industry or corporate strategy.
  • Executive MBA - usually studied on a part-time basis, this is 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 enter or gain promotion in a particular industry or sector.
  • Distance learning MBA - also known as an online MBA, this is 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.

Note that the meaning of these terms may vary slightly between institutions. Find out more about which MBA you should choose and discover the best MBA programmes in the UK.

What does an MBA involve?

You can find MBAs in full time, part time and distance learning/online formats. Part-time study is popular with those who want to carry on with their current employment while studying, with evening and weekend classes offered by many business schools. In the UK, full-time MBAs tend to last 12 or 15 months, starting in September, although some courses are longer and January starts are also available.

Programmes are generally intense and consist of core compulsory modules, electives and a dissertation or work-based project. You'll be assessed through exams, essays and group activities. You'll learn how to carry out operational management, develop a marketing strategy, do strategic planning, lead a team, and read and assess financial reports. Many courses also offer the opportunity for work placements, while studying abroad is also a popular option.

An MBA is an advanced programme that differs from other postgraduate courses in that it develops skills a candidate has gained through life or professional experience, whereas the majority of Masters degrees build on the student's academic background.

While other postgraduate programmes are far more heavily dependent on classroom and/or laboratory-based activities such as lectures and tutorials, MBAs are dominated by case studies, group work and real-world examples.

When should I take an MBA?

An MBA is not an entry-level business qualification. It is usually taken by professionals who have gained at least three years of business and management experience since graduating from their first degree. The average age of students on leading courses is typically between 27 and 30. This means that you'll be studying alongside fellow business people who can share their insights.

Meanwhile, executive MBAs are generally studied by more senior managers and the minimum required level of experience can be up to ten years.

How much does it cost?

Tuition fees for MBA courses in the UK vary significantly between institutions. Most tend to fall between £15,000 and £40,000, but you'll also find some at either side of that range. Here are some examples of 2017 MBA course fees to give you an idea of what to expect:

  • University of Bolton - £8,500.
  • Northumbria University - £15,100.
  • The University of Sheffield - £21,250.
  • University of Oxford - £52,000.
  • London Business School (LBS) - £75,100.

Fees for home and international students are often the same, though sometimes overseas students will have to pay more.

Don't automatically go for the cheapest option to save money, or for the most expensive on the assumption it must be the best - you need to consider a number of factors to find the right MBA for you, such as location, course content and staff expertise.

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. An MBA can often lead to promotion, a career change or higher earnings. Graduates from the universities in the Financial Times (FT) Global MBA Rankings 2017 saw average salary increases of between 61% and 180% 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 specialise in your current sector, or a new industry you want to move into.

Often, the majority of students on leading courses will be international, giving you a unique opportunity to network with business people from diverse backgrounds.

However, given the cost and the requirement to have a number of years' 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, and ask your current or potential employer about what advantage an MBA might give you.

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 and exceptional professional experience.

Business schools will often expect you to have three years of relevant post-graduation work experience, increasing to between five and ten years minimum for executive MBAs. For many general MBAs, you will also be required to take an entrance exam, usually the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

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 by taking a recognised test such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

How do I apply for an MBA?

Winning a place on an MBA is a competitive process as class sizes are kept relatively small, especially at the top business schools. The strength of your application is therefore vital if you want to succeed. You must set out your reasons for taking the course, what you hope to gain and your career plans, as these will all be considered.

Most applications are completed online through the university's website. You'll be required to provide details of your academic qualifications and professional experience, as well as contact information for two referees (one academic and one professional). You may also need to submit the score you've achieved in an admissions test such as the GMAT. Find out how to succeed in your GMAT.

Specific requirements will vary between institutions, but in addition to the online form most applications will involve writing an essay and, if shortlisted, attending an interview. Interviews can be individual or group sessions.

Check application deadlines on the institution's website. Try to apply as early as possible, as it will show your enthusiasm and give you the best opportunity to access available funding. The leading courses can fill up a year in advance.

Where can I get more advice?

  • Alumni - ask them what it was like to study at a particular business school and how their career benefited.
  • Careers services - advisers can help you to decide which course is best for you and assist with your application.
  • Current students - they can tell you how much work is involved and recommend books and other resources.
  • Business fairs - meet representatives from various universities and MBA employers at open days and events.
  • Tutors - find out more about the course content, assessment methods and how your career goals match up.