Which MBA should I choose?

Dan Mason, Editorial manager
October, 2018

There are several different types of MBA courses, so you'll need to research your options fully to find out which one best suits your needs

Which MBA is right for you depends on factors including your interests, your ambitions, your personal circumstances and how much experience you have when you apply.

General MBAs

If you're looking to accelerate your career but have limited managerial experience, a general MBA is likely to be your best option. You'll usually need to have spent at least three years in a relevant job before applying, although this varies between universities.

These courses teach broad business skills that are applicable across numerous job sectors, with core modules covering topics such as marketing, organisational behaviour and financial management. Additional elective modules allow you to tailor the programme to your interests, while a personal project will give you the chance to learn in a hands-on, practical environment.

General MBAs can be studied full or part time. A full-time course will take one to two years to complete. To find courses, search for general MBAs.

Executive MBAs

If you're already in a senior management position and seeking rapid career progression, an executive MBA (or EMBA) may suit you better. These focus primarily on developing the leadership skills required for a move into the boardroom.

Students tend to be older than on general MBAs, with substantial experience already under their belt - usually five to ten years in a relevant role is required. For example, those on Cambridge Judge Business School's Executive MBA in 2017 were on average 37 years old with 13 years of experience, compared with 29 years old with six years of experience on the general MBA.

Programmes are usually studied part time during evenings and weekends, as you fit your course around your day job, and take one to two years to complete. Discover what courses are available by searching for executive MBAs.

Specialist MBAs

If you have some experience within a particular industry or are clear about the sector you want to move into, then a specialist MBA could be the perfect choice. You'll learn business and management skills but apply them to a certain area of work.

These courses attract students who feel that a general programme does not meet their specific needs. In the UK, specialist MBAs are available covering a diverse range of sectors such as oil and gas, football, biotechnology, aviation, music and the creative industries.

Taking one of these courses - usually taught by experts with significant experience of the relevant sector - will enable you to gain a deep understanding of your field and help you to progress your career in an area of business that excites you. Search for specialist MBAs.

Distance learning MBAs

An increasing number of MBAs are available as distance learning or online courses. These allow you to study in your own time so that you can organise your learning around your career and family life.

Online MBAs aren't less valued than regular courses as they become increasingly accepted as an alternative pathway. For example, in 2016 the University of Birmingham's online MBA became the first of its kind to be accredited by the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

You'll usually need to dedicate at least 20 hours each week to a distance learning course. A tutor will be available to support you and you'll be supplied with all the materials that you need to undertake your studies. Search for distance learning MBAs.

MBA accreditation

When you browse MBA courses on university websites, you'll often see reference to programmes and business schools being accredited by one or more of the three main awarding bodies:

Being recognised by these organisations is regarded as an international stamp of quality for business schools, and fewer than 100 institutions (less than 1%) worldwide are approved by all three - the coveted 'triple accreditation'.

Accreditors assess factors such as course content, teaching staff, facilities and graduate outcomes. Take this into account when you're comparing different programmes.

How do I choose the right course?

Once you've decided which type of MBA you want to study, you may want to consider a number of other issues before settling on a course. These include:

  • The cost of the course - find out more about funding an MBA.
  • The course schedule - how many lectures and tutorials are there each week? Will you be able to take a part-time job alongside your studies?
  • Whether an MBA is necessary for your career progression. Will the qualification be valued by employers in your sector?
  • The reputation of the institution. Find out about the quality of the teaching and resources, student satisfaction and support after graduation. Consult league tables and consider the best MBA programmes in the UK.
  • Who are the tutors? Are they industry experts? This is especially important for specialist MBAs.
  • Find out about the courses content and modules to ensure they match your interests and expectations.
  • Make sure you meet the entry requirements.
  • Search for MBA courses.