The best MBA program for you will depend on your career goals, the amount of experience you’ve acquired, and the time you have to dedicate to graduate school.
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a graduate-level business and management degree. You can customize your education to best suit your goals, choosing from six main types of MBAs: full-time MBA, part-time MBA, online MBA, flexible MBA, global MBA, and executive MBA.
The demand for MBA graduates remains strong across numerous sectors, so you can explore many career options once you've earned your degree . For example, you could specialize in marketing, finance, operations management, or health care, honing your knowledge in one of these areas, and developing greater leadership, critical thinking, and analytical skills.
In this article, we’ll review the difference between each type of MBA, discuss the common concentrations you can choose in an MBA program, and go over how to determine the best type of MBA for you.
If you've gained several years of professional experience and you’re interested in advancing your knowledge about business, management, and leadership, earning your MBA may be a rewarding choice. Although there are other types of graduate business degrees available, such as the Master of Science in Management, an MBA tends to be the most common (and popular) graduate business degree.
MBA programs are generally designed to elevate your workforce experience with advanced subject knowledge and skills development. The type of MBA program you ultimately choose depends on your career goals, the amount of experience you’ve acquired, and the time you have to dedicate to your degree. Let’s review the differences.
There are two main types of full-time MBAs: one-year and two-year programs. No matter which one you choose, you will be expected to attend class full-time and not hold a job while you’re in school so you can concentrate on your studies.
Two-year MBAs: These programs provide a more comprehensive education that’s well suited if you’re looking to take time to advance your business knowledge, select an area to concentrate in, and possibly complete an internship near the end of your schooling.
One-year MBAs: These programs offer an accelerated timeline that lets you graduate in a shorter amount of time. They tend to be useful for those with more professional experience, who hold a bachelor’s in business and have completed certain prerequisite courses.
Compare the different timelines for each type of MBA with our handy breakdown.
A part-time MBA is a traditional MBA degree that doesn’t require you to stop working. It’s usually a more flexible program geared toward professionals who have other commitments and would like to advance their business education. For instance, 37 percent of part-time MBA students are over the age of 31 .
There tend to be two main types of part-time MBAs: lockstep and self-paced. Lockstep means that you enroll with a set class of students (a cohort), while self-paced means you will complete classes on a more flexible schedule.
As with a part-time MBA, an online MBA also offers greater flexibility. It doesn’t require relocating, and you can complete classes on your computer. Both of those factors often mean that you can continue working while completing your degree.
What’s more, you don’t have to sacrifice interaction with an online MBA. Many programs are geared to facilitate virtual networking, peer-to-peer engagement, and more. Online MBAs can also be more affordable than in-person MBAs.
A survey of 2019 graduates from the iMBA program at the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business showed positive outcomes . Over half reported receiving a promotion, job offer, or accepting a new position while they were in the program.
A flexible MBA is a hybrid program that allows you to take classes in a combination that best suits your needs. You can take classes online, in person, on the weekends, and in the evenings. Flexible MBAs are not available at every business school, but they can be a strong option for students who need to continue working while earning their degree, and who want the benefits of an in-person education with the flexibility of learning online.
Business is increasingly a global undertaking. A global MBA program typically focuses more on international business management and global business practices. You can expect to view business issues and gain knowledge through an international lens.
Enrolling in a global MBA can lead to increased networking opportunities and more chances to share and exchange knowledge with people worldwide, which can help you build your professional relationships and extend your potential reach as a global business professional.
Executive MBA (EMBA) programs are geared toward professionals who have acquired between 10 and 15 years of experience. They are designed to help you elevate your business career, often to the executive level, by building on what you already know. EMBAs also allow you to continue working while earning your degree.
EMBA programs largely operate on part-time schedules, such as weekend classes, while allowing you to earn your degree faster than traditional part-time MBA degree programs. Unlike full-time MBA students, who have summers off, you’ll likely continue your schooling year-round.
You can develop a broad knowledge base and stronger skills through a general MBA program. However, if you have specific career goals, you may want to consider concentrating in some area of business. Popular concentrations include:
General management: You’ll gain a broad business knowledge with this versatile specialization, which touches on all aspects of business, including marketing, human resources, and business systems.
Marketing: You’ll gain marketing knowledge on subjects like promotion strategy, marketing research, marketing psychology, international marketing, and product development.
Finance: Specializing in finance will help broaden your knowledge base in vital areas. You can expect to study a range of finance-related areas, including global economic trends, corporate finance, and investment banking.
Entrepreneurship: Specializing in entrepreneurship helps prepare you with the leadership and decision-making skills you'll need to own your own business. You can expect to study subjects like resource procurement, lead generation, and financing.
Business intelligence: Specializing in business intelligence can help you hone the necessary skills to work with complex data. This concentration typically covers data modeling, visualization, and analysis.
Human resources: Specializing in human resources can help you work with people and lead HR teams. You can expect to learn about subjects like performance appraisals, employment law, compensation theories, operational management, and human resources analytics.
Health administration: Health care increasingly needs savvy business minds to operate. With this specialization, you can expect to learn about governmental regulations, market competition, and organizational restructuring, which help prepare you for roles as a health care policy analyst, health services manager, or hospital administrator.
Learn more: 5 Common MBA Concentrations
Deciding which MBA program is best for you will likely come down to your career goals, resources, and professional experience. For example, over half of MBA applicants in 2020 had over six years of experience . Let’s go over the major factors worth considering as you determine the best MBA program for you.
Your career goals should be at the forefront of your decision-making process because they will help guide your education. Will you learn what you need to in a traditional MBA or will a global program be more beneficial? Do you need to concentrate on an area of business, or will a more general business focus suffice? Think about your reasons for pursuing an MBA in the first place, and the career outcomes you’d like to achieve once you have the degree.
Additionally, think about whether you’d like to—or need to—continue working while earning your MBA because that may help you choose. For example, if you want to work full-time, getting your MBA degree online or choosing a part-time program may be the better option.
Tuition costs for highly rated MBA degree programs range from $55,727 to $161,810 . Many other factors will impact the total cost of your education, including whether you need on-campus housing, whether you enroll full- or part-time, and whether you attend a public or private institution.
Although MBA programs can be expensive, MBA graduates typically earn higher salaries, which may offset the cost of your degree over time. For example, the median annual base salary for MBA graduates is $115,000, and can be much higher for certain concentrations, such as finance . Additionally, if you’re able to attend part-time and continue working, you may end up owing less for your degree overall.
Admission requirements vary among different schools and types of MBA degrees. Many institutions have GPA requirements and may require scores from standardized tests like the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Executive Assessment (for EMBA programs).
Depending on the program you're applying to, you will need some amount of professional experience. For example, if you’re applying to an EMBA program, most schools look for candidates with 10 to 15 years of experience.
Learn more: How to Meet MBA Admission Requirements
Are you willing to relocate to attend school? This can be a key question to ask as you compare MBA degree programs. If you’re considering an online MBA, you won’t need to relocate. Instead, you'll be part of an alumni network that's dispersed not only across the country but also around the world.
Business schools often have career resources to help graduates network and secure employment. In fact, networking is a big part of the MBA experience. Take time to learn about what resources each school offers and how you can take advantage of those services.
Attending a top-ranked MBA program at a prestigious school can give you some advantages, though the degree itself and what you learn are ultimately what’s important. Spend time reviewing each school’s accreditation and considering its reputation. If possible, speak with alumni about their experience and check out each school’s graduate placement report to see where students end up working after finishing their degree.
Not every specialization is available at every school. If you’re interested in a specific concentration, create a shortlist of schools that offer it. Take time to review the required and elective courses you’ll take and make sure they align with the education you hope to receive by embarking on a graduate degree.
For a flexible degree option at a breakthrough price, consider the iMBA from the University of Illinois Gies College of Business. Take online classes from anywhere with an internet connection with students from around the world. Explore select courses for free as you decide whether an advanced business degree is right for you.
1. Graduate Management Admission Council. “Demand of Graduate Management Talent: 2021 Hiring Projections and Salary Trends, https://www.gmac.com/-/media/files/gmac/research/employment-outlook/2021_crs-demand-of-gm-talent.pdf.” Accessed July 12, 2022.
2. MBA.com. “Is a Part-Time MBA Right for You?, https://www.mba.com/explore-programs/mba-programs/is-a-part-time-mba-right-for-you.” Accessed July 12, 2022.
3. Crain's Chicago Business. "Online-by-design iMBA from Gies Business offers real-time ROI, https://www.chicagobusiness.com/crains-content-studio/online-design-imba-gies-business-offers-real-time-roi." Accessed July 12, 2022.
4. Graduate Management Admission Council. “Global Demand for Graduate Management Education, https://www.gmac.com/-/media/files/gmac/research/admissions-and-application-trends/2020_app_trends_survey_report_final.pdf.” Accessed July 12, 2022.
5. MBA Today. “MBA Tuition Fees (2020/2021): Calculating the Cost of Your Studies, https://www.mba.today/guide/fees#reference1.” Accessed March 15, 2022.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.