The Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is highly sought by individuals wishing to secure job advancement opportunities and higher earnings potential in the business world. Firms often look for MBAs because they graduate with a specialized portfolio of knowledge, skills and experience. Earning an MBA is both time consuming and expensive, and business schools are responding to students' needs to have options when it comes to earning the advanced degree. Many b-schools now offer MBA programs with greater flexibility and more availability to a wider range of students.

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Two-Year Programs
A two-year MBA program offers courses over four consecutive semesters. Due to the intense course load, they are ideal for students who will be attending school full-time and who are not concurrently working full-time. The first year is devoted to core classes and during the second year, students are able to customize courses to match their career goals. Areas of concentration include accounting, e-commerce, economics, finance, marketing and healthcare administration. (Though an MBA is the most known business graduate degree, that doesn't make it the best. For more, see Traditional MBA Or Business Graduate Degree?)

One-Year Programs
Students can also earn their MBA through one-year programs that typically last between 11 and 16 months, depending on the program. Though appealing to earn the degree in less time, there are disadvantages. The admissions process is very competitive, and applicants must demonstrate excellence in previous academic and work history. In addition, many firms prefer two-year MBAs for both job candidates and internship positions. Like two-year programs, one-year MBAs can customize coursework to match career goals.

International Programs
Attending an Ivy League MBA program is not the only option. A growing number of reputable international programs offer MBA degrees to students willing to relocate for one or two years. In addition to standard course work, an international program offers its students a global perspective that cannot be learned without the cultural immersion. As business becomes increasingly global, understanding the differences in international cultures and business practices can give valuable experience and an important edge to MBAs. Many U.S. programs offer students the option to study abroad with partner universities for a period of time while working towards the MBA.

Distance Learning
In an attempt to cater to a wide variety of students, many b-schools now offer online MBAs. While most of the course work is presented in an online environment, some programs, such as the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, require short-term, in-person residencies. This is seen as an advantage by many MBA candidates who look forward to the opportunity to interact with professors and classmates. Online programs are appealing due to their flexibility and potentially lower tuition costs, but students will miss traditional b-school activities such as campus clubs and study sessions. For some students however, the flexibility involved in pursuing an online education is worth giving up the benefits that brick and mortar business schools offer. (For related reading, see Should You Head Back To Business School?)

Flex Programs
Flex programs, also known as part-time MBA programs, are ideal for working professionals who are unable to attend classes at traditional times. Flex program classes are typically scheduled during the evenings and weekends to allow candidates to pursue the MBA degree while continuing to work full-time. Students can expect a part-time MBA program to take up to five years to complete, though many can be finished in two to three years. Depending on the school, flex programs require the same number or fewer courses than their full-time counterparts. Some schools offer accelerated programs where part-timers can earn their degrees in a shorter amount of time.

Executive Programs
Executive MBA (EMBA) programs are designed for upper level managers or business executives who typically have five or more years of work experience. These programs are ideal for candidates who are already established in their fields but who need additional expertise or credentials for their careers. An EMBA is often an employer-sponsored degree, meaning that the candidate's employer pays the related tuition expenses. The focus of EMBA programs is usually general management, so specializing in a particular area such as finance or e-commerce, for example, may not be an option. The EMBA programs are rigorous, and students should expect to devote 80 to 100 hours a week to work and school. Students are typically eligible for degrees after two years of study. (This degree may give your career the boost you're looking for. For more, see Executive MBA Programs: Managers Going Back To School.)

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The Bottom Line
The Master of Business Administration, awarded to students who have completed course work to show mastery of the study of business, is a highly sought after postgraduate degree. Most students pursue the MBA to increase earnings potential and improve the odds for advancement in a particular career. Attending a two-year program on an Ivy League campus is perhaps the most traditional means of earning the degree and securing career opportunities; however, a growing number of reputable, accredited programs are now offered to provide MBA seekers with options. (For related reading, see Alternatives To Business School.)

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