Earning a Master's degree in Business Administration (MBA) is an important step in climbing the corporate ladder. Whether you seek a promotion at a financial firm or aim to become an entrepreneur with your own startup, an MBA can help you achieve those goals. Graduates from MBA programs typically earn higher salaries, and, as a result, the top business schools are highly competitive.

In general, there are two routes a prospective student can take when pursuing an MBA: a full-time or a part-time program. Although both options will lead to a degree, there are tradeoffs that should be taken into consideration when choosing between the two.

Full-time MBA

If you enter an MBA program as a full-time student, you won't make much money for two to three years as you won’t be able to hold a full-time job while enrolled. Therefore, these programs are most popular with younger students who have recently obtained their bachelor's degree. Full-time MBA programs are structured for 23 to 30-year-olds who can afford to leave the workforce for a while. There is also the expectation that students will live on or near campus and regularly attend classes. The workload in a full-time MBA program is greater and the class schedule more demanding than in a part-time program.

Full-time students account for over 90 percent of all MBA scholarships and fellowships, so those seeking financial aid or reduced tuition will benefit from full-time enrollment. Additionally, a university's business school reputation depends on its ranking as a full-time MBA program, so more investment and selectivity is focused on full-time programs.

Part-time MBA

There are two main types of part-time MBA programs. The executive MBA (EMBA) is designed for students with years of work experience in executive or leadership roles – typically, these students are between 32 and 42-years-old. EMBA programs focus on networking, and there is generally little interaction between EMBA and other MBA students. These programs are often smaller than full-time programs and carry a heftier sticker price, as employers are expected to foot some or all of the student’s tuition bill.

The other option is the part-time MBA, which is geared towards employees who work full-time and don’t yet hold leadership positions. These students tend to be 24 to 35-years-old and take classes after work, either in the evenings or on weekends. Part-timers usually share the same faculty and can take many of the same courses as their full-time counterparts. However, few scholarships are given to part-time students, so they must rely on personal savings, loans, and or employer sponsorship to pay for tuition.

Part-time MBA programs are often seen as less competitive than full-time programs and can take longer than two or three years to complete. The main challenge for part-timers is balancing work and school, many times at the expense of social or family time. Business schools located in large cities with financial hubs tend to attract part-time MBA candidates more easily, as school tends to be close in work.

The Bottom Line

Receiving an MBA can help you advance your career and earn promotions or pay raises due to the level of achievement and knowledge such a degree confers. Deciding between a full-time or a part-time MBA program is a matter of weighing the costs and benefits each option has to offer. Full-time MBAs are ideal for new graduates who can afford to delay working, but they can expect to land better paying and higher ranking jobs than those without an MBA.  Working individuals who are eager to enhance their existing career path might choose a part-time MBA program in order to remain employed while studying. For those in managerial or leadership roles, the executive MBA might be a more suitable part-time option.