Full-time MBA | TopMBA

The full-time MBA is the traditional MBA degree format; the vast majority of the world’s top business schools offer this mode of MBA education.

Even in a world where there are an increasing number of options at the disposal of the prospective student – brought on, in no small part, by the expansion of executive MBA programs and improvement to the technology behind the distance and online MBA degree - research by TopMBA.com shows that the full-time MBA is still by far the most popular format and is under the consideration of 79% of MBA candidates worldwide.

What is a full-time MBA degree?

The full-time MBA (master’s of business administration) degree is a general management degree that seeks to give students a detailed understanding of how business functions and how business leaders rise to meet an ever-changing set of circumstances and challenges.

The core (required elements) of an MBA program will almost always include courses in finance, marketing, strategy, human resources and operations management – no matter where in the world a student opts to study.


Full time MBA: What to expect


Outside of the core, course options – or electives – are offered by the world’s top business schools to allow students to gain a specialization (or concentration) in a particular area of interest – most often one that is closely related to the industry in which the student wishes to work post-graduation.

Areas of specialization/concentration that are currently of most interest to MBA candidates, as highlighted in QS’s annual survey of applicants from around the world, include international management, strategy and leadership.

Varying lengths of a full-time MBA

Although a traditional full-time MBA in the US takes two years, a one-year program has long been the staple at European business schools. However, in both locations, as well as in the rest of the business education world, you will be able to find both one and two-year versions of degree, and almost all lengths between the two.

Such a fundamental difference invariably divides a full-time MBA’s potential audience – with some applicants adamant that they are looking for a full two-year experience and others just as keen to graduate in a single year.

Unsurprisingly, given each region’s most common full-time MBA length, a majority of applicants in the US and Canada (58% in 2014) prefer the two-year format and a majority of those in Europe (60% in Western Europe and 52% in Eastern Europe) prefer the one-year version. Elsewhere, opinion is more divided; While those in Asia-Pacific have a slight preference for the two-year MBA over the one-year MBA (44% versus 36%), the reverse is true for those in Latin America (46% versus 38%) and Africa & the Middle East (40% versus 38%).  

Specialized MBA programs by degree name 

In addition to being able to concentrate on a particular discipline within a traditional full-time MBA program, many of the world’s top business schools also offer a selection of ‘specialized’ MBA programs in name.   

Many of these specialized MBA programs are specific to a certain industry and enjoy close links to potential employers – a number are even developed and taught in collaboration with industry practitioners, as companies see clear advantages in influencing the skillsets of a business school’s graduates.

Some of these specialized MBA programs have particularly niche audiences in mind, and are only available from a handful of top business schools which have the appropriate faculty expertise or else, the proximity to key industry practitioners – examples can be seen in the wine industry or in a particular sport, such as football (soccer).

Other MBA specializations are, of course, much more common for their wider appeal among students and application across different industries. They can be found – either in degree name or through a track selection within a traditional MBA program - at any number of leading business schools and include:

For a more in-depth look at recent trends in the world of business education, why not take a look at the latest edition of the QS TopMBA Career Guide.

Each year, QS publishes a report detailing the world’s leading business schools, with regional rankings that aim to guide a prospective student’s strongest options when it comes to full-time MBA study, no matter where in the world they wish to study.

In the latest edition of this report, the QS Global 200 Business Schools Report 2014/15, the top three business schools in each region are outlined below. Please follow the links for further information on a region’s top business schools or access this year’s rankings in full here.


A world of full-time MBA options


North America (a three-way tie for first place in 2014/15):

1= Harvard Business School (US)

1= Stanford Graduate School of Business (US)

1= The Wharton School (US)


1. London Business School (UK)

2. INSEAD (France)

3. Saïd Business School, Oxford University (UK)


1. INSEAD - Singapore

2. NUS Business School, National University of Singapore

3. HKUST Business School (Hong Kong)

Latin America

1. EGADE-Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Monterrey (Mexico)

2. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

3. Universidad de Chile

Africa & the Middle East

1. College of Industrial Management (CIM), King Fahd University

2. American University in Cairo

3. Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town


Full-time MBA career benefits


The career benefits of the MBA degree are a prime motivation among candidates – 64% of applicants around the world say they want to take an MBA to improve their career prospects, according to the QS Applicant Survey 2014.

The MBA can certainly open up new avenues of employment to those who undertake it. As well as allowing students to develop new skills, particularly in areas strongly sought-after by employers, the qualification allows them to interact with a class of highly-motivated peers, make contacts within a business school’s vast network of successful alumni from years past and to benefit from a school’s dedicated career services team. 

The state of the job market for MBA graduates worldwide is showcased each year in one of QS’s principal research publications, the QS TopMBA Jobs & Salary Trends Report. The latest edition showed 8% growth in the new MBA opportunities in 2014 globally - comparing favorably to GDP growth of OECD countries the same year. There are, of course, a number of regional and industry variations that fall under this all-encompassing figure – please read this synopsis for more details. TopMBA.com also has a number of articles looking at MBA graduates from particular business schools, based on their annual MBA class employment reports. You can find these in our ‘career trends’ section.

MBA salary and ROI post-graduation

Given the cost of pursuing the degree at a top international business school, the question of post-graduation MBA salary is quite rightly an influential point of consideration. With this in mind, QS published a new research report at the start of 2015 that looks at both the short and long-term ROI numbers for a full-time MBA pursued in Europe.

In terms of those all-important MBA salary levels achieved by graduates, employers based in different parts of the world, and working within different industries will have different standards of remuneration to which they adhere.

If you want to see which country and industry headed a list of the top 10 MBA salary levels by country and by industry, please follow the appropriate link that precedes these words. (If you simply can’t wait to find out, the answer - last year at least - was Switzerland and metals/mining.)