High-flying executives, budding young managers, successful entrepreneurs and full-time mums are all studying for an MBA - but what is it? TopMBA.com gives you a simple explanation of the different types of MBA programs.

The MBA, or Masters in Business Administration, is a graduate degree designed to provide students with knowledge of business practice. The degree originated in the United States in the late 19th century and today is offered by business schools around the world.

Delivered in a range of formats, from part-time to full-time, modular to distance learning, the MBA is typically one year (European programs) or two years (US programs) in length. Business schools have been quick to recognise the different needs potential MBA candidates have and are therefore adapting their MBA courses to suit more people's lifestyles. As a result there is likely to be an increasing number of variable types of MBA courses on offer in the future.

As well as providing students with an insight into business practices, MBA programs tend to feature a core set of specializations, such as finance, marketing, strategy and operations. Thereafter, students can often take electives in specializations they are interested in, such as leadership or entrepreneurship. The MBA is a general management degree but it is possible to specialize in, for example, a wine management MBA, or sports MBA.

Most MBA programs are accredited at a local and international level. There are three major accreditation bodies - AMBA, AACSB and EQUIS. These have been set up to ensure there is a level of consistency and quality across all graduate business qualifications that are being offered throughout the world. Candidates considering an MBA degree are advised to avoid unaccredited MBA programs.

While MBA courses seem extremely expensive at first - a one year MBA program in the UK begins at £20,000 - students are guaranteed a high return on investment. Most MBAs will find a marked increase in salary after graduating and will see their salary grow incrementally higher than those without MBAs. The course, on average, pays for itself after around four years.

Types of MBA

Full-time MBA
The full-time MBA is exactly that: one-to-two years of full time graduate study. Students attend weekday classes at a business school and will need to dedicate 12-24 months of their life while studying for the degree - there is very little, if any time, for additional work, travel or leisure activities. This is why it is so important to get family support when embarking on an MBA degree.

Two-year MBA programs are common in North America. They allow students to become immersed in their studies and often provide a period of time to embark on an internship.

One-year MBA programs are the norm in Europe. These programs are incredibly intensive and time-consuming as everything is taught within 12 months. There is no opportunity for internships but it does mean students are only out of the workforce for one year.

Full-time MBA programs are suitable for students with one-to-two years of work experience.

Accelerated MBA: The accelerated MBA is a variation on the two-year program. Students can expect a higher course load and a more intensive class schedule. There is also less time in between semesters and the summer break is much shorter than usual.

Part-time MBA: The part-time MBA degree is a full-time program studied over three or more years. Students can continue to work while they study as classes are held during evenings or over weekends.

Online MBA
Many business schools have responded to the needs of students and are now offering an MBA degree online. Students can gain the qualification from the comfort of their own home and apply it immediately in their everyday work. However, studying for an MBA online does require high levels of self-discipline and time management. Initially, online and distance learning (see below) MBA programs were not thought to be of the same calibre as those offered on campus - students were seen to be missing out on classroom debate and interaction with colleagues. However, many employers have now realised the commitment an online MBA requires of an individual and today, an online MBA degree is just as valued in the workforce as that of an MBA acquired in the classroom.

Distance Learning MBA
The key difference between a distance learning MBA and an online MBA is that the former requires students to attend class at some time during their studies. For the majority of the time, students studying a distance learning MBA will learn via interactive video, pre-recorded video, teleconferencing and online or offline computer courses. Many distance learning MBA programs also require students to organize meetings with their 'online' classmates as well as attending classes, usually held on weekends at various times throughout the program.

Executive MBA (EMBA)
Executive MBA (EMBA) programs are designed for the working professional with five or more years of work experience; however, the minimum work experience required does vary. Business schools expect EMBA students to have a high level of managerial experience and as a result, EMBA candidates are usually more mature than their full-time MBA counterparts. Executive MBA programs are delivered over a period of 12 to 24 months and allow students to study while they work. As such, students on an EMBA program require full support, and in many instances financial assistance, from their organization. Employer buy-in is crucial to EMBA students as this ensures they can attend the course on a regular basis. EMBA classrooms are made up of a range of candidates with varying backgrounds including industry, non-profit, government and entrepreneurs. The EMBA is also increasing in popularity as a qualification among women due to its flexible nature.

EMBA - Modular: The modular EMBA is intensive. It requires candidates to immerse themselves into the EMBA classroom for two-to-six weeks at a time, depending on the course and school they have chosen. This means candidates have to take significant time away from their employer. The workload of each module is heavy and candidates are expected to focus solely on their EMBA qualification during this time. Depending on their place of residence, some candidates will need to travel to another country for their modular EMBA. It can be taken over one or two years.

EMBA - Global: The global EMBA has candidates experiencing not only a different classroom environment, but a different country and culture at the same time. Global EMBA programs are usually combined programs between different schools in different corners of the globe. Global EMBA programs are competitive and also expensive. The candidate must not only deal with the workload but also the travel involved in such a program. However, being able to study in different financial and business hubs around the world only adds to the global EMBA candidate experience.

EMBA - Consortia / Multi-Institution / Joint: Similar in style to the global EMBA, multi-institution or joint MBA programs allow candidates to experience a variety of teaching styles and curriculum on different campuses. World-class EMBA programs such as those offered by ESSEC-Mannheim, Columbia-LBS, TRIUM and OneMBA, provide students with a distinct EMBA experience that will prepare them for the management challenges ahead upon completion of their EMBA.

EMBA - Professional (PMBA): The professional MBA, a variant of the part-time MBA, provides even greater flexibility than many programs, allowing candidates to study via evening or weekend study modes and graduate within 12 months. Because of the two types of study modes offered, candidates are also able to switch between them to suit their study loads and personal circumstances which can often change while working full-time. For some candidate's there is also the option to switch to a full-time MBA at various business schools such as Melbourne Business School in Australia.

Dual MBA
Last, but not least, is the dual MBA program. Much like a conjoint undergraduate degree, a dual MBA program allows students to study for two degrees at the same time. Students may choose to study for an undergraduate degree in business administration followed by an MBA degree - this could take four to five years. Not only is the dual MBA degree a much cheaper option than studying for two degrees separately, it also reduces the time a student needs to spend at university or business school.