One way to kick-start a career and make that vital shift is to take a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). With the speed of business activities accelerating in the global marketplace, people need to be more commercially aware than ever. The MBA qualification is the well-established route to gain the necessary skills and knowledge.

The Master of Business Administration, or MBA as we know it, is the most popular postgraduate qualification in the world.

The MBA aims to build on the foundations of work experience and, by providing new skills and knowledge, to enable the student to make the transition to a higher level of responsibility. MBA students typically will have made significant career progression for a number of years after their first degree. They should have an in-depth knowledge of either a function or role and a specific industry sector.

Many of those who decide to take an MBA have achieved their initial career goals. They may have qualified professionally or have reached a position of significant responsibility. However, although they may be knowledgeable within a certain role or industry, their immediate career options are limited. New skills are needed if they are to progress to positions of greater responsibility and increase the scope of their career options. The MBA, as a general management qualification, offers a wider range of options than any other alternative postgraduate qualification.

One of the most important functions of the Association of MBAs is providing quality control by validating MBA-awarding bodies through a system of accreditation. Currently 36 of the 118 business schools in the UK have programmes that are accredited by the Association of MBAs.

The value attached by schools to such accreditation is highlighted by the fact that many overseas schools, even as far away as Asia, are now seeking this mark of quality control. There are currently 23 accredited schools on the European continent and an increasing number worldwide. Assessment criteria are rigorous and act as a kind of consumer protection for prospective students.

Those without work experience, however, should not consider MBA study. The Association advises recent graduates to defer until they have at least two, and preferably three or four years solid work experience. A Master in Management degree, which is aimed at those who lack work experience, is an alternative. The curriculum largely follows that of the MBA. It is far cheaper than an MBA, is offered by some of the best schools, and although it does not have the kudos of the MBA it is well regarded in the business community.

According to the latest Association of MBAs Career and Salary Survey, the salaries of MBA graduates have risen consistently over the past four years. All have achieved above average earnings highlighting the MBAs positive impact upon salary levels. The survey also shows that respondents receive both immediate and lasting career enhancement following their studies. Over half of the respondents now hold senior management positions, with the number of MBAs still in junior positions considerably reduced. MBA graduates enjoy on average 2.5 promotions post qualification.

Respondents were asked the extent to which the MBA has shaped their personal outlook. The vast majority said that achieving an MBA has increased their self-esteem allowing them to be more assertive. This confidence takes the form of strong convictions that they are now able to compete with the best.

Britain is the world's major provider of MBA courses for students from abroad. There are several reasons for this: For most of the world, the language of business is English. That rules out a number of otherwise excellent programmes in non-English speaking countries. Also, students with a good standard of spoken English will find it easier to adjust to living conditions in the UK. Average fees and living costs are lower in the UK than they are in the USA. However, students from abroad coming to Britain should also be aware that changing exchange rates and the strength of sterling may make the UK an expensive country for them. Foreign students should also note that in terms of reputation and prestige, many business schools in newly industrialised countries, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, do not as yet match European and North American ones in this respect.

One major difficulty that students from abroad face is actually choosing a school without being able to go and see it for themselves first. A growing number of schools do make presentations in centres abroad and it is worth asking whether they have any local graduates to whom you can talk. They are more likely to give you an unbiased opinion than the representatives of the schools themselves.

If you are a foreign student, the main questions a school will ask you will be about your CV, your qualifications, work experience and references. If your qualifications are borderline in terms of the demands the programme will make, you will be asked to do a GMAT - expect that a score of at least 550 will be required with an equal balance between the verbal and numerical scores. If they judge your English is not up to standard, you will be required to take either an IELTS or TOEFL exam. It is important to remember that both understanding and being understood are vital since so much work takes place in groups and syndicates.

The Association's website (www.mbaworld.com/) is an important source of free information for the prospective overseas student and its annual Official MBA Handbook is essential reading. In addition to listing details of schools worldwide, it provides comprehensive advice for would-be MBA students considering studying in Britain, including the size and culture of the school, programme content, quality of faculty and student body, facilities and location.

AUTHOR: Peter Calladine, Educational Services Manager, The Association of MBAs (www.mbaworld.com/)

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