At its core, the MBA is a graduate program in business administration for professionals who seek knowledge, skills, a credential, and/or a network to advance in business and to maximize their business performance. While “MBA” makes many people automatically think of a two-year, full-time program, in recent years the variations on the MBA theme have multiplied, in order to meet changing and diversifying needs and interests of students and organizations. Here’s a roundup of the main MBA options that are currently available, and their benefits and drawbacks.
Full-Time MBA Programs: This is a two-year, full-time program with an internship in the summer. It targets business (and sometimes other) professionals with roughly 3-8 years of experience. Obtaining a new position post-MBA is often a major focus of students, and recruiting by potential employers is a significant benefit of attending a full-time MBA.
Pros: close and sustained interaction with other full-time students, ideal for career changers, internship opportunity, strong recruiting.
Cons: significant opportunity cost, time away from industries that are undergoing rapid change.
Part-Time MBA Programs: Ideal for people who don’t want to leave their company or industry for any significant period or who can’t afford to stop working. Such programs target people who are employed full time, under the premise that students’ ongoing work will inform classroom discussion and projects. Part-time MBA students trend a little older than full-time MBA students. While these programs have traditionally served local students, increasingly they are offering varied structures and online components to attract distance students. They do not generally offer access to recruiters. Often admission is less competitive than for the same school’s full-time program, enabling part-time students to obtain a “brand” they may not qualify for otherwise.
Pros: can continue to work/earn, apply learning in real time, access to top-tier programs.
Cons: take longer, no internship, usually no recruiting, it can be grueling to work and study simultaneously.
One-Year MBA Programs: Of course, most European full-time MBA programs are one-year. Some top US MBA programs, e.g., Cornell’s Johnson and Northwestern’s Kellogg, have offered one-year options for a while, and others are joining the fray as demand for such programs grows. Often these one-year programs have special requirements, such as some prior business education or an advanced degree. They are ideal for people who don’t need an internship and who have a strong base of experience; not usually the best path for career changers.
Pros: the intensity of a full-time program with less opportunity cost, usually regular recruiting, ability to quickly rejoin a fast-moving industry.
Cons: no conventional internship, less time to network with students and faculty.
Executive MBA Programs: EMBAs are part-time programs targeting seasoned managers and entrepreneurs, typically people from mid-thirties to late forties (depending on the program) whose rise to senior manager level is imminent or who are already in senior management. There is range within this category in terms of desired/required length of experience. While coursework covers the same topics as regular MBA programs, it’s developed and presented with the higher level perspective. A great benefit of EMBAs is the chance to network and form relationships with peers from a variety of industries and functions at a career phase when a fresh perspective is quite valuable but sometimes hard to obtain. These programs don’t target career changers, but are increasingly used by and open to them, even though most EMBA programs don’t offer formal recruiting.
Pros: can apply learning immediately at work, breadth of exposure at a pivotal professional moment, valuable credential.
Cons: challenge of school plus demanding career and personal/family responsibilities, usually no formal recruiting for career changers.
Specialized MBA Programs: These programs offer the MBA course with focus on a specific industry or function; there are such options among both regular and executive MBA programs. They vary in their formats and approaches. Boston University’s Public & Nonprofit MBA is an example of a two-year specialized MBA; UC Irvine’s Health Care Executive MBA (HCEMBA) is an example of a specialized EMBA. A relatively new one-year specialized MBA is Cornell Johnson’s Tech MBA.
Pros: intensive focus on area of interest with coursework adapted accordingly, network of colleagues with related experience and goals.
Cons: missing out on the diverse perspectives from other industries/sectors that can refresh and invigorate your thinking.
While you can’t apply to two different types of MBA programs at the same school in the same admissions cycle, you can do so in different cycles. And you can apply to different types of programs at different schools at the same time. For example, if someone is between regular and executive MBA in terms of age or length of experience, he could apply to some regular MBAs that trend older and some exec MBAs that trend younger. Or someone may apply to full-time MBA programs but also apply to a part-time program nearby as an acceptable back-up.
Please do keep in mind, and address in your application, the nuances of the type of MBA as well as the particular program!
By Cindy Tokumitsu, author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted.com.