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 response to the changing and diversifying needs and interests of students and organizations.
When I was applying to b-school, I contemplated part-time vs. full-time, and one of my best friends, Colleen, had to make the same decision at the same time.
Ultimately, I decided to attend the full-time program at the University of Michigan. Colleen decided to attend a part-time program at the University of Michigan. We shared 60% of the same classes, 40% of the same professors, and even had a class together. (At the time, Michigan offered courses where they reserved half the registrations for full-time students and half the registrations for part-time students. Since that time, the school has dramatically changed the full-time curriculum and it is unlikely that we would overlap now like we did then.)
I graduated two years before Colleen with a unique internship, an opportunity to begin a new career, and a lot of debt. Colleen advanced quickly with the company that hired her upon our graduation from college and graduated without debt because her company sponsored her education. We both have the same degree.
Now as an Accepted consultant and as a former Admissions Director and Dean of full-time, part-time, and EMBA programs, I lend you my insight and guidance from the other side of the table in this brief analysis of programs.
Getting to know the MBA players
Are you ready to explore the various players in MBA admissions? 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. These programs are perfect for career-changers in the 25-30 year old range that can afford the opportunity cost of leaving work to immerse themselves in education and 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.
A business school’s reputation relies mostly on its full-time MBA program’s brand value. Those programs consume the largest portion of the school’s budget, and they rarely make revenue for the school. More than 90% of all scholarships and fellowships are dedicated to full-time students.
- Close and sustained interaction with other full-time students – ideal for career changers, internship opportunity, strong recruiting, company presentations, fellowships and scholarships
- Feels like an undergraduate again with clubs and activities
- Significant opportunity cost, time away from industries that are undergoing rapid change
- Families often get the short stick, but there are typically resources to support a spouse
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 tend to be 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 as much 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” that they may not qualify for otherwise.
These programs are the cash cow of MBA programs and live in the shadow of their smaller full-time counterpart. They take very few resources, but they often share the same faculty as the full-time program. Aggregated, the part-time applicant pool is not as competitive or as diverse since schools typically receive fewer applications, and they are limited to their immediate region and the industries that dominate that region. Furthermore, part-time programs have the capacity to serve at least as many and often more students than their full-time counterparts.
As much as schools say the quality of the full-time students and the part-time students are the same, the quality is dependent on location and how that location generates applications. Bigger cities have an easier time of attracting great applicants to their part-time program and can maintain higher quality standards, but full-time programs generate applications from around the globe and it’s much easier to pick and choose candidates for admission.
- Can continue to work/earn, apply learning in real time, gain access to top-tier programs
- Part-time students can often get full or partial sponsorships form their company lessening the financial burden, but do not typically have access to fellowships or scholarships from the school
- Take longer, no internship, usually no recruiting, it can be grueling to work and study simultaneously
- Part-timers typically do not have the same access to comprehensive career services as full-time programs because company presentations and interviews are typically held during the day
Executive MBA programs
Executive MBA programs are part-time programs targeting seasoned managers and entrepreneurs — typically people in their mid-thirties to late forties (depending on the program) whose rise to senior level is imminent or who are already in senior management. There is a 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 EMBA programs 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.
EMBA programs are also lucrative for schools, but they typically are not as large as full-time programs, and schools charge a premium for the EMBA program. These programs are typically held every other weekend and tend to be less generous with financial aid than their full-time cousins.
- Can apply learning immediately at work, breadth of exposure at a pivotal professional moment, valuable credential
- Students bond well with their cohort and the faculty
- Challenge of school plus demanding career and personal/family responsibilities, usually no formal recruiting for career changers
- These students rarely interact with either part-time or full-time students
Specialized graduate management programs
These programs offer the MBA course with a 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. The Cornell Tech MBA is an example of a one-year specialized MBA.
- Intensive focus on area of interest with coursework adapted accordingly, network of colleagues with related experience and goals
- Missing out on the diverse perspectives from other industries/sectors that can refresh and invigorate your thinking
While you usually 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, they could apply to some regular MBAs that trend older and some executive 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.
Which is the ideal MBA program for you? Which of these options will help propel your business career forward? Check out our MBA consulting services and get matched with an advisor who will help you choose the best program for you and apply successfully.Want Natalie to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
Cindy Tokumitsu has advised hundreds of successful applicants, helping them gain acceptance to top MBA and EMBA programs in her 20 years with Accepted. She would love to help you too. Want Cindy to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• Navigate the MBA Maze, a free guide
• Too Old for an MBA? Check Out 3 Outstanding MBA and EMBA Alternatives, a podcast episode
• Tips for Applying to Part-Time MBA Programs