At its core, the MBA is a business administration graduate program for professionals seeking knowledge, skills, a credential, and/or a network to advance in business and maximize their career 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 students’ and organizations’ changing and diversifying needs and interests.
When applying to b-school, I contemplated part-time versus full-time, and one of my best friends, Colleen, had to make the same decision.
Ultimately, I decided to attend the full-time program at the University of Michigan. Colleen chose to attend a part-time program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. We shared 60% of the same classes and 40% of the same professors, and we even had a class together. At the time, Michigan offered courses where they reserved half the registrations for full-time students and half for part-time students. Sadly, the school recently cut its part-time program.
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 graduation from college and graduated without debt because her company sponsored her education. We both have the same degree.
Now, as an Accepted consultant, former admissions director, and dean of full-time, part-time, and executive (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
In the United States, these are two-year, full-time programs with an internship in the summer between the first and second year (Europe tends to offer one-year programs but has similar parameters as U.S. programs). They target business (and sometimes other) professionals who have roughly three to eight years of experience. These programs are perfect for 25- to 30-year-old career -changers who can afford the opportunity cost of leaving work to immerse themselves in education and experience. Obtaining a new position post-MBA is often a primary focus of students, and recruiting by potential employers is a significant benefit of attending a full-time MBA.
A business school’s reputation relies primarily on its full-time MBA program’s brand value. Those programs consume the largest portion of the school’s budget and rarely make revenue for the school. MBA programs dedicate more than 90% of all scholarships and fellowships 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 students’ spouses/significant others
Part-time MBA programs
Part-time programs are 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, assuming that students’ ongoing work will inform classroom discussions 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 provide 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 might not qualify for otherwise.
These programs are the cash cow of MBA schools and live in the shadow of their smaller full-time counterparts. They take very few resources but often share the same faculty as the full-time program. Generally, the part-time applicant pool is not as competitive or diverse because schools typically receive fewer applications and are limited to their immediate region and the industries that dominate that region. Furthermore, part-time programs can serve at least as many and often more students than their full-time counterparts.
As much as schools say the quality of their full-time and part-time students is the same, the quality truly depends on the school’s location and how that location generates applications. Schools in bigger cities have an easier time attracting great applicants to their part-time programs. They can maintain higher quality standards, but full-time programs evaluate 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
- Companies often fully or partially sponsor part-time students, thereby lessening their financial burden, but part-timers do not typically have access to schools’ fellowships or scholarships
- Completing the program takes longer, there’s no internship and usually no recruiting, and it can be grueling to work and study simultaneously
- Part-timers typically do not have the same access to comprehensive career services as students in full-time programs because companies usually hold their presentations and interviews during the day
Executive MBA programs
Executive MBA programs are part-time programs targeting seasoned managers and entrepreneurs — typically people in their mid-30s to late 40s (depending on the program) whose rise to senior level is imminent or who are already in senior management. This category has a range in terms of desired/required length of experience. While coursework covers the same topics as regular MBA programs, it’s developed and presented with a higher-level perspective. A great benefit of EMBA programs is the chance to network and form relationships with peers from various 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 their EMBA program. These programs are commonly held every other weekend and tend to be less generous with financial aid than their full-time counterparts.
- 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
- The challenge of managing school plus a demanding career and personal/family responsibilities, usually no formal recruiting for career changers
- Students rarely interact with either part-time or full-time students
For EMBA admissions advice, check out EMBA: The Ultimate Guide for Applicants.
Specialized graduate management programs
These programs offer an MBA course focusing on a specific industry or function. They vary in their formats and approaches. Boston University’s Full-Time Social Impact MBA is an example of a two-year specialized MBA, and the University of California, Irvine’s Health Care Executive MBA is an example of a specialized EMBA. The Cornell Tech MBA is an example of a one-year specialized MBA.
- Intensive focus on an area of interest, with coursework adapted accordingly, a 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 simultaneously. For example, if someone is between a regular and an EMBA in terms of age or length of experience, they could apply to some regular MBA programs that trend older and some EMBA programs that trend younger. Or someone might apply to full-time MBA programs and a part-time program nearby as a good backup.
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.
By Natalie Grinblatt, the former admissions dean/director at three top business schools. Natalie has reviewed more than 70,000 applications, interviewed more than 2,500 candidates, and trained nearly 700 admissions directors and alumni volunteers to select outstanding candidates for admission. Her clients gain admission to top programs, including those at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, Cornell, Columbia, Berkeley, Chicago, Northwestern, and NYU. Natalie holds an MBA from Michigan Ross. Want Natalie to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!