Last Updated: Mar 18, 2015
You’ve finally decided to pursue an M.B.A., a huge step in furthering your career goals. But the decisions don’t stop there.
Along with selecting where you would like to attend school, you will need to choose which type of program is best suited for your needs. Should you quit your job and enroll in a full-time program? Or would the flexibility of an online curriculum be better suited to your goals? Maybe you’ve been in the working world for a while and want to advance within your company; is an executive M.B.A. the right choice? And what's the difference between "executive," "professional," and "accelerated" M.B.A. programs, anyway?
There are so many factors to consider—cost, time, and student outcomes, to name a few—before selecting the right M.B.A. program. Luckily, there is a multitude of options designed for nearly every unique set of professional and personal circumstances.
To help you as you begin your search, the following summaries highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the most popular types of M.B.A. programs offered by business schools today.
The most traditional method of earning an advanced business degree is a full-time M.B.A. program. Full-time programs typically last two academic years, or approximately 18 months, with three- to five-week winter breaks and one three- to four-month summer break. Students complete core requirements during the first year of school and are then able to customize second-year course work. Electives may be tailored toward receiving a concentration in a complementary area, such as finance or marketing. Full-time M.B.A. programs typically require 60 credits or 600 class hours and include the opportunity for an internship. These programs, while among the most expensive and time-intensive, are arguably the most widely respected by potential employers.
Students who want to earn an M.B.A. as quickly as possible should choose an accelerated program. Accelerated M.B.A. programs are a more intensive version of full-time programs; students typically complete their 60 credits in 11–16 months. Weekly class schedules and course work are demanding, and there are only short breaks between semesters. As a result, internship opportunities usually are more limited than in full-time programs. On the upside, accelerated programs tend to cost less than full-time programs.
This avenue is geared toward working professionals whose priority is flexibility. Classes usually take place in the evening or on weekends to accommodate students working during the day. These programs usually take two to three years to complete, but depending on the student’s desired course load, they may take up to five. The catch? Part-time M.B.A. students usually are not eligible for scholarship money, and as with accelerated M.B.A. programs, internship opportunities are not built into the curriculum.
These programs combine a traditional M.B.A. with a degree in a complementary area such as law, health care, public policy, engineering, or technology. By allowing students to count core courses of one program toward electives in another, dual-degree programs enable students to earn multiple degrees for less time and money than if they pursued the degrees separately. At the same time, students graduate with a unique education that has been tailored to their specific needs and interests. This specialization may provide dual-degree program participants an extra edge on the competition. The primary disadvantage, on the other hand, is the extensive amount of time required.
Executive M.B.A. (EM.B.A.) programs are geared toward mid- to high-level professionals, such as managers, executives, and entrepreneurs. Because these individuals cannot take much time away from their careers, EM.B.A. programs are usually part-time, allowing students to continue to work full-time while they pursue their degrees over a two- to three-year period. Students often take classes all day Friday and Saturday (working out an arrangement with their employer to put in more hours on other days) to allow for late-night work obligations and business trips. EM.B.A. applicants are not required to take the GMAT; rather, admission requirements focus on work experience. While these programs typically require a minimum of five years’ work experience, the average enrollee has at least 10 years of work under their belts. However, the advantages of an EM.B.A. come at a cost: these programs usually are more expensive than traditional M.B.A. programs.
Professional M.B.A. (PM.B.A.) programs are similar to EM.B.A. programs, but are geared toward students in the earlier stages of their career. With that in mind, PM.B.A. classes emphasize technical skills as opposed to high-level leadership and management. PM.B.A. students are assumed to have fewer obligations during the week than EM.B.A. students, and thus tend to have classes on weekday evenings. The differences between the two programs are similarly reflected in admission requirements. EM.B.A. programs mainly look at work experience; PM.B.A. programs seek applicants with academic excellence and potential.
Global or international M.B.A.
In an increasingly globalized world, many students are choosing to pursue their M.B.A.s at business schools abroad. These international programs offer a unique set of benefits. For starters, they tend to be less expensive and take less time, requiring one year of study rather than the two years required by traditional U.S. programs. Another clear advantage is that international business schools—with their extensive alumni networks and global connections—provide more opportunities for students who wish to work abroad after graduation. Global M.B.A. programs are also often more diverse than their U.S. counterparts, exposing students to new and different ideas that will enhance their international business acumen.
Online M.B.A. programs have become an increasingly popular choice for busy students, and business schools have responded in kind by offering a plethora of online options. Among the various benefits, these programs typically are cheaper, more flexible and more convenient than others. At the same time, while more and more employers are receptive to online degrees, there is still some stigma against them. Prestige varies wildly between schools, as does the difficulty of being accepted. The University of Phoenix, for example, accepts nearly everyone who applies; however, the Columbia Business School’s online program is as competitive as its on-campus counterpart.
Hybrid or blended-learning M.B.A.
Some business schools have begun offering hybrid M.B.A. programs, which combine online learning with in-person instruction. These programs are ideal for working professionals whose schedules necessitate the flexibility of online courses but still wish to have some face-to-face interaction. While the majority of a hybrid M.B.A. education occurs via distance learning methods, like videoconferencing or online courses, students also attend classes on campus or organize off-campus meetings with classmates. Programs like these are available at many top-name schools, including Penn State, Babson College, and Duke University.
Certificate programs in business
A certificate program is not the same as an M.B.A., but it does provide specialized training in business areas, including finance, marketing, or global business. This option is best for students whose career goals do not require business fundamentals or who have already received their M.B.A. but still want to further hone their skills in a particular area. Certificate programs usually require three to seven courses and are completed in a year or less. Some require an application, but generally speaking, admission is not highly selective.
Mini-M.B.A. programs, a unique version of certificate programs, offer a basic introduction to business fundamentals in a timely, inexpensive manner. Traditionally, mini-M.B.A. programs were comprised of non-credit courses and required less than 100 hours of learning. Recently, however, some business schools have begun to offer classes for full credit, so students can apply their classes toward a full M.B.A. degree at a later date. This unconventional option is ideal for students who wish to advance their business acumen but are unsure of whether they want or need to pursue a degree. Mini-M.B.A. programs are offered by several leading U.S. colleges and universities, including Rutgers University, Clemson University, and University at Buffalo.
So which program is right for you? If you’re still not sure, ask around. Talk to admission officers, M.B.A. alumni, mentors, and colleagues. Attend information sessions. Investigate the rankings. Look into scholarship opportunities and possible tuition reimbursement policies with your employer.
Whatever choice you make, rest assured that advancing your business education is a great decision in itself.