One-Year MBA Programs Gain More Traction

It’s no secret that an MBA is one of the most expensive gifts you could ever give yourself. Once you add in the lost income from quitting your job, the interest payments on student loans, and the ever-rising tuition and fees, the total cost of the degree can approach $350,000.

So at a time when applications to most two-year MBA programs have been down, it’s probably not all that surprising that there’s renewed and growing interest in one-year programs. As Kate Smith, admissions director for Kellogg, puts it: “The value proposition of the one year is great so there is high demand for it.”

While overall MBA applications to Kellogg were down 7% last year, one-year applicants bucked the trend. They rose by 6% last year and are up 24% since 2009. So this year, Kellogg has enrolled a record 100 students, up from 86 last year. Smith says the school plans to expand the class by 20% to 30% next year, bringing enrollment to as high as 130 students.


As the highest ranked U.S. school with a one-year MBA program, Kellogg believes it has an unusual opportunity to achieve significant MBA growth. Within three years, the school plans to double the size of its one-year program to some 200 students.

Besides Kellogg, there are only two other top 20 U.S. schools with one-year options: Cornell University’s Johnson School of Business, which requires candidates to already have an advanced degree, and Emory University’s Goizueta School, which like Kellogg requires applicants to have an undergraduate business degree or a quant background (see Guide To The Best One-Year MBA Programs in the U.S.)

And those schools are also reporting increased interest in the one-year alternative.  At Emory’s Goizueta School applications this year are up 39% and the school has enrolled 48 one-year students, up from 39 a year earlier. At Cornell University’s Johnson School, applications for its one-year MBA rose 15% last year while class size jumped 30% to 59 students. Johnson hopes to enroll 60 to 70 students in next year’s class. Fueling demand for Cornell’s 12-month option is the opportunity for students to do a dual-degree. “It’s a unique opportunity for a dual degree, like an MD/MBA, or Masters in Real Estate/MBA,” says Randy Allen, associate dean at Cornell. “Students can shave time off as well as cost in getting that [second] degree.”

Viraj Mehta completed Johnson’s accelerated MBA this year, between his third and fourth years at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine, where he’s studying to be an eye surgeon.

“It’s a great way to round out my skill set and give me a better idea of how the business of medicine actually works,” he says. “Eventually it will help put me in a position where I can make large-scale changes for the healthcare system.”


The benefits of one-year programs are obvious: Getting the same degree in half the time brings considerable savings in tuition and fees, room and board, and the lost opportunity cost of not having a job for two years. Once you include lost income and interest charges on student debt, the one-year program at Kellogg would save a student roughly $115,614 (see table at left). The total cost of Kellogg’s one-year program is $207,008 versus $322,622 for the two-year program. These estimates do not include scholarship money from Kellogg (where the average scholarship grant is $15,254 per academic year) or corporate sponsorship from a previous employer.

And despite the shortened academic experience, MBA employers tend to award one-year grads the same starting salaries they pay MBAs of two-year programs. In fact, several schools report that their one-year MBAs make slightly more than graduates of their traditional programs, largely the result of differences in work experience. At Kellogg, for example, one-year students are on average five months older with six months more work experience. So the return-on-investment of the one-year degree is much faster.

“People doing the two-year program are looking to have a college experience,” says Shena Simmons, who completed her accelerated MBA at Goizueta in May.  “With the one-year, you go in, you want to learn your stuff, and then get out to restart your career.”