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Why A January Entry MBA Is A Good Option

graduation guyNervous you might miss out on a place in a top MBA program this year? With schools like Yale University’s School of Management and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business reporting huge increases in applicant numbers this year, and the chance of securing a place in Round 3 at Harvard, Stanford and Wharton best described as ‘remote’, one alternative to consider before mothballing your MBA ambitions for 12 months is a January entry MBA program.

Schools offering MBA programs that start in January include Columbia Business School, INSEAD, HEC Paris, IMD, and Canada’s York-Schulich and Queen’s School of Business.  All of these schools offer accelerated MBA formats, so if you want to begin 2016 in the MBA classroom, now is the time to consider applying. INSEAD opens applications for the January entry in March, while Columbia begins processing their rolling admissions for J-Term applications in June.

This list of schools may seem limited versus the options available for a September entry, but might be worth considering if you have been dinged for the fall 2015 entries, and if waiting another year to re-apply may not be in your best interests (for example if you are on the wrong side of the average age for your target programs).

If considering a January start, here are some additional factors to take into account:

Cost advantage. The shorter format of the January start programs will save you money (lower tuition fees in some but not all cases; certainly lower living costs), will incur lower opportunity cost (foregone salary) and therefore often yields a strong ROI.

Competitiveness. Competition may be less intense than for the September entries, given the enormous volumes of candidates who are all applying for a September start. Insiders say that the J-Term at Columbia is typically not as intensely competitive as the September entry. At INSEAD, on the other hand, as director of admissions I observed that slightly lower application volume for the January entry was almost perfectly compensated by a higher yield (percentage of applicants who accept the school’s offer) and so at the end of the day, the offer rate generally remains equal across classes.

Accelerated curriculum. Less time out of the workplace can be a compelling argument, especially for those returning to the same industry. Also, recruiters of graduates from one-year programs sometimes state that the format more closely resembles the intensity of today’s workplace, and therefore better prepares students to hit the ground running when they start a new job. However, be aware that the academic pace on a shorter format program can be tough for some (INSEAD says it covers 80% of the curriculum from a top two-year MBA in 10 months) and you have to be prepared for long days.  Professors expect students in shorter MBA programs to keep up with the rapid teaching pace and it’s often helpful for students to enter these programs with some prior level of business knowledge. Also consider whether you will have access to fewer or different electives?

Networking. Do consider how well you can integrate into the rest of the MBA program: Are there opportunities to network that may be different within a smaller cohort? You will want to make sure that if you do decide on a January entry that you are not sacrificing anything that is core to your motivation for pursuing an MBA program in the first place.

Career options. Columbia’s J-Term is faster because the school does not offer an internship period, which may be necessary if you are a career switcher (and may be essential for some careers, such as investment banking). On the other hand, INSEAD’s January entry does offer an eight-week summer break when many students pursue internships (unlike the school’s September entry, which runs through to June with no internship break). In any case, whether or not the school offers an internship option, the shorter format programs are better suited to candidates who have a clear career plan and do not need to spend many months exploring diverse career options before figuring out which path is right for them.

The fast pace of these programs doesn’t leave much time for leisured reflection. While many students at these schools do make big career changes, and some end up pursuing paths that they would never have imagined before they arrived at the school (and here I must plead guilty: my stated career goal in my INSEAD MBA application was to work in the media industry in France, where I was working as a management consultant; upon graduation I joined the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation in Indonesia), students who go through a change of heart need the ability to reformulate their goals quickly and get focused on a plan of action.

Re-entering the job market. A lot of recruiters are geared up to hire MBAs as they graduate in the summer, but as a consequence you are one among many thousands coming on to the job market at the same time, and will need to stand out from the crowd. But most businesses have recruiting needs throughout the year, and as business school recruitment figures confirm, there can be a distinct advantage to graduating outside of this summer cycle.

If you are short on time, and determined to start your MBA within a year, the January entry might be your best option.  Just be aware that you may not have much time for leisurely leave taking – if admitted to a program like Columbia’s J-Term, you might have less lead time to pack your bags and arrive on campus. So, you need to be prepared for a rapid process and start to your business school career.

Caroline Diarte Edwards is a Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Director of MBA Admissions at INSEAD. Fortuna is composed of former Directors and Associate Directors of Admissions at many of the world’s best business schools, including Wharton, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, London Business School, Chicago Booth, NYU Stern, IE Business School, Northwestern Kellogg, and UC Berkeley Haas.