Has The One-Year MBA Come Of Age?


There’s a startling revelation for those reading the tea leaves in today’s 2016 Financial Times MBA ranking: The rise of the one-year MBA program. For the first time ever, a 10-month MBA program topped the FT list with INSEAD’s No. 1 showing. INSEAD invented the one-year MBA format more than half a century ago, and the one-year model has become a viable alternative to the more traditional two-year offerings.

More importantly, perhaps, is how well shorter MBA programs fared in the FT‘s latest overall ranking. As Matt Symonds, a long-time business school observer, wisely notes, “The strong performance of the one-year program is one of the most interesting aspects of this FT ranking. One-year programs are now firmly entrenched among the top schools, with Cambridge Judge, IMD and HEC Paris all climbing in the 2016 ranking to join INSEAD and IE Business School among the world’s top 15 full-time MBA programs.”

That’s not all. “More striking,” writes Symonds, a director of the MBA admissions consulting firm Fortuna Admissions, “is the fact that the shorter MBA course length is now in the majority among the Top 50 in the FT ranking, accounting for 26 places. Of those, close to 70% improved or maintained their position compared to 2015. Compare this to the seven MBA programs that suffered the biggest drop, six of which are two-year programs in the U.S.”


One-year programs, of course, are far more popular in Europe than they are in the U.S. where Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, Emory University’s Goizueta School, USC’s Marshall School, and Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business are among the most prominent U.S. institutions offering one-year options. But one-year programs do offer some fairly significant monetary advantages over the more typical two-year offering.

For one thing, the tuition and fees are virtually cut in half. For another, the opportunity costs of attending a one-year program are considerably lower. Losing only a year of income feels a lot better than two full years, though the actual time of a two-year program is 18 months and includes a paid summer internship to help defray the costs of your education. Della Bradshaw, the FT’s business education editor, points out that most of the newer MBA programs launched in recent years are one-year options and doubts professors who prefer the longer programs. “When you talk to professors with two-year programs they will always say we can’t teach students what they need to know in two years, but what’s clear is that they can,” says Bradshaw, in a video interview.

And if you plan to stay in your industry or return to your pre-MBA employer, a one-year program may make the most sense for you. It’s not accident that 32% of INSEAD’s graduating MBAs who went into consulting last year returned to their pre-MBA employers. Overall, one out of every five graduates in 2015 got a job with the employer they left to go to INSEAD.


The downside? In most cases, you lose the opportunity to do a summer internship which in certain industries, particularly consulting and finance, often is essential to getting a full-time job offer. The internship certainly makes it easier to transition into an entirely different career or discipline than the one you were in. None of these disadvantages are true for all applicants. INSEAD graduates, for example, have been very successful at using its accelerated MBA program to make transitions. Last year, 80% of INSEAD’s graduating MBAs changed sector, country or job function. A remarkable 26% accomplished the triple jump, using the degree to switch industry, function and country.

Still, jamming a full MBA curriculum with electives in a year or less doesn’t allow for the deep reflection, the bonding, or the networking opportunities that are a critical part of the degree’s enduring value. “One of the value propositions of getting an MBA is to do a lot of self-reflecting and deep learning,” says Betsy Massar, a Harvard MBA and founder of Master Admissions. “That argues for a two-year program for students who really want to grow. It doesn’t mean INSEAD isn’t a great program. But you have to take every ranking with a grain of salt, and it’s crazy to imagine there is no regional bias involved in the Financial Times ranking.”

Would-be MBA candidates shouldn’t make the one- vs. two-year decision lightly. “Applicants have to stop for a second and ask themselves whether they are paying for three letters or an education that will have an indelible impact on their careers,” advises Jeremy Shinewald, founder and CEO of mbaMission, a leading admissions consulting firm. “Employers expect skills – they don’t expect the MBA “brand.” In most cases, the applicants we see would be better served by receiving more education – by partaking in a two program. And, it should be noted that the opportunity to practice during the summer is invaluable – it not only allows applicants to apply their learning, but it also lets their learning from a very intense first year sink in.”