SMU Gets Into The One-Year MBA Game

The Quad at the SMU Cox School of Business

The Quad at the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business


That’s what customers expect, and MBA applicants are no different. Just taking out loans for tuition and living costs can easily run into the six figures. And that doesn’t factor in two years of lost income. It’s a trade-off at best, and a high stakes gamble at worst.

As a result, applicants are looking for alternatives. And one option is the one-year MBA. Pioneered in Europe, the one-year program has emerged as a cheaper means to achieve the same result in less time. Prospective MBAs can already choose compressed options from the business schools at high profile institutions such as Northwestern, Notre Dame, and USC. And now a new name has joined their ranks: Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business.

On October 30th, Cox announced the launch of its Fast Track MBA, a one-year program for traditional full-time students. Starting in May 2015, the Fast Track program offers a lower cost alternative to a two-year program. At the same time, it covers the entire Cox MBA curriculum and returns graduates to the workforce nine months earlier. The first application deadline is January 12, 2015.


Here’s how it works. Over the summer, students will complete the core curriculum worth 16 credit hours. In the fall and spring, they’ll join their second-year, full-time cohorts for 28 credit hours of electives to complete a concentration.

Marci Armstrong

Marci Armstrong

Marci Armstrong, associate dean of Cox’s graduate programs, projects tuition and fees for the one-year program to be around $69,000 (compared to the $100,000 price tag of Cox’s two-year program). Despite the abbreviated recruiting cycle, Armstrong expects to net 15 to 20 students for the first year, while applying the same admission standards as the two-year program. Although Armstrong foresees that number growing over time, Cox hasn’t established specific parameters (though the two-year program will maintain its yearly class size at 125 students).  “We’re going to learn a lot from our first year,” Armstrong admits. “We have to learn what the market is exactly…and how quickly it’ll move in this direction.”

That said, this is no watered-down version of the two-year curriculum. The core courses, including the summer core curriculum, will carry the same rigor and intensity. They will also be taught by the same professors who instruct two-year students. In fact, one-year students will enjoy the same resources as their cohorts, including access to the same extracurricular clubs and activities, business leadership center services, career services, and alumni mentoring.  They can also participate in international travel over academic breaks.

Overall, Armstrong argues that the differences between the two programs are nominal. “A two-year program is really four semesters with an internship in the middle. [Fast Track] is three semesters without an internship. You’re really only one semester less.”


Venkataraman, Kumar, PhD, with Students at the Kitt Investing and Trading Center

Venkataraman, Kumar, PhD, with students at the Kitt Investing and Trading Center

According to Armstrong, the program was developed in response to market changes rooted in the global economic crisis. “There is a push at all business schools to look at programs that are quicker and less expensive, such as specialized master’s programs.” With business changing at an accelerated pace, Cox administrators recognized that MBA graduates needed to return to work sooner. “As the job market heats up and economy recovers, the opportunity cost of leaving the job market for two full years is huge… It’s not just the difference in tuition. It’s also the difference of time and being out of the job market. They’re really going to want something like this that gets them back into the job market.”

To help with this transition, Fast Track students can take advantage of Cox’s deep roots with the local business community. The campus is located just five minutes from downtown Dallas, home of over 250 private equity, venture capital, and hedge fund firms. The Dallas metroplex has also experienced heavy growth in the corporate and investment sides of finance. And Cox has capitalized on this home field advantage, developing a reputation as one of the region’s top MBA programs for finance. That’s one reason why Fast Track students will be eligible for its exclusive CFA training program. Here, a select group is hand-picked for additional instruction, with the school subsidizing the cost of having these students sit for a level exam.