Taking The Back Door Into An Elite MBA Program

back door

Don’t have the stats to get into one of the best MBA programs? Are the acceptance rates simply too daunting given your profile and work experience so far?

Well, there’s another way to get a prestige MBA degree on your resume. It’s to apply to a school’s part-time program and, if you want, to trade up into the full-time program later on.

The dirty little secret of MBA admissions is that acceptance rates to part-time programs are two to four times those of the full-time versions at the same schools. And the average GMAT scores for part-timers can be as much as 100 points lower than they are for full-timers.


Why the big difference? Many schools are highly protective of their full-time flagship MBA programs. They want to post the best possible numbers to improve their ranking in U.S. News & World Report. But they are far less choosy when it comes to part-time enrollment.

Consider UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, one of a handful of the most selective full-time MBA programs in the world. If you were applying to Haas full time, the acceptance rate is just 13.2% with an average GMAT of 717 and an undergraduate grade point average of 3.62. But if you applied to Haas highly regarded part-time program, the acceptance rate more than three times higher at 43.4%, with an average GMAT that is 25 points lower at 692 and an average GPA of 3.37. Those are still impressive numbers to make, but a significantly lower hurdle to get into a prestige school. Yet when you put the degree on your resume, it’s just those three magic letters and not whether you earned it full- or part-time.

At many other schools, the differences between these programs are even greater. Consider UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. It accepts 64.1% of all part-time applicants, versus just 17.8% for the school’s full-time program. The average GMAT score for a part-timer is 673, some 42 points lower than the full-time average of 715. Instead of an average GPA of 3.50 for the full-time crowd, it’s 3.35 for the part-timers.


Or take Washington University’s Olin School, currently a U.S. News Top 20 full-time MBA program. The schools accepts fewer than one out of three full-time applicants, or 26.7% of its applicant pool. But when it comes to its evening MBA program, Olin is taking nearly nine out of ten applicants, or a whopping 86.7% of the candidates. The gap on average GMAT scores is even greater: A 699 GMAT for full-timers vs. a 562 GMAT for part-timers, a difference of 137 points.

It used to be that business school officials would say that the increased work experience and older age of part-time students made up for their lower GMAT scores (it’s also true that the older you are when you take the GMAT, the lower you are likely to score). But these days, the entering age of part-timers and full-timers if often the same or just slightly different. Last year, for example, the full- and part-time students at New York University’s massive evening program–one of the largest in the world–was exactly 28 years of age. At UCLA, the part-timers were only a year old, 30 vs. 29 for the full-time program. At Haas, the part-time group was two years older at 31 vs. 29. Not much difference at all.

What’s more, earning an MBA on a part-time basis still packs plenty of rewards. For one thing, you can keep your job while you go to school–along with your income. The cost of your education is completely tax deductible. A recent study in the Journal of Education for Business Study found that part-time MBAs increase their median salaries by 41% over pre-MBA pay upon graduation and another 56% five years later.


No less crucial, an increasing number of schools view their MBA programs as one and the same. They allow full-time students to take evening classes and part-time students to mingle with full-timers. They also allow part-timers, once enrolled, to enter their full-time program if they choose. That’s true at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. Robert T. Monroe, director of Tepper’s MBA part-time online hybrid program, says that the school now views its portfolio of MBA programs as the same, whether you enter full-time, part-time, or in the online hybrid.

“In fact, four of the first cohort of 29 students in our hybrid program moved into the full-time program after the first year,” he says. “And two from the full-time and another two from our part-time program moved to the online hybrid version because their spouses got jobs in New York or had other opportunities they wanted to take advantage of.” All three MBA options at Tepper feature the same faculty, the same exams and assessments.

And yet, getting into Tepper part-time looks a lot easier than going full-time, with an acceptance rate of 76.3% versus 31.2% and an average GMAT score for the incoming class of 654 vs. 687.

Of course, one drawback to the part-time strategy is location. You pretty much have to be in certain metro areas that have high quality business schools with a part-time program to take advantage of the disparity in admission requirements. But you’ll often find that there is a wide variety of great schools with terrific programs nearby.

(See the following page for our table on the most highly ranked schools with full- and part-time programs and how the admissions results diverge between the two programs)