Feeling pessimistic about your MBA options this year? Don’t be. Just because schools like Yale University’s School of Management and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business have reported increases in their MBA applicant pools, and your chances at placing in Round 3 of Harvard, Stanford or Wharton are slim to none, this doesn’t mean you need to shelve your business school dreams until next year. Consider, instead, a January start (“J-Term”) for your MBA studies.
The lineup of schools offering J-Term MBA programs includes some excellent (and international) options: Columbia Business School, INSEAD, HEC Paris, IMD, Canada’s York-Schulich and Queen’s School of Business. INSEAD welcomes applications for January entry from March onwards, while Columbia begins processing their rolling admissions for J-Term applications in June. (Regarding INSEAD, see also my article “Why INSEAD’s Time Has Finally Come”).
While the list may seem limited compared with September entry options, J-Term might still be your best bet if you’ve been dinged already for fall 2016 entries. This is especially true for older applicants who have their eyes on the clock, and whose chances of admission are diminishing as time passes.
For those considering a January start date, here are some additional factors to take into account:
Cost advantage. The accelerated format of the January entry programs will save you money (lower tuition fees in many cases; lower living costs) and combined with the lower opportunity cost (foregone salary), often yields a strong ROI. In fact, according to the Forbes MBA ranking, INSEAD has the highest 5-year ROI of any MBA program.
Competitiveness. Given the massive volumes of candidates applying for a September start date, competition can be slimmer for J-Term. Insiders report that January entry at Columbia is somewhat less competitive, however as Director of Admissions at INSEAD I observed that offer rates at the school were pretty consistently equal for both the September and January entries, year after year.
Accelerated curriculum. Less time removed from the work place can be an appealing factor, especially for those returning to the same industry. Many recruiters also report that accelerated programs mirror the intensity level of today’s hyper-paced workplace, and, therefore, better prepare graduates for the speed of professional life. However, the pace of one year programs can prove challenging for some. INSEAD, for instance, covers 80% of the curriculum of a top two-year MBA in ten months. Professors expect students in shorter MBA programs to keep up with the rapid teaching pace, and there is little time for catching up if you fall behind, so a relevant background is helpful, if not essential. J-Terms might also offer limited elective options.
Networking. If you go the J-Term route, consider how well you will be able to integrate into the rest of the MBA program, if there is a separate cohort. For many, expanding professional networks was one of the motivating factors for pursuing an MBA, so a smaller cohort, as you will find at Columbia, might not be the best choice.
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 switching into investment banking). On the other hand, INSEAD’s January entry does offer an eight-week summer break, which give students time to pursue internships, while the school’s September entry, which runs through to June offers no internship break.
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 months soul-searching and mulling different career paths before committing to a clear direction in terms of job search. The fast pace of these programs may limit time for leisured career reflection. While some students at these school do not make significant career shifts, many end up pursuing paths they had never even dreamed of before their MBA studies (for instance, prior to my INSEAD MBA, I was planning a career in the media industry in France, but upon graduation, I, accepted an offer at the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation in Indonesia). If you’re considering J-Term, and a significant change of heart in your career vision seems possible, make sure you are confident you will be able to reformulate your goals and plan of action quickly.
Re-entering the job market. Many recruiters are geared up to hire MBAs as they graduate in the summer, but as so many enter the job market at the same time, the competition can be steep. Most businesses have recruiting needs throughout the year, so graduating outside of the summer cycle may actually give you a leg up.
If you are short on time, and determined to start your MBA sooner rather than later, a 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.
by Caroline Diarte Edwards. Caroline 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.