The Argument For A One-Year MBA Program

Business school sign - Photographer Karsten Seipp

There was some hidden news in this year’s Financial Times’ global MBA rankings: For the first time ever, over half of the MBA programs in the Top 50 offered a shorter path than the traditional two-year timeframe to get the degree.

Business school rankings are an on-going source of debate and controversy, relying on different methodologies and measures to provide an imperfect comparison of MBA programs from around the world. The FT generates a listing of business schools that are producing global managers for the 21st century, and the data-driven rankings send a clear message that the one-year MBA is flying high.

The growing popularity of the one-year MBA should come as no surprise. An increasingly international applicant pool is looking for fast-track development, learning new skills and creating new career opportunities without an overwhelming burden of debt. They want to get back into the workforce more quickly, and reduce the foregone salary, so the intense 12-month MBA format looks increasingly attractive. Since joining the Imperial College Business School as the associate dean of programs two years ago, applications to the full-time MBA at Imperial have increased by 60%.


With over 90% of our students finding employment within three months – many of them achieving the ‘triple-jump’ of changing location, sector and function – they are the living proof that you can have it all with the one-year MBA. Most of them will do internships in London or elsewhere in Europe, and build the skillsets employers expect. Furthermore, the bonding experience with classmates does not suffer from the intensity – quite the opposite in fact. When students know they are only on campus for one year, they’re more eager to get involved with activities and think of their time in terms versus years. This accelerates not only their job searches but their personal friendships and connections with alumni.

Women in particular seem to be assessing the benefits and choosing the one-year format as a preferred option. They have evaluated the risk and financial implications of the MBA investment, and often want to get back into the workforce more quickly. About 45% of the students in our current class are women, and through the recently acquired membership of the Forté Foundation’ we expect this pipeline to continue the shift towards gender parity.

That does not mean to say that the one-year MBA is for everyone. After completing my own two-year MBA at Columbia Business School in New York, I have enjoyed a career at NYU Stern and London Business School – both with world-class two-year MBA programs – and have witnessed first-hand the ability of the business degree to positively impact lives. I also had the privilege of taking two years to think about my next career steps. The one-year MBA at Imperial and other top schools attract personalities that thrive on pace and energy, with a clear sense of their career objectives. Indeed, they have chosen the shorter format because they are looking for a fast-moving experience that propels them forward.


They also expect to be challenged academically, with an intellectual depth matched by practical application for which the corporate projects embedded into the curriculum satisfy this desire and timeframe. Imperial College consistently features among the world’s top 10 universities, and the one-year MBA at the business school is a natural extension of a culture of academic renown and the fusion of business and innovation. The faculty push our students hard, and are committed to the idea that you can indeed teach students what they need to know in 12 months. That may mean completing your final study piece while doing your internship, but again, this reflects the determination of students to work hard, study hard and play hard.

Diane MorganWith most of the top one-year MBA programs based in Europe and Asia, the return to business school can also be the opportunity to immerse yourself in a culturally diverse learning environment and improve your chances of pursuing a global career. When you study at a top US business school you are placed in a category of “international students”. Such a category doesn’t exist at schools like Imperial because everybody is international. As one Dutch student reminded me, “I don’t have an accent here in London, because everybody does.”

A successful MBA experience, whatever the course length, means finding the best fit for your personality and objectives. If you are tenacious, driven, enthusiastic and ready to dive in from the minute you are accepted, you will do well in the one-year programme, and transform your life forever.

Diane Morgan is associate dean of programs at Imperial College Business School, the #4 ranked MBA in the UK. She holds an MBA from Columbia Business School, and is on the Board of Directors of the Forté Foundation.


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