Since the one-year MBA was popularized in Europe nearly sixty years ago, people have been asking: is a one-year MBA as good as a two-year program?
With U.S. business schools responding to the strong demand for one-year programs by offering them alongside two-year programs, the question remains: is the one-year MBA as valid as the more traditional two-year option? And what exactly is the difference between one-year and two-year MBAs anyway?
Investment, ROI, and opportunity cost
A traditional two-year MBA program is generally full-time, residential, and covers two nine-month academic years, with a summer break in between these years. A one-year residential program is usually an 11- or 12-month sprint.
Time is money
There’s more to consider than simply how long it takes to complete your MBA. Higher program fees, longer without earning a salary, and more time away from the job market means two-year programs are a significantly more expensive option – in terms of both costs, return on investment, and career opportunities missed. CNN Money calculates that students on two-year programs end up paying close to $350,000 when they add up interest from student loans, tuition and fees, and loss of job income.
Graduates that choose a one-year MBA program face lower costs for tuition, fees, accommodation, and living expenses. And their time away from work is half that of their two-year colleagues. This means that they are able to start paying back the cost of their degree quicker and reach their return on investment sooner. A graduate from Hult International Business School’s one-year MBA will typically pay off the cost of their degree in 2 years, whereas graduates of MIT’s two-year program are looking at nearly 5 years before they start seeing a return.
Out of the loop
In today’s fast-changing economy, two years away from the business world is a long time. Katharine Boshkoff, Vice President of Career Development at Hult says:
“These days, markets and industries are changing at lightning speed. The global economy is in a greater state of flux than ever before and disruptive new technologies and business models are transforming whole industries in a matter of months. Winners in the race for jobs will be those who stay plugged into the market and capitalize on change to drive their careers.”
But what about post-MBA salaries? Is a one-year MBA worth the same as a two-year? Do graduates of two-year programs earn more than those of the one-year equivalents? According to CNN Money author David Bogoslaw writing for Fortune, one-year grads tend to come into jobs at the same pay rate as two-years. In some cases, one-year MBAs even ended up earning more.
Curriculum and academic rigor
Both one- and two-year MBA programs offer the same degree with the same qualification – a Master of Business Administration degree.
Both typically offer a core set of courses covering foundational topics like accounting, finance, organizational behavior, and economics, as well as a series of electives.
Two-year programs allow students to take more courses and more electives, and those who want to become specialists in a particular area, such as finance, tend to favor two-year programs that allow them to deep-dive into their specialist topics.
One-year programs may offer multiple electives that enable students to concentrate their subject learning in a particular area. For example, at Hult, specialized areas include Finance, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Business Analytics, and Family Business.
Apart from ROI, the key differentiator between one- and two-year programs is learning experience.
Candidates that opt for the two-year programs are generally looking for a traditional college experience. The time and space a longer program affords allows students to dabble in a variety of topics, take summer internships, and figure out their career path as they go through their program.
One-year programs condense the curriculum content and the schedule is packed. Classes are often supplemented with real-world projects, competitions, and simulations. It’s an accelerated, intense, and demanding learning experience that requires focus, clarity, and a ferocious work-rate, and this may not suit everybody.
Because of these differences in curriculum delivery, one-year MBA candidates require a certain level of skill and experience so they can hit the ground running. Most one-year MBA programs have an entry requirement of at least three years’ professional experience, as more experienced candidates are more likely to adjust to the accelerated learning environment and enjoy the benefits it offers.
With less time to job search and internships not typically offered, students on one-year programs should have an idea of the job they want on graduation and a laser-focus on finding it – particularly if they want to be employed upon completion of their program.
This means conducting a job search alongside completing an MBA – a challenge for students who are not sure of what they want to do with their MBA. Business schools are beefing up their career services across the board to support students in this. Hult’s online career development portal helps incoming students to nail down their career plan and get their resume application-ready before they even arrive on campus, meaning students can begin their job-search even before their program begins.
By virtue of program length, two-year programs are often thought to have more networking opportunities. But the variety and quality of these opportunities are often a function of the school itself and of a student’s desire and effort in making the most of these opportunities, rather than being defined by the length of the program.
Everything from formal and informal networking events, recruiting events, speakers on campus, and projects with businesses, to social events, team projects, clubs, speakers on campus, to recruiting events – all function as networking opportunities. One-year programs may have the same volume of events as two-year programs, but the condensed timeframe of a one-year MBA adds to the intensity of the overall program.
Studying abroad and international experience
Opportunities to study abroad through exchange programs are traditionally a feature of two-year programs. But with the emergence of international business schools with several campuses in different locations, studying abroad is increasingly becoming a feature of one-year programs too.
Hult offers students on a one-year MBA program the ability to study in up to three different cities, giving them the opportunity to gain a wealth of on-the-ground international experience.
So are one- or two-year programs more worthwhile?
So what’s the verdict on one-year vs two-year MBAs? Both one- and two-year MBA programs have their merits. Those looking for a slower paced experience with time to figure out their future would probably be better suited to a two-year program. Students who want to minimize their time out of the workforce and earn back their investment quickly, and who are prepared for an intense year of hard work, would be better off opting for a one-year MBA.
Shanice Daeche is the Global Head of Brand & Program Management at Hult International Business School and is based in London. Her specialisms include brand management, product and customer insights, training, and people development. Shanice is a passionate and regular guest speaker at higher education and marketing institutes.