If such a person as a “typical” business school student exists, Tirth Patel is almost certainly not that person. He’s not even a business person, really. The native of Gujarat, India earned his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Mumbai’s Institute of Chemical Technology, then went to work for an Indian chemical manufacturing firm. Later, he got a graduate degree in chemical engineering. His path seemed set.
But there were gaps in Patel’s knowledge, and soft spots in his skill set. And he knew it. And so B-school beckoned.
“After two years of working, what I realized is that I had some skill gaps in terms of technical skills as well as managerial skills,” Patel, 25, tells Poets&Quants. “I applied for a master’s in chemical engineering at UC-Berkeley, and got my master’s there, but that program was focused more on product development and product management — not much from managerial side, but more on the technical side. So I clearly knew that I had to get an MBA.”
Patel didn’t wait to apply to MBA programs; he started soon after arriving at UC-Berkeley. But even as he began his research, he knew he wasn’t interested in traditional, two-year MBA programs. With no desire to change industries — he plans to return to Mumbai for work — he needed something shorter and cheaper, but still reputable.
“That,” he says, “is where I got to know about Cornell’s one-year MBA program.”
ONE-YEAR PROGRAMS DRAW INCREASING INTEREST
One-year MBA programs may be having a moment. They have long been popular in Europe; but as two-year, full-time MBA programs in the United States suffer their worst application downturn in years, alternatives are getting a hard look from both international and domestic applicants: Online MBAs, part-time and weekend MBAs, and specialized master’s degrees all are seeing bumps in interest, and so are one-year MBAs. The latter are not only shorter but typically cheaper and — at least at the elite schools that offer them — largely the same degree, with the same level of instruction and equally talented and driven students, only on a more intense calendar.
Schools are noticing the demand, raising tuition by double-digit percentages in the last three years, while a few highly ranked schools have launched high-profile new programs to respond to the demand — among them, NYU’s Stern School of Business and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Duke’s new program is designed to draw Master in Management students from Europe; likewise, another school, Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business, offers a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) MBA that can be completed in one year.
The ROI of one-year MBA programs may be their biggest selling point. The programs exist because of a desire to accumulate knowledge quickly and return to the workforce to put that knowledge to use — to get back to work and get back to earning as quickly as possible. Most one-year MBAs are just that, 12 months long; a few are shorter, in the 10- to 11-month range; one U.S. program, at the University of Miami, is only seven months long. But even the most expensive programs, such as the ones at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management or Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, cost between 70% and 80% of the price of the two-year residential programs at their respective schools. The total cost for Kellogg’s one-year program, for example, is an estimated $140,366; compare that to two years in the No. 5-ranked Kellogg full-time MBA, which according to the latest estimates cost around $211,000. At Cornell, a one-year MBA through either the Ithaca, New York-based program or the Tech MBA in New York City costs an estimated $141,000; two years in this Ivy League school’s two-year program costs nearly $190,000.
For the third time (see here and here), Poets&Quants has compiled a list of the best one-year MBA programs in the U.S. (see page 4). The list comprises 24 programs at 22 schools. Most are schools that are ranked in our annual 100-school ranking of two-year programs. Several are elite schools with elite programs that boast comparable, if not exact, levels of instruction as that of their two-year counterparts (and promise comparable employment outcomes, as well). Almost all have increased their tuitions since 2016, roughly when the current downturn in two-year applications began — and some have increased it by double-digit percentages. Kellogg, for example, has increased its tuition by $9,572 over the last three years, or 10.4%, from $91,716 to $101,288. Cornell in that span has increased tuition for its accelerated one-year MBA, based in Ithaca, by $17,530, or 19.5%, from $90,000 to $107,530. Emory University’s Goizueta Business School has increased 1Y tuition by $15,632, or 18.3%, from $85,500 to $101,132. USC’s Marshall School of Business, which has perhaps the premier one-year MBA on the West Coast, increased tuition $15,120, or 15.8%, from $95,760 to $110,880. Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business jumped its tuition by $8,418, or 11.9%, from $70,456 to $78,874. And SMU’s Cox School of Business had the biggest increase by percentage — 21% — in hiking its tuition by $12,570, from $60,000 to $72,570.
Another difference between one- and two-year MBAs is how difficult it can be to find information about the 1Y versus 2Y programs, leading to a lot of gaps in available data. Employment outcomes are hard to discern in many cases; for Kellogg, one- and two-year employment figures are combined in the school’s annual report. Some key numbers for select schools:
THE CONS OF GOING FOR A 1-YEAR MBA
There are many top schools in Europe with one-year options: INSEAD in France, Cambridge Judge, Oxford Said, Warwick, IE Business School in Spain, and IMD in Switzerland all have one-year MBA programs; most also offer the Master in Management, a one-year degree that is much more firmly entrenched in Europe than the U.S. In the most recent Financial Times ranking of global business schools, nine of the top 25 schools have one-year MBA programs or only offer MBAs in one year (or less, as in the case of INSEAD’s 10-month program). But in the U.S., like MiMs, one-year MBAs still fly under the radar. Why? We know the pros — what are the cons of one-year MBA programs?
The chief drawback, says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, is the lack of a summer internship, the benefits of which do not require lengthy explanation. But that’s not the only issue.
“Beyond the lack of summer internships, key disadvantages of a one-year MBA education include having fewer chances to add basic management knowledge through core courses and/or specialized learning through electives,” Min tells P&Q. “Furthermore, the shorter duration of one-year programs means less opportunity to bond with classmates and participate in student clubs, activities, and treks.”
In other words, there is less potential for a strong school attachment — read: alumni involvement — or strong networking links with one-year programs. Moreover, some view the one-year programs at elite schools like Kellogg and Cornell as “diluting the brand” of the two-year degrees. How should someone who sloggers through two intense years at a leading school feel about a colleague who got the same degree in half the time? Are they really doing only half the work?
“Depending on their current situation and post-MBA goals, an increasing number of MBA candidates are seriously considering and pursuing one-year programs,” Min says. For example, if an individual is already well-established in his or her career path, doesn’t need a summer internship to explore options, and wants to return to the same field or function with an MBA degree as soon as possible, a one-year program makes excellent sense. Likewise, if a candidate has family obligations — whether personal or a family business — that require his or her direct involvement and full attention, a one-year program will get them back to those responsibilities quicker. Most one-year students took undergraduate business classes; for them, the two-year experience would mean at least some duplicate learning.
“One-year programs at top-tier business schools are excellent,” Min adds. “Faculty and classes are identical to those available to two-year students. Access to the alumni network and prestige of the school brand are also the same. Advantages of a one-year MBA include reduced tuition and out-of-pocket expense as well as foregone income while enrolled. Ultimately, the biggest differences are related to time — i.e., pace and duration of the program.”
‘YOU’RE GETTING WHAT A REGULAR-TWO-YEAR MBA IS GETTING’
Tirth Patel is not a typical B-school student — so it makes sense that he would follow a not-so-typical route to an MBA. He was, in fact, the perfect candidate for a one-year MBA program.
After doing his due diligence, including hard looks at Northwestern Kellogg, Oxford Saïd, and other schools, Patel found Cornell — and immediately felt it was the right choice.
“I thought it was the right fit, as it would start immediately after I finished my master’s and in one year I’d have my MBA too,” he says. “So it was like I was going for the goal of getting two master’s in two years and then go back to the industry.”
When he graduates in May 2020, Patel will return to Mumbai, where he hopes to go back to work in chemical manufacturing — only he’ll do so with a great deal more knowledge, ability, and confidence.
“It’s been great,” he says of being at Cornell. “It’s a fast-paced program, so I would say people who prefer a fast-paced program should definitely go for it. Another criteria I would say to select the program would be how clear you are on your goals. There’s no internship opportunity in a one-year MBA program, so if you are like a lot of people who consider an MBA who are trying to switch careers, and the internship is really important, you may want to consider a two-year MBA.
“If you’re coming to a one-year MBA, it’s a little bit difficult if you’re trying to switch careers, but if you’re already sure which industry you want to go to and you have a good amount of work experience in that industry, or an education in that industry, and you want to go back to the same industry, I would say it definitely makes more sense to get a one-year MBA. Because you’re getting what a regular two-year MBA student is getting and you’re getting it in one year, and you can go back to the industry pretty early.”
See page 4 for a full list and data on the top 24 one-year MBA programs in the United States.