A graduate degree was not something Samantha Wargolet had given a lot of thought to pursuing. Born and raised in Minnesota, she got her undergraduate degree in Ohio before returning home to work for consulting giant Deloitte in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Wargolet’s career was humming along nicely, but higher education soon beckoned. Deloitte is one of the world’s foremost employers of MBAs, and Wargolet worked every day with colleagues who had — or who planned to get — the degree. But there was a major sticking point: the idea of putting her career on hold for two years. That was a strange concept.
“No one in my family had ever done anything like that,” she says.
The solution: a one-year MBA. And for a bonus, the one-year program that many consider the best in the world just happened to be in that same region where she had spent most of her life.
BIG CONCERNS ABOUT TAKING 2 YEARS OFF
“I always intended to graduate, get a career I enjoyed, and just stick with that,” Wargolet tells Poets&Quants. “For me, it was really after starting my job at Deloitte that I began to meet a lot of colleagues who spoke really highly of their MBA experiences and the impact it had on their careers.”
She was convinced that she needed an MBA to further her career. But two years away from everything she had worked hard to build was a non-starter.
“Personally, I’ve always valued education, I’ve always enjoyed academics. So I was excited about the idea of maybe continuing that — but that was certainly not in the plan,” she says. “I think the biggest thing for me was that I still had a lot of concerns about taking two full years out of the workforce.”
Her plans began to change when she learned about the one-year MBA program at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, which many consider the premier accelerated MBA program in the U.S.
“It seemed like a really good fit to get what I wanted out of an MBA, but not take that full two years out,” says Wargolet, who was admitted to the Kellogg 1Y MBA program last spring and will graduate this May. “And I had a lot of close colleagues who just happened to attend the 1Y Kellogg program and they all spoke so highly of the experience and the great value of a one-year program. And finally, after I visited, it was clear that Kellogg would also be a really good cultural fit.
“It was definitely my top choice, when I was applying to different schools.”
LITTLE CHANGE IN NUMBER OF APPLICANTS CONSIDERING A 1-YEAR MBA
Are one-year MBA programs still “having a moment”? Poets&Quants suggested they might be when we last visited the subject in 2019. (We previously examined the advantages and drawbacks of one-year MBAs here and here.) The answer is: possibly, but the data — all but meaningless after a year complicated by coronavirus — won’t make the case.
One-year MBAs offer a chance for professionals to “Get in. Get out. Get back to work” as one well-known school puts it on their program website. They are the U.S. graduate management ecosystem’s answer to Europe’s popular one-year master in management programs. But they haven’t caught on in the way specialty master’s programs, particularly in finance and business analytics, have in the last five years; and they look to be losing a step to online MBA programs as well, the latter a contest that has certainly intensified in the last year. Further, one-year MBAs have at least partly been caught in the headwinds that had stymied the growth of two-year programs before relaxed testing requirements and extended admissions deadlines last year reversed years of declines.
There’s no shortage of reasons to believe that coronavirus has not been kind to the accelerated MBA. One top school delayed the start of a pair of one-year programs last year, and enrollment is declining at others. Havoc in admissions continues in the form of continued deadline extensions and loosened testing requirements.
Rahul Choudaha, director of industry insights and research communications for the Graduate Management Admission Council, says data about one-year MBAs from GMAC’s major 2019 survey of prospective students is not directly comparable with new, as-yet-unreleased 2020 data — and Covid-19 is at least indirectly to blame. Choudaha tells P&Q that in an effort to “provide better predictive insights” in reporting data from July to December 2020 for those planning to pursue graduate management education in 2021, GMAC used data on “program preferences” as compared to “program considerations” — and therefore “the questions are different and not comparable.” However, he was able to find one apples-to-apples data point: program consideration for one-year MBA for July to December 2019 versus July to December 2020, which shows that “the numbers are flat at 46%.”
But there is a bright side. Choudaha says as part of nearly 70% of programs participating in GMAC’s 2020 Application Trends Survey reporting growth in applications amid the pandemic — up from just 30% of programs in 2019 — one-year program demand also has enjoyed a reversal in fortunes.
“Given that candidates of one-year MBAs are likely to have more work experience than the two-year MBA program candidates, they are motivated to seek leadership roles,” Choudaha says, adding that in the forthcoming Prospective Students Survey, due out this month, “candidates preferring a one-year MBA noted that obtaining a senior-level position is their top career goal compared to getting a salary increase for two-year MBA candidates. One-year MBA programs continue to offer value to mid-career professionals who plan to ride out this economic downturn with stronger skillsets and deeper networks needed to take senior roles.”
‘VERY, VERY STRONG’ ADMISSIONS SEASON FOR 2 CORNELL PROGRAMS
Among the top 23 one-year MBAs in the U.S., eight are at elite schools whose two-year programs are ranked in the top 25. Two of those schools have two one-year MBA programs each; and if the deans at one of those two schools, Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management, have serious concerns about the long-term viability of their one-year MBA programs, they aren’t letting on.
Enrollment may be down at both the one-year MBA based in Ithaca, New York, and the Cornell Tech MBA on Roosevelt Island in New York City, but Dean Mark Nelson doesn’t hesitate in waving that away as a Covid “blip” — and as evidence, he points to as-yet-unpublished application numbers for the incoming Class of 2022 that starts in May.
“We are looking at an admission season that is very, very strong, and that I think is capturing the fact that students are seeing the value of the degree, both our one-year MBA here at Ithaca and also the Johnson Cornell Tech degree,” Nelson tells P&Q. “I feel like our students have been doing well with our virtual teaching environment. It’s obviously something that everyone’s looking forward to moving on to face-to-face instruction from. But on the other hand, frankly, the school was really well-positioned to be able to offer virtual teaching, given that we have some synchronous distance teaching that we do with our Americas MBA program on an ongoing basis. So that was tremendously helpful.
“We’re having good placement success for the students in the program. So in general, I think we’re quite pleased. The enrollment drop is a one-year blip.
“With a program that starts in May, and you’re closing the class over the course of winter/spring, so you’ve got people in this tremendous moment of uncertainty. And so what we said to them is, ‘You do what’s right for you, and we want you here if you want to be here, but it’s a natural time of disruption and we get it.’ There wasn’t people saying ‘We reject the one-year format.’ It was people saying ‘We really do not know what’s going on with the world.'”
Drew Pascarella, Cornell Johnson’s associate dean for MBA programs, adds that Cornell’s pair of one-year MBA programs proved the strength of the format when Covid hit in March 2020.
“Two months after Covid, we were launching the first two MBA programs in the country,” he says. “Normally we wouldn’t really talk about execution because it’s the cost of doing business, but I think it was a differentiator for us this year.
“We were curious to see how the students would respond and they started — and we did not come up with this, they did — they call themselves pioneers. They said, ‘We’re the ones that are going to go we’ll help figure this out.’ And I think that spirit was heartwarming to see in the moment and led to a much better result, because they really felt like they were part of the team.”