The Top One-Year MBA Programs In The U.S.

Happier times: The Sloan Fellows program has been conducted largely remotely this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

What does Cornell’s leadership think about the long-term market value of the one-year MBA degree? It helps to be in a strong position like Cornell, an Ivy League school with a deep well of institutional knowledge — and few other schools can match that strong starting position, Drew Pascarella says.

“This is not a two-year MBA, and the advanced MBA student is a very unique student from the perspective of what they need, of how we should approach them, of how we should position them to the market,” he says. “So it’s hard to do this as a startup without that institutional knowledge, and we have 25 years of institutional knowledge about driving success in a 12-month format. So I think if you’re looking at a relatively constrained market and you’re looking at somebody like Cornell as a clear leader with all this domain knowledge, if you’re a leader of a school, I’m not exactly sure the right path forward is to enter and make that market more crowded. So I think it’s a market that we’ll continue to play very well in for years and likely won’t see additional competition. That’s one side.

“The second side is, when you think about where the market is going in the next three to five years, because it is a more constrained market, you have to think about the specific use cases for this degree. As Dean Nelson said, Tech has really kind of taken over in terms of placement — so if you have a technical student with technical work experience and maybe a technical master’s looking to go into tech product management, that is an awesome use case. That crew is growing, so the number of people that are coming to see us with that profile is increasing year over year. We can do a lot with them.”

Dean Nelson, a former accounting professor, adds another example: “You’ll have somebody that comes in and maybe they have a Ph.D. in molecular biology, and they come in and they do a one-year MBA and they end up being a CFO of a biotech firm. They have built this complementary set of skills that still lets them leverage their background. And we see that time and again. So it’s a really great platform for people to leverage that background — a focused market, but a strong one.”


Joanna DiFabio

MIT Sloan School of Management is another school with a deep — perhaps the deepest — well of institutional knowledge, and it has a one-year MBA program that merits a mention here. It is technically an executive program, with students — generally about 100 in each cohort — boasting 10 years’ experience or more on average. The Sloan Fellows program has been around for more than nine decades, making it perhaps the best known 12-month MBA program in the U.S., and warranting inclusion on any list of top U.S. one-year MBAs even if comparisons with the programs at Northwestern Kellogg, Cornell Johnson, NYU Stern, and elsewhere are inappropriate.

In one way at least last year, Sloan Fellows and MBA students at other one-year programs had one thing in common: coronavirus, and the experience of learning while locked down. But even after a wild and disruptive spring, the Sloan Fellows program enrolled its usual size class from the usual number of countries: 40.

“It was a scramble for sure,” Joanna DiFabio, assistant dean of the Sloan Fellows MBA and executive MBA at MIT, said of last year’s lockdown, which occurred at a particularly inconvenient time. “We were days away from going to D.C. for our module trips down there, and maybe it was eight days before we ended up going, that we decided not to go.”

After canceling its White House visit, Sloan Fellows had to cancel its other in-person components in short order — including its graduation in the spring, and subsequent summer classes for the incoming cohort.

“The community is so important still in the Sloan Fellows, I think it’s such a foundational block of who we are,” DiFabio said. “And that includes families, so we had a community send-off and we had a virtual graduation ceremony. For the summer term we decided to be completely online — running the same courses, but online, and creating community around that.”

Tom Harari, an entrepreneur who will graduate as a Sloan Fellow in 2021, said last year that the virtual classes weren’t ideal. But he quickly added that he wasn’t disappointed. The Sloan Fellows network is too important, he said, too influential, and too useful as he looks ahead in his career.

“For me, the network of the MIT Sloan community is number one,” Harari told P&Q. “Having a chance to take a step back from being in an operator role and building a company for a year, just kind of get my bearings and figure out what is the next company that I’m going to build. The on-campus would be great, but I understand the current situation and it’s certainly not disappointing for me.”


Author and MBA admissions consultant Paul Bodine

Author and MBA admissions consultant Paul Bodine

With the virus still raging and so much in question at business schools around the world, the future of the one-year MBA is on many minds. Much, of course, will depend on large forces, economic, cultural, and otherwise.

Paul Bodine, founder and CEO of Admitify, an MBA admissions consultancy based in San Diego, says that as long as two-year MBA programs remain expensive, raising tuition at about the inflation rate year after year, “secular demand for alternatives” will continue. But he hastens to add that he doesn’t expect one-year MBAs to be the most popular alternatives — and the main problem is a structural one: a lack of internship.

“I was looking at the GMAC Application Trend Survey, and it was looking like the online MBA and part-time MBA are actually seeing greater application growth,” Bodine tells P&Q. “So I don’t know that applicants see the one-year as some kind of magic solution or something like that. I think they’re looking for any solution that’s going to give them a good education. I think the problem with the one-year is the lack of the internship. And that’s always going to be an issue.

“So I was thinking of it in terms of the cost risk, and the risk of a non-two-year MBA is lower — in that sense, the applicant is assuming less risk. But the two-year remains less risky, especially if you are a career changer. I feel like people looking at two-year MBA programs have a greater sense of what this will turn into in terms of career and income impact after the degree.

“So applicants have to make that tradeoff: ’Can I afford this more expensive two-year option, which is going to give me more certainty in terms of my outcomes, versus the one-year, which is definitely going to save the money, but maybe then I can’t make the career change.’”


By the time B-schools everywhere began going into lockdown in March 2020, Samantha Wargolet had already been accepted to Kellogg’s 1Y MBA and begun preparations to attend.

“I was excited about going, but I definitely was concerned,” she says. “I think everybody was concerned, no matter where they were in their life journey.”

Now nearing her June graduation, Wargolet reflects on the fact that some of her MBA experience has been virtual. But over the course of the last year, she has made peace with the hybrid nature of the instruction and the difficulty in networking and working with classmates.

“For me, at the end of the day, this was the right time to get an MBA,” she says. “We all were going to be living through a global pandemic, no matter what. So I ultimately decided that now was still the best time. And honestly, this was maybe even better than it could have been in other years, because I think another year in the workforce would have been a lot less valuable than this year, pursuing additional education.

“It’s been really, really great. Obviously, everybody’s living through a global pandemic, so there have been elements that have been disappointing for anybody, just given that we have to work within the constraints of all of the state and local guidelines. But I do think that Kellogg has done a really great job of offering us everything that they possibly can during this time. And I also think that my 1Y class has really made the best of it. We’ve all come together to decide that we’re going to make this year the best experience we can for each other, and that’s definitely been a big highlight.

“The cultural fit at Kellogg was certainly right and I’m really happy that I’m here.”

See the next page for a list of all the major one-year MBA programs in the U.S., including links to schools’ one-year MBA web pages.

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