The Top One-Year MBA Programs In The United States

It’s nearly 8,000 miles from Pune, India to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. But for Munjal Joshi, a student in the one-year MBA program at Lehigh University, the distance was a secondary consideration.

The most important thing for Joshi was what the one-year MBA program at the Lehigh College of Business could do for his career.

The 25-year-old consultant was drawn to Lehigh’s accelerated MBA “because of the efficient curriculum that covers the same material as a traditional two-year MBA but at a quicker pace,” he tells Poets&Quants. “This allowed me to achieve my academic goals in a shorter time without sacrificing the quality of my education.

“Additionally, I appreciated the intense nature of the one-year program, which allowed me to focus entirely on my studies and achieve my goals in a concentrated timeframe.”

ONE-YEAR MBAS ‘LACK DEPTH & RIGOR’? NOT TRUE!

Lehigh College of Business one-year MBA student Munjal Joshi: “My MBA has been instrumental in developing my problem-solving skills and broadening my perspective”

Like anyone planning a major investment, Joshi considered several schools before choosing Lehigh. But the fact that it’s a small program at a school that has historically escaped the notice of the major rankings was not a turnoff, he says — it was a big part of the appeal. And like all one-year MBA programs, he adds, Lehigh’s is a strong financial bet, costing significantly less and offering the chance of a starting salary comparable to what he would get from a two-year program.

Fit is key. Lehigh’s one-year MBA is comprised of 70% international students like Joshi, representing 10 countries. Forty-five percent are women. All — 100% — of the students come to the program with prior industry work experience. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the program is its Consulting Practicum, which gives students consulting skills by throwing them into real-world situations with real-world stakes. Lehigh’s “EXTERNSHIP” series transitions students in tight-knit groups to practical experiences working on actual company projects — helping them “to gain the hands-on experience employers are seeking in the graduating MBA students they recruit.”

“Choosing Lehigh was a no-brainer,” Joshi says. “The school’s small class size, personalized learning experience, exceptional faculty, and innovative subjects like societal shifts and Practicum, along with others that focused on experiential learning, were all factors that drew me in.” Moreover, “Everyone has been extremely helpful and supportive in my academic journey, from the program director and career development director to the professors.”

He says a major misconception about one-year MBAs is that they lack depth and rigor. Not true, he insists.

“One-year programs are designed to be intensive and require students to complete the same coursework and assignments as two-year programs,” Joshi says. “My experience has also shown me that industry experts or hiring managers look at one-year MBAs as equally valuable and impactful as a two-year MBA. In fact, the program’s fast-paced nature is an advantage as it accelerates one’s learning and career goals and makes one industry ready.”

SEISMIC SHIFT IN PROGRAM POPULARITY 

From the most elite programs like Kellogg's to the more intimate ones like Lehigh's, one-year MBAs have traditionally lagged their two-year cousins in basic metrics like Graduate Management Admission Test score and GPA averages, if only because they have always been slightly less popular, with a smaller talent pool from which to construct their classes. That is no longer the case, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council's annual Prospective Students Survey released earlier this month.

For what may be the first time ever, a majority of prospective B-school students said that they prefer one-year MBA programs over the more traditional two-year options more popular in the U.S. In the survey completed by 2,710 respondents in 131 countries, 22% of the would-be students seeking a graduate management education said they would prefer the more accelerated MBA program that costs less and involves half the time away from a paycheck. Some 20% expressed a preference for the two-year, full-time residential MBA.

The survey results (see below) may be within the margin of error but they underscore the now commonly accepted notion that full-time MBA programs — in the U.S. particularly — are a mature product, and the preference for one-year options tilts in favor of European schools where a one-year MBA is more popular than in the U.S. “Across generations, Gen Z is most interested in the two-year MBA and millennials are most interested in the one-year MBA,” GMAC notes in its report. “Taken together, the full-time MBA of any duration continues to surpass interest in more flexible or executive MBAs and business master’s programs."

one-year vs. two-year MBA

Source: 2023 GMAC Prospective Students Survey

COSTS AT 1-YEAR PROGRAMS ARE GENERALLY HALF — AND SOMETIMES EVEN LESS

GMAC's survey has an international bias, with more respondents hailing from outside the U.S. than inside it. In fact, there are fewer than two dozen one-year MBA programs in the U.S. at business schools that are ranked for their two-year programs, led by elite 12-month programs at Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Duke Fuqua School of Business, and Emory Goizueta Business School. At these programs, the curricula is not simply an accelerated version of their larger and more well-known cousins: they innovate, they break new ground while condensing most if not all of a two-year curriculum into one year, and they produce well-rounded graduates who command enviable salaries in leading industries.

It is true, however, that at these and other B-schools the appeal of the one-year MBA has always been financial: It costs less, and keeps students out of the workforce for less time.

A two-year MBA at one of the top 26 business schools in the United States now exceeds $200,000 at 15 schools, with three more B-schools knocking on the door. That’s up from 14 schools in 2021, 13 in 2020, 12 in 2019, and nine in 2018. At 17 of those B-schools, the annual price tag — including tuition, estimated living expenses, insurance, and fees — exceeds $100K. In terms of tuition, among the top U.S. B-schools, the number with two-year MBA tuition over $80K is four, when there were none in 2021; the number with tuition over $75K is 12 — double the number in 2021. (The flip side of the discussion is the question of ROI, and how quickly graduates can make up for expenses and lost time.)

Costs are generally halved at the leading one-year programs in the U.S., while grads' starting salaries are comparable. At Northwestern Kellogg, tuition for the one-year MBA is $108K and total cost with fees and living expenses is an estimated $157,578; base salary for the most recent graduating class was a median $162,555. Compare that to the two-year cost of $228,917 and median starting salary of $165K. At Cornell Johnson, the one-year Tech MBA costs about $176K, and the median base salary for the most recent class for which data has been published (2021) was $150,000; the two-year cost is $209,307, and the two-year starting salary is $155,048. At Emory Goizueta, the one-year MBA costs $148K and grads reported an average base salary of $148,250; the two-year costs $190K and grads reported an average salary of $149,751.

See page 3 for tuition and total cost information on 23 one-year MBA programs in the United States.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.