Today, the traditional MBA degree comes in a seemingly ever-expanding array of “flavors:” executive MBAs, online programs, joint degrees, speciality-focused degrees, and more. And most schools want to select applicants who are a good fit for their culture, values, and specific programs.
As you consider all these options while researching which schools are best for you, one way to narrow down your choices is by length of program. The typical MBA program is two years but many schools, particularly in Europe, offer one-year programs. As an admissions coach with Fortuna Admissions, I’m often asked by candidates what really is the difference between the two options and which length is better suited for them and their goals. Here is a rundown of differences to help you evaluate the pros and cons.
Two-Year Full-Time MBA Program
The two-year program is the traditional MBA format. Because it extends over two years, students complete more course material than in a one-year program and have an internship opportunity between academic years. Students in two-year programs have an extended period for networking and job search, engage for a longer stretch with students and professors, and partake in more time for study trips and treks as well as extracurricular activities on campus. The first year is largely reserved for completing the general course requirements (core courses) to build a solid foundation across all business fundamentals (e.g., accounting, finance, marketing, operations, etc.). Once the core courses are completed, the second year allows you to get more specialized where you can choose from a plethora of electives.
In general, two-year programs offer broader experiences and may go deeper into some topics than a one-year program, which can be very intense and fast-paced.
One-Year Full-Time MBA Program
The one-year full-time MBA program is an accelerated experience and course load. At a top-tier one-year program, students cover 80% of the curriculum of a top two-year program. Not only are the days long and the academics intense, but the networking and job search starts much earlier, in some cases as soon as school has commenced. Students go ‘full throttle’ from the moment they step onto campus until graduation and, consequently may have less time for special interest clubs and activities. That means that you’ll need to be more selective with the extracurriculars you choose.
On the plus side, because it’s condensed, you are only paying tuition for one year rather than two, one year of accommodation, and one year of other school expenses, so often it’s about half the cost of a two-year program. Students are also only forgoing a salary and are out of the workforce for just one year, as opposed to two. For most people, giving up a salary for two years is extremely daunting!
As a result of these different costs and the difference in foregone salary, your return on investment is faster in the one-year format. In addition, certain business schools (mostly US schools) state that one-year programs are better for those with a more focused career goal and for those who want to “accelerate” their career. This can be interpreted to mean that these programs are not as great for career switchers. However, for example, even though INSEAD’s program is one year, their statistics year-over-year show that approximately 84% of graduates switch sector, geography, and function. Clearly, leveraging a one-year program to make a major career change is very feasible!
So, what kind of candidate is best for each program?
The more typical candidate for a two-year MBA is someone who:
- Comes from a non-business background/degree, and is looking for more time to consume and digest topics they’ve never studied before
- Wants to make a major career switch
- Wants to explore opportunities with an internship
- Is still fairly junior in their career
- Has strong potential to be recruited for management fast-track programs, entry-level consulting jobs, or other graduate-level careers in business
The more typical candidate for a one-year MBA is someone who:
- On average has one to two more years of professional experience than the usual candidate for two-year programs
- Already has a background in business either academically or professionally. Note: This isn’t always the case and doesn’t mean that someone without any business education or experience won’t be admitted
- Has focused career goals and wants to ‘beef up’ their skills before quickly returning to the workforce
- Is a sponsored student, returning to their current company, and/or is a career accelerator, looking to climb the corporate ladder faster, or is an entrepreneur
- Wants to stay closer to the labour market (not be out of the workplace for more than a year)
- Doesn’t necessarily want or need an internship e.g., Kellogg’s one-year and Columbia Business School’s J-Term do not offer internships. In contrast, INSEAD’s January intake, Cambridge Judge, and Oxford Saïd do. (See full list below)
As business schools innovate with new formats and platforms designed to meet students’ interests and needs, it seems that the number of schools with a one-year format is constantly growing. Fortuna has compiled a list of some of the schools offering a one-year program, but it is not an exhaustive catalog. We encourage you to check with any school you are interested in to see if they offer this option.
Fortuna Senior Expert Coach Melissa Jones was formerly Assistant Director for the MBA Program at INSEAD, where she advised countless candidates on the MBA admissions process.
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