MBA Types: Which is Right for You?

When it comes to choosing MBA programs, applicants face a dizzying array of choices. According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council, there are over 7,000 programs that offer post-graduate degrees in business and management.

The field continues to expand; in recent years, business schools have introduced a range of new MBA specializations along with options for earning an MBA online or via a hybrid of on-campus and online learning. How do you know which MBA type is right for you?

MBA Program Types

This article will provide a high-level survey of MBA types to help you narrow the field into a manageable set of targets. Programs tend to fall into four broad categories:

  1. Two-year full-time programs;
  2. Accelerated programs;
  3. Part-time MBA programs, and
  4. Executive MBAs.

The larger business schools offer a menu of these program types, allowing you to select and apply to the best one for you.

When choosing an MBA program, there are two primary factors to consider:

  1. The stage you’ve reached in your career, and
  2. Your immediate career aims.

Where you fall on these two dimensions will help you select one MBA program over another.

Two-Year, Full-Time Programs

Career Stage: Early Career (2-6 years)
Career Aims: Field that requires a two-year MBA; Career change

The traditional MBA degree is a full-time, two-year program with a summer internship between the first and second years. The two-year programs are generally best suited to individuals who have from two to six years of work experience but are still relatively early in their careers.

Something else to consider is if you are planning on pursuing an MBA to make a career change, then two full years of business school with an internship in between is probably your best bet. Remember that in certain fields, such as management consulting and investment banking, the full-time degree is practically a right of passage. Those kinds of firms rarely hire a part-time MBA graduate.

Accelerated MBA Programs

Career Stage: Junior Management (5-8 years)
Career Aims: Return to the same employer/industry

Accelerated MBA programs allow you to complete your master’s of business administration degree requirements more quickly — typically in 12 to 18 months. Accelerated programs usually start in January and don’t have a summer break for an internship.

These MBA types may be better for a candidate who has already been promoted to a junior management position and intends to return to the same firm, or at least the same field, after graduation. If you fall into that category, you may already have a good grounding in business skills and knowledge and may not need the “core” courses offered by the full-time MBA programs during the first year of their two-year program. Furthermore, a summer internship will be less valuable to you if you already have a job within your target industry. You may prefer an accelerated MBA program to get you back into the workforce and back to earning a paycheck that much sooner.

Part-Time MBA Programs

Career Stage: Any, but typically Junior Management
Career Aims: Advance into management in same industry

According to the Council of Graduate Schools, over 50% of all MBA students opt for a part-time MBA program. Part-time programs allow you to avoid the financial burden of spending one or two years out of the workforce and without a paycheck.

The part-time MBA program types tend to appeal to applicants who plan to stay in their current jobs, at least in the short term, but need the skills and credentials an MBA provides. Because the most significant financial impact on MBA students is typically lost wages, the least costly option for earning your master’s in business is to attend one of the part-time MBA programs.

Executive MBA Programs

Career Stage: Executive Level
Career Aims: Prepare for C-level role

As the name suggests, executive MBA programs (or EMBA programs) are designed for individuals who are relatively high up on the corporate ladder and want to complement what they’ve learned on the job with formal business and management training. Executive MBA students typically attend classes on weekends or during intensive periods throughout the year. Many, if not most, members of an EMBA cohort are being groomed for C-level leadership by their companies, and might even sponsor the tuition costs of their EMBA degrees.

Final Thoughts

To determine which MBA type is the best one for you, you should consider what career stage you are and your post-MBA career goals. Select a program structure that best matches where you are in your career and where you hope to go in the future.

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