The MBA, or the Master of Business Administration, is most often begun several years after completing your undergraduate education. In fact, many if not most MBA program students will have an average work history of between 4 to 7 years when accepted to business school. It should come as no surprise, then, that many universities offer a variety of options to these busy professionals seeking to further their education. Most commonly, these options include a full-time, part-time, or executive MBA program. This raises an important question for all future MBA students: which program is right for you? While no one can answer this question for you, it is important to understand the differences in these programs in order to make an educated decision about which program fits your needs. While the degree you receive with any of these will still say “MBA,” it is important to consider finances, time commitment, and how important things like time with family and friends, career path, and business school culture are to you.
If you have recently finished your undergraduate work and only have one to two years of professional experience, it is likely that a full-time MBA program would be best for you. A full-time program is generally best for those with minimal work or family commitments and those looking for a greater sense of community during their educations.
While a full-time program comes with a substantial workload, making even part-time work difficult or impossible, there are several advantages to choosing full-time over part-time. The full-time MBA program at a given school is far more likely to receive the lion’s share of that school’s attention, and by extension, the business school’s budget. As a result, more financial aid is available from the school, lowering the significant cost of most MBA programs. Since you will likely be unable to earn much of an income while in school, it is imperative to see how much financial aid you will qualify for.
Full-time MBA programs also tend to attract a richly diverse student body, as the top students the world over are more likely to enroll in a full-time program. As you will likely be living on campus, this creates an exciting, socially active multicultural community, ripe for the free exchange of ideas and information. If you’re looking to recreate the “college experience” you had in undergrad, a full-time program will likely do a good job of that. However, the increased demand for full-time programs comes with tougher admissions requirements: your undergraduate GPA, work history, and GMAT score will all be taken into consideration. Be sure to make sure your application is sufficient before applying.
If the ability to continue working and spending time with family and friends is paramount on your list of concerns, a part-time MBA program might be for you. These programs are generally geared towards slightly older students who have spent some time in the work force and need continued income to support themselves or their families. In a part-time program, students can reasonably expect to find classes in the evenings and weekends, allowing even full-time employees the ability to fit in a reasonable course load. Additionally, some schools will allow you to sample some courses before formally matriculating. So if you’re unsure that you’ll have the time and ability to meet the requirements of an MBA program and still work full-time, you can try the program out with minimal financial commitment.
Speaking of financial commitment, potential MBA part-timers should take a few things into consideration. Schools are less likely to bestow financial aid on part-time MBA students, resulting in a greater portion of tuition costs being shouldered by these students. However, since these costs are spread out over a period of several years, this greater cost might be more easily managed. Additionally, since most part-time MBA students are looking to stay in their chosen career fields (often with their current companies), many employers offer tuition aid to employees participating in an MBA program. Be sure to ask if your company’s higher-ups are willing to invest in your future with them! An MBA will increase your value to your employer: according to a 2014 Forbes article, part-time MBA students can expect a median increase in salary of 41% post-graduation, and an additional 56% increase on top of that in five years’ time.
Once you have decided that a part-time MBA is the option for you, do take one final thing into consideration. Look out for diploma mills: schools offering a part-time program seemingly able to completed in an impossibly small time frame. After spending your hard-earned money, you may well walk away with a worthless diploma. Unless the school you are considering has accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), or International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE), cast an extra-critical eye on it. Accreditation, which must be regularly renewed, is a seal indicating that a school’s business program meets rigorous standards of quality. This lets any future employers know that you received a legitimate education.
If you are an established presence in an executive or managerial role in your place of employment and are looking to bolster your leadership and administrative skills, an executive MBA might be what you are looking for. You’ll need some experience, as most schools require several years in a managerial position before applying.
These programs will usually have classes convening in the evening and on weekends, sometimes mixing in an all-day class as well. Most programs are designed so that you’ll be taking most, if not all, of your classes with the same students, with little interaction with anyone outside your EMBA program. This provides a valuable networking opportunity, as you will be able to establish contacts with other managers and executives from a wide variety of fields of business.
If you intend to stay with your current employer, be sure to ask about tuition aid. Most employers will pay the entire cost of an employee’s EMBA, but many will mandate that you continue to work for them for several years afterwards. Consider whether or not you wish to continue at your current company before accepting tuition aid.