So, you've decided that an MBA is crucial to your career trajectory. Now you need to figure out which type of program to enroll in.
Should you drop out of the working world for a year or two to attend school full–time, or keep your job and attend a part–time program? Are you best suited for an Executive MBA? What about online programs?
Let's start by looking at a (very) brief overview of your choices.
Full–time MBA programs typically run two years but are sometimes condensed to 12 or 16 months.
Part–time MBA programs typically take three or more years to complete. Classes meet in the evenings to allow students to work full-time.
Executive MBA (EMBA) programs are often open only to applicants with at least eight years of professional experience. EMBA programs generally meet on weekends to accommodate students' busy work schedules.
Certificate programs provide training in an area of specialization. A graduate certificate is not an MBA, but it does confer expertise in important business fields and can therefore be quite valuable.
Global MBA programs for executives typically run between one and two years, drawing on middle and upper–level managers from all over the world.
Online MBA programs are best for professionals looking to earn their MBAs on a personalized schedule to be followed from home.
As you decide among these alternatives, you should consider four major factors: admissions requirements, the amount of time you're willing to commit, cost, and your career goals.
Admissions Requirements: Are You Experienced?
The amount of work experience required varies greatly between programs. There are some full–time programs (like those offered as part of a five–year BA/MBA degree program) that require little or no work experience. Most full–time programs, however, require at least three years of post–undergraduate professional experience. Likewise, part–time programs typically prefer three years of work experience, although they will admit students with less. EMBA candidates, on the other hand, often need at least eight years of professional experience at the management level. Certificate programs typically have the least stringent admissions requirements; work experience is rarely required.
You may be tempted to fast–track your career by entering an MBA program directly after college. This suits some, but many find the experience disappointing because they lack the practical knowledge necessary to apply what they learn in the classroom. In addition, they can contribute little to classroom discussion
Time Commitment: Are We There Yet?
If you want the degree as soon as possible, you should consider enrolling in a full–time program. Some deliver the degree in as little as 12 months. Part–time programs often require three to four years, although students with undergraduate degrees in business can sometimes place out of certain coursework.
EMBA programs generally take two years to complete. Between work and school obligations, EMBAs are extremely time–consuming; prepare to forfeit nearly all of your free time if you pursue this option.
If you're looking for a quick fix, a certificate program may be the way to go. At Wharton, for example, certificate programs consist of four to six courses that students typically complete over two semesters. That's a relatively small commitment that can yield big rewards.
Cost: Who Pays?
Graduate degrees aren't cheap. Some scholarship money is available for full–time MBA students, but awards tend to be less generous than at the undergraduate level.
In many cases, students enrolled in part–time, EMBA and certificate programs receive partial or full reimbursement from their employers. There's a catch, of course–most reimbursement programs require recipients to remain with the employer for a number of years after earning their degree. And if your employer has no reimbursement program, you will foot the bill.
Career Goals: Upgrade or Clean Break?
If you want to improve your position with your current employer, a part–time or certificate program is a good fit. Each allows you to enhance your professional skills and increase your value. Best of all, you can usually do it at your employer's expense. And don't forget distance–learning programs, which allow you to complete your courses from home or work.
If, however, you are looking to start a new career or find a new job, a full–time program is probably your best best. A part–time program will slow your progress, and one of the main incentives to study part–time–employer reimbursement–probably won't be available. You should also avoid distance–learning programs if possible; you'll want to be on campus to network with professors and fellow students.