Choosing the Right MBA Program for You

It’s important that you pick one which is the right fit, as an MBA a significant investment of time and money

Those who are applying to MBA programs starting in the fall will know there is a plethora of options: full-time versus part-time, on-campus versus online, general versus specialized. It’s easy to get confused — what does the terminology mean? How do you know which type of program is right for you? What are the trade-offs?

Choosing a school and program is a very personal decision that will come down to a confluence of factors such as intended career path, short-term income and program location, among others.

“It’s important that you pick one which is the right fit, as an MBA a significant investment of time and money,” says Emily Brierley, head of MBA admissions and recruitment at Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK. “You’re likely only going to do an MBA once, so you need to make sure it’s the right one.”  

She recommends that prospective students think about what’s most important to them, what they want to gain from an MBA, and use that to guide their research. “Speaking to current students and alumni will play a key part in this, as they can offer insight into the student experience, and speak to the impact the MBA had on their career,” says Brierley.

Full-time vs. part-time

Many business schools use a variety of names for a range of different programs. But generally they fall into two major groups: full-time MBA programs and part-time MBAs, which are for working professionals.

Most full-time programs have a general management focus, are one or two years in length and have a summer available for an internship. “Generally speaking, full-time programs are best suited for those who are pursuing the MBA to make a significant career transition and wish to fully immerse themselves in the MBA experience,” says Isser Gallogly, associate dean of MBA admissions at NYU Stern School of Business in New York.

“For those seeking a career transition, particularly in certain fields like investment banking and consulting, two-year full-time programs are generally optimal as they allow for an internship, which is often key to making such a transition.”

Full-time programs can vary. Some are specialized around a certain academic area, such as technology and entrepreneurship or fashion and luxury. “Full-time programs that are more focused on a specific academic area are best designed for students who are already committed to pursuing that career path,” Gallogly says.

MBA programs for working managers also have a variety of names and formats. The most common are the part-time MBA and Executive MBA. Typically, a part-time program is for professionals earlier in their careers and an executive MBA is for more senior people.

“The formats for working professionals programs typically are either flexible or lock-step, and the schedules provided could be for nights, weekends, modular, online or hybrid or some combination or range of choices,” says Gallogly. “These programs are best for those who like their current function and industry, wish to continue to advance and not take time off for school.”

Given they need to split time between work and studies, part-time students may have less time to get involved or fully immersed in the MBA experience.

Online MBA programs

Online MBA programs are another type of format. Admissions consultant Stacy Blackman says: “Some MBA aspirants are either unwilling or unable to leave their job and family to pursue a full-time, two-year degree. In that case, a program that you can complete from the comfort of your own home could be the ideal solution.”

She says the Online MBA delivery option is even more appealing given that the caliber of such programs has improved dramatically in the past five years.

Everybody looks for different things in an MBA, says Nicole Tee, director of MBA programs at NUS Business School in Singapore. “Knowing what is important to you will allow you to choose the most suitable MBA for yourself. Answering this question requires you deep introspection into what you want to achieve out of an MBA. You will want to think about things like which geographical location you see yourself in the future and what career path you want for yourself.”

Talon Rindels, senior consultant at The MBA Exchange admissions agency, agrees that “which MBA program you choose is more of an art than a science and there are many different factors you should consider while making your decision”.

One of the most important considerations is the MBA network. “There’s no question that you’ll develop more meaningful, lasting relationships with a full-time MBA program,” says Rindels. “A full-time MBA is a much more fully immersive experience. This extra time spent together during such a life changing experience builds meaningful relationships that last a lifetime.”

Another key factor is income. “The reality is that some people simply cannot afford to forego their current salary to pursue their full-time MBA. They may need the income to pay off prior student debt, raise their family, or take care of aging family members.”

But ultimately, there’s an MBA out there for every interest type and schedule.

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