One of the key considerations when embarking on an MBA is the program’s duration: one year or two years. Both options have their merits and drawbacks, catering to different needs and goals.
One-year MBA programs, most prevalent in Europe whereas the two-year MBA is the most common option in the US, have become more popular in the past couple of years because of the strength of the global economy and job market. This increases the opportunity cost of not working -- missing out on potential salary gains or promotions.
Indeed, perhaps the most apparent difference between these two options is the duration of the program. A one-year MBA program is an accelerated experience, condensing the curriculum into 10-16 months. Therefore, a one-year MBA is highly intensive, demanding a strong commitment from students.
“The program intensity really expands a student’s resilience, ability to work under pressure and adapt to change,” says Brandon Kirby, director of marketing for programs at the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM).
However, the intensive nature of one-year programs can lead to a more demanding schedule and less time for personal activities. Balancing coursework with other responsibilities can be challenging, making it harder to maintain a healthier work-life balance.
A quicker return to the workforce
The curriculum is streamlined to cover core business concepts, leaving less room for elective courses. As such, one-year MBA programs often target candidates with significant work experience, as the accelerated pace requires participants to have a solid foundation in business concepts. This can be advantageous for professionals looking to enhance their skills quickly and return to the workforce.
“Some candidates have more established networks and set career goals – meaning they’ll seek out a one-year MBA program to strengthen their soft skills, or fine tune a particular skill set, so that they can return to their industries poised to advance quicker,” explains Steve Thompson, senior director of full-time admissions at the Kellogg School of Management, which offers both a one-year and two-year MBA program.
On the other hand, a two-year MBA provides a more extended learning period, allowing students to explore topics in greater depth and engage in internships and networking opportunities. A two-year program also offers more flexibility and a chance to specialize through a wider array of elective courses. As such, these programs are suitable for those who want to pivot their careers, gain exposure to various industries, or switch to business from a non-business background.
Sheryle Dirks, associate dean for career management at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Management, says: “As a student, you’ll have time to consider and reflect on your career interests, goals and values. Simultaneously, you’ll be gaining new knowledge, building skills, and experiencing a world of new opportunities in and out of the classroom. And through a summer internship and other experiential learning, you even get to try out new roles and organizations before you graduate.”
Cost: a significant consideration
Another major difference is the cost of an MBA program. Including tuition, fees and living expenses, this is a significant consideration for many prospective students. One-year programs are generally less expensive due to their shorter duration, reducing the opportunity cost of not working (earning a salary) for an extended period.
“The shorter duration of the MBA programme means that students invest less time and hence, lower costs in their MBA studies. This is very attractive to students looking to minimize their time away from the workplace and reduce their financial burden,” says Urs Peyer, dean of degree programs at INSEAD in France and Singapore, which offers a 10-month MBA program.
“One-year programs usually provide a higher return on investment since students are out of the labor market for only one year rather than two years,” he adds.
On the other hand, two-year programs involve a more substantial financial investment but provide additional time for potential internships, part-time jobs, and networking opportunities that can offset the cost in the long run.
Choosing between a one-year and a two-year MBA program ultimately depends on your goals, background, and personal preferences. If you’re seeking a swift upgrade to your skills and are well-prepared for an intensive academic experience, a one-year program might be the right choice.
But if you’re looking for a more comprehensive learning experience, specialized knowledge, and ample networking opportunities, a two-year program could be a better fit.