One-Year or Two-Year MBA Program?

Balancing the time taken out of your career with getting the most out of a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience

A two-year MBA can be a daunting prospect: two years of lost earnings, five-digit tuition fees, and the specter of being lumbered with loans for the foreseeable future.

Older students in particular may be drawn to the idea of storming through their MBA in just one year, particularly if they have families to support. But for anyone serious about getting the most out their studies, financial costs should be balanced against finding a program that can really advance their careers.

The decision to embark on an MBA program may be about gaining the skills to take a step up in the industry you currently work in, or it may come with the realization that you want to take a new direction in your career.

Students should consider their motivations for getting an MBA when deciding on the duration of the program. In the case of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, incoming students have the choice between two-year or a one-year MBA.

“For students in the one-year program the work experience they have is more in line with their career goals and they really want to advance in a similar field,” says Harriet Ruskin, director of international programs at Emory Goizueta.

“The two-year students might be less focused or want a more dramatic change in the type work that they have been doing and what they hope for the future,” she adds.

Brandon Beeken is finishing up Emory’s one-year program. Although he wanted to change direction in his career, he makes a distinction between “career-switching” and “industry switching.”

“I saw myself as an industry-switcher," says Beeken. "I liked the business marketing development role I was already in, but I realized that I didn’t necessarily like the insurance business."

So, for him, opting for the one-year program made sense.

“I wasn’t going from a Peace Corps volunteer to an investment banker; I just wanted to explore some different industries and meet some different people.”

Compared to Europe, where the one-year MBAs are the standard, they are still relatively rare among top-rated US business schools. Goizueta’s one-year program evolved out a one-year extension to the school’s undergraduate business program.

“The one-year program has been around in various forms for a long time,” says Corey Dortch, associate director of the Goizueta MBA. “It’s not a reaction to things happening in other countries, but more an evolution of what we’re seeing in terms of student needs. I think the desire of today’s students is for more flexibility.”

Across the Atlantic, Jochen Runde, MBA director at the University of Cambridge's Judge Business School, argues that using a one-year program to switch careers is far from impossible.

“A surprising number of people come to me once they’ve landed their first job after the MBA and say that it’s completely different from what they had in mind before hand,” says Runde.

“It may be that their motivation wasn’t to change careers – although with quite a lot it is – but quite a few of them change careers because possibilities and opportunities open up that they hadn’t considered before.”

Cocktail or hightail?

While approaches to cramming an MBA into a single year may vary from institution to institution, the intensity of the workload is a universal, meaning that whatever a student’s goals, they must be extremely focused.

Brendan Harney, an American student on the Judge MBA decided to prioritize a speedy return to work over what he calls the “cocktail” aspect of the traditional two-year program.

“I really didn’t have time for a lot of networking and long dinners,” says Harney. “Friends I had spoken to who had done two-year MBAs had a great time, but for me a one-year program seemed more efficient.”

Harney tellingly describes the pace of his program as “brutal.” And although anyone involved in a full-time two-year MBA program will argue that the workload is certainly challenging, it is often spread over a wider variety of activities.

For Matt Long, a student on Goizueta’s two-year program, that variation and freedom to invest energy beyond the classroom has been a beneficial aspect of the two-year program.

“I am able to do a variety of different extra curricular activities, obtain leadership roles,” says Long. “This leads to rounding out my skill sets and developing further networks.”

Meanwhile Brandon Beeken, who opted for Goizueta’s one-year program, admits that the connections he has made with fellow students have been one of the most rewarding aspects of his MBA experience.

He is perhaps only half-joking when he second-guesses his decision to take the fast track: “Now I’m almost thinking, maybe I should have done two years so that I could have another year with these people.”

Photo: AG0ST1NH0 / Creative Commons (Cropped)


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