Will One Year MBAs Take Off in the US?

A handful of big-brand US business schools have established one-year MBAs, which are more popular in Europe. Some schools believe the MBA will have to become a more flexible degree with multiple exit points

Intensive one-year MBA programs are trendy in Europe. They lift students’ return on investment by keeping the opportunity cost of not working to a minimum. The fees at many European business schools are also a relative steal. 

But in the US, one-year MBAs have been slow to gain ground. Few top business schools have offered one year courses, preferring instead the more familiar two-year version that has been around for more than a century. 

However, that is now changing. Several big-brand US institutions such as the Kellogg School of Management, the Katz Graduate School of Management and Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, have established 12-month versions of their two-year MBAs, as demand has risen among time-poor managers who are less keen on a prolonged period of absence from work.   

“Your opportunity cost, loss of salary and living costs are halved. That is the driving factor,” says Richard Drobnick, director of the one-year IBEAR MBA program at USC Marshall School of Business in California. 

[See the Top 10 One-Year MBA Programs in the US]

Another factor is that two-year MBAs have struggled to attract students amid a tight US labor market recently. Seven in 10 courses reported falling application volume last year, as students were put off by the high opportunity cost of putting their career — and salary — on hold. Some have even shut down, including the two-year MBAs at Iowa’s Tippie College of Business and Illinois’ Gies College of Business. 

“Two-year demand has weakened a little bit, while applications to our one-year MBA have been steady for the past several years,” says Drobnick at USC Marshall, echoing trends at other US business schools. 

He goes as far as to say that the one-year MBA may become the more dominant format in the US in the near future. 

The Mendoza College of Business, SMU Cox School of Business and Graziadio School of Business and Management are the other top ranked US schools offering successful one year MBAs. 

Will Dawes, research and insight manager at the Association of MBAs, says: “In a world where students want to progress and learn more quickly than ever in a cost-effective way, the one-year MBA could be a more efficient accelerator to career growth.” 

American one-year MBAs are not for everyone

But they are not for everyone. One big downside is the intensity of the programs, a whirlwind of instruction in the fundamentals of business and management, from strategy and finance to macroeconomics and marketing. 

At Babson College’s Olin Graduate School of Business, the one-year MBA program is identical to the school’s two-year version — both are 45 credits with the same core and electives courses. The difference: one-year students study for three consecutive semesters, while two-year students do four semesters with a summer internship in the middle. 

This intensity forms comradery, since classes are close and collaborative, which can translate into an invaluable alumni network. Many graduates from MBAs take up senior positions in the corporate world, government or nonprofit organizations. 

But cramming so much content into a single year is an enormous time management challenge, and that can come at the expense of important activities on the MBA. 

For instance, one-year programs tend to have fewer elective courses, study trips overseas, and they leave little time for student-run clubs and societies, where networks with students and employers can be forged.  

“Since students take 15 instead of 12 credits per semester, the one-year experience tends to be a bit more intense and demanding,” says Keith Rollag, dean of the Olin school at Babson College, compared with the school’s two year MBA. 

He adds: “Students also have less time for career exploration and job search, but we haven’t seen this impact placement success.” 

No summer internship

But a big drawback to pursuing a one-year MBA is not having a summer internship. This is a core route into many industries that are popular with MBAs, including investment banking, management consulting and consumer goods. 

Recruiters say the internship can give students an edge in the application process for a full-time job, since they have already demonstrated “fit” with the firm.

For this reason Melissa Rapp, associate dean of MBA admissions at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, says that two-year MBAs are best for candidates looking to make a big career change — they can use internships to try out new jobs, industries or geographies. 

“The extra time to have an internship, participate in student activities and network with alumni makes such career moves possible,” says Rapp. “I would offer the two-year program to anyone looking to reinvent themselves.” 

Instead of the summer internship, on Goizueta’s one-year MBA, students spend the summer focusing intently on the core curriculum. 

So one-year MBAs may be best for those looking to accelerate their career path within the same sector, says Rapp. “For someone looking to stay in their field — or a close alternative — and who needs a boost in skill, a one-year program could be an ideal fit.”

Is it easier to get into a one-year MBA?

Stacy Blackman is an admissions consultant based in Los Angeles. She says that anecdotally, her clients much prefer the established brands and networks that come with two-year MBAs over shorter versions. Just one out of every roughly 50 clients is interested in one-year US MBA programs, she says. 

This interest usually stems from the advice that it may be easier to get into one-year MBAs, because they often receive less applications than two year courses do. “One year programs are more flexible with GMAT and GPA stats usually, and have a higher acceptance rate,” says Blackman. 

She is resolute in her belief that two-year MBAs are here to stay, despite recent application declines, since shorter programs lack internships and have fewer networking opportunities. 

Yet business schools say the MBA will become a more flexible degree, with students studying together on one single program with multiple exit points — London Business School has successfully pioneered this approach in the UK. It may well take off in the US. 

Babson College’s Olin school, for example, has redesigned its MBA so that students can pursue it full-time in one or two years, or anything in-between. Students can also switch from full-time to part-time study (and vice versa), as well as take courses in person, online or a combination of all three. 

Rollag says: “We believe that the future of the MBA is strong, but that students increasingly desire maximum flexibility to fit the MBA into their career and life goals and constraints.” 

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