Which Kind of MBA Program is Right for Me?

A variety of MBA programs, from full-time cohort options to EMBAs and online MBAs, cater to a range of needs

If you’ve decided to return to school for business, you’ll want to choose the program that best fits your career goals, experience, and the amount of time you want to put in. The classic two-year MBA is not the only option: schools offer plenty of different MBA programs based on your level of work experience, your geographical distance from the program and the amount of time you are able to devote to the program.

Full-time MBA

The full-time MBA is geared towards candidates with two to seven years of work experience, and usually requires students to quit their jobs and devote themselves completely to studying. In the United States, full-time MBA programs typically last for two years, although a growing number of US-based business schools are offering accelerated, one-year MBA programs.

Two-year, full-time MBA programs typically facilitate networking at the beginning of the first year by assigning students to cohorts who take the core classes together. Other schools call this the cluster system, while still others assign students to study groups with four to six other people.

Some full-time MBA programs require students to complete a summer internship between the two years of studying; sometimes, this internship will turn into a job for students after they graduate.

The second year of a full-time MBA program is often dedicated to elective courses or concentration options.

In Europe, as well as in the UK and some other parts of the world, full-time MBA programs typically last for only one year, not two. While these one-year programs usually don’t allow students to complete an internship, some offer consulting projects as an alternative to an internship.

Many students use full-time MBA programs to make substantial career shifts, such as from one industry to another or from one country to another.

Part-time MBA

The part-time MBA is intended for students who can’t or don’t want to leave their jobs. Students who pursue a part-time MBA can also work while pursuing their degree, meaning that this option is more flexible than a traditional two-year full-time MBA program. Some part-time MBA programs are flexible and can last anywhere from two years to seven years (or more), depending on how much time students devote to their studies. Many schools allow students the opportunity to take courses on weeknights or weekends, depending on their schedules.

Some schools try to recreate the camaraderie of a traditional full-time MBA by assigning part-time students to a cohort. Other schools allow part-time students the opportunity to pursue a specialization, such as marketing or finance.

Often, students will do part-time MBAs at local business schools. Graduates of part-time MBA programs usually can't expect the same kind of career mobility that a full-time MBA program offers.

Executive MBA

Unlike the part-time MBA and the full-time MBA, the Executive MBA is geared towards a specific kind of professional: those with substantial leadership experience. Students at these programs typically have at least seven to ten years of work experience. EMBAs are also part-time, with a variety of different scheduling options. Some schools offer classes on weekends, others in the evenings, and still others offer modular scheduling options, such as one week per month. These programs typically last between 16 and 22 months.

Like many part-time MBAs, the EMBA often relies on the cluster or cohort system as well, creating the sense of community inherent in the full-time MBA.

Online MBA

The online MBA is an alternative for students who need flexibility, in terms of geography and scheduling. Not to fear, though: online MBAs are equivalent degrees to in-person MBAs; students’ diplomas usually do not indicate that they pursued their degrees online. Many online MBA allows students to complete their coursework on their own time, although some are structured in a cohort format. These programs typically take three to four years of part-time study, although some can be completed in a shorter amount of time. Online MBA programs also typically offer several intakes per year.

Many online programs deliver classes “asynchronously,” that is, through pre-recorded lectures and the like; although some programs offer real-time lectures. These “synchronous” classes require students to be online at specific times.

Although some online MBAs allow students to pursue their course of study at their own pace, some schools also offer community-building opportunities. Some schools require students to meet using webcams for an online discussion every week, while other schools offer periodic residencies to facilitate networking.

Blended MBA

The blended MBA can be thought of as a combination of the online MBA and part-time MBA, combining periods of online study with face-to-face sessions. Like the online MBA and part-time MBA, these programs are intended for working professionals who don’t have the resources or desire to quit their job to study. These programs often include several face-to-face workshops per semester, plus study-as-you-go online tasks and discussions in electronic forums.

Global/International MBA

The global/international MBA is not an official separate category, but it’s an increasingly common designation for many MBA programs. These programs tend to attract a higher percentage of international students and faculty than regular programs, and also don’t focus their discussions on any one country’s business practices. Several of these schools also offer students the opportunity to rotate between different business schools during their course of study; for example, a student might spend several months pursuing a consulting project in an emerging market, or spend a month in China, Japan or Korea. These programs are often geared towards students pursuing careers in international business. 

MBA FAQs

What is an MBA?
What is an MBA?

Basic information about the Master of Business Administration degree

Am I a Good MBA Candidate?
Am I a Good MBA Candidate?

What business schools are looking for

Do I Need an MBA?
Do I Need an MBA?

Thinking about applying for an MBA? Find out if an MBA might be the right step for your career now

FAQ: Funding Your MBA
FAQ: Funding Your MBA

From tracking down MBA scholarships to loans and employer sponsorships, some tips about how to pay for an MBA

How do I Apply for an MBA?
How do I Apply for an MBA?

Check to see if you have all your application materials you'll need to apply for an MBA

How do I Pay for my MBA?
How do I Pay for my MBA?

One of the biggest challenges facing many prospective MBA students is finding a way to afford the high costs of attending business school for one or two years.

MBA Accreditation: Why is it Important?
MBA Accreditation: Why is it Important?

Three quality standards that can help you pick a business school with more confidence

What is an MBA Concentration?
What is an MBA Concentration?

Should you specialize your MBA by choosing a concentration? What are some of the most popular concentrations?

What is the GMAT?
What is the GMAT?

The GMAT is required to apply for many MBA programs. Here's more about the test and how it works

Where Should I do my MBA?
Where Should I do my MBA?

For some, it makes sense to stay local, while others might find better opportunities and adventure elsewhere

Why Should I do an MBA?
Why Should I do an MBA?

From career advancement to moving to a new country, there are many reasons why an MBA makes sense