What Kind of MBA Do You Need?

May, 21, 2013

Categories: Harvard KSG | Admissions Consulting | Advice | Chicago | Columbia Business School | Cornell | Duke | European Business Schools | HBS | INSEAD | London Business School | MBA | MBA留学 | School Selection | Tuck | UC Berkeley Haas | USC | Wharton

This is the second of a three part series of posts on the overal topic of “Do you really need an MBA?” In the first post in this series, I discussed that overall question directly. I suggest reading that post,  “Do You Really an MBA,” before proceeding to the post below.


What Kind of MBA Do You Need?

Assuming you have come to the conclusion that you do need an MBA, it is worth considering what kind of MBA you need. While most of the clients I work with pursue full-time MBA programs that last from 10 months (INSEAD) to two years (Most US full-time programs), I also work with clients who apply to other types of MBA programs.  The huge range of options that exists reflects the fact that there is no one size fits all MBA. Below I have tried to consider the range of options and provide some general comments on them.


Full-time MBA programs are typically 10-24 months in length.  INSEAD at 10 months is surely the shortest top ranked MBA around. While European programs range in length from 10 months to two years, most US programs are two years long with the exceptions being the one-year programs at Cornell and Kellogg and the one and a half-year program at Columbia Business School (January-term).  All three of these US schools are better known for their two-year MBA.  Residential programs are best for those looking to be fully devoted to their studies for the purpose of skills enhancement, network development, and career change.  Internship and/or practical components play a key role in such programs as does being part of a community. Other typical motivations for attending a full-time program can simply be rather personal: A desire to be a student again, a desire to a take a break from work, the intention to balance school with family life (It is surely common enough for some couples to decide to have children when one or both of them is a full-time MBA student), the ability to combine study with international travel, and intellectual self discovery.  Being a full-time student is an expensive proposition for many due to both the loss of income and the high cost of tuition, but for personal and professional reasons can be well worth the cost.


Full-time MBA Dual/Joint Degree Programs are typically 2.5-3 years in length (Though this depends greatly on the other degree, an MD/MBA will take considerably longer because of the MD) and a subset of the regular full-time MBA program above. A joint degree enables the student to study some other subject. Joint degrees (Courses, at least some of them, maybe applied to completing both degrees) and dual degrees (Courses are typically only applied to one degree) allow for a huge range of specializations and the development of expertise in more than profession.  Wharton Lauder (MBA and MA in International Studies)  and Berkeley’s Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) and Master’s in Public Health (MPH) are two very popular joint degree programs. Stanford GSB offers a great range of both joint and dual programs  as do a number of top schools. In the public policy area, joint and concurrent degrees with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (KSG) are especially popular. KSG offers a joint degree with the Harvard Business School and Concurrent degrees (you are enrolled in both programs and have distinct residency requirements at both schools) with Dartmouth Tuck, Stanford GSB, Wharton, and MIT Sloan. The length of any joint/dual/concurrent degree programs as well as the cost involved is something I recommend looking into prior to application as I have worked with a few clients who only realized after they had been admitted that the additional costs involved were quite significant.


Part-time/ Evening/ Weekend MBAs offer students the opportunity to study while continuing to work full-time. Such programs can be found at MBA programs of all ranking levels, including notably such top ten schools as UC Berkeley and University of Chicago.  For example, UC Berkeley Haas offers students the opportunity to complete a regular MBA in weekend and/or evening classes in three years. University of Chicago Booth’s Evening Program can be completed in 2.5-3 years. In both cases, courses are with the same faculty as the daytime two-year program. At Booth, I know that many of my former clients in the regular two-year MBA often have taken evening courses, in part because such courses are held at the downtown campus (Gleacher Center), which is closer to where many Booth students live than the main Hyde Park campus (Harper Center).  While working full-time and attending an MBA program is not for everyone, programs like Booth’s and Haas’ offer a very compelling option for those who can handle the commitment and don’t want to sacrifice two years of income. Based on working with applicants to both Haas’ and Booth’s programs part-time programs, these programs are quite selective though not as selective as their full-time equivalents.


Executive MBA (EMBA) full-time residential programs are typically 1-2 years in length.  These programs are primarily designed for those with 10 or more years of work experience.  Stanford Sloan Fellows, MIT Sloan Fellows, London Business School Sloan Fellows, and University of Southern California’s IBEAR are surely the best known programs in this relatively small category These programs represent a particularly good option for those who are over 35 years old and are already operating at the middle to senior management level and want an experience like that of a two-year MBA, but better tailored to their age/experience bracket. Admission for both MIT Sloan and Stanford Sloan is highly selective, though comparatively easier to get into than either MIT or Stanford’s two-year MBA program.  If you are interested in any of three Sloans or IBEAR, I suggest communicating extensively with their admissions teams, which should give you a pretty good idea about your overall level of suitability for the program.


Part-time EMBA Programs are very much like part-time MBA program in terms of weekend/evening formats, but may have significantly less course flexibility than a evening/weekend MBA program that is associated with a two-year MBA program. The ideal students fro EMBA programs tend to have 10 or more years of experience. Booth, Columbia, NYU, and Wharton are well known for their EMBAs.  Booth’s EMBA, offered in Chicago, London, and Singapore is especially well designed for international students. I think it is important to keep in mind that such part-time EMBAs typically offer much more of a one-size fits all approach to their curriculum.  Depending on the program structure, there maybe no or only very limited elective course options.  Such part-time programs work best for middle to senior level managers who have the full logistical if not financial support of their employers.  Part-time EMBAs are taught in a number of different formats, vary greatly in length, cost, and quality. Frankly, my work has been limited to handling only top ranked school’s EMBAs (Booth, Columbia, NYU, Wharton), so I don’t personally consider myself an expert on school selection for these programs in general. Still, I perceive most EMBAs except at the very top schools, as a buyer’s market, which is to say that many if not all well qualified candidates will be admitted. If you are considering a part-time EMBA, my suggestion to shop around, consider the options carefully and don’t be afraid to ask many questions to admissions staff.


Distance MBA/EMBA: Pure or almost distance-based programs (maybe a few small periods of residency are required) is an area that I have zero experience with, but merely read about.  While schools like Duke and UNC have created such programs, I simply don’t get clients interested in applying to such programs, which is not necessarily a negative reflection on those programs. It is entirely possible that distance-based programs will be perceived as carrying the same weight as “regular” MBA/EMBAs, but I think the jury is still out on that one. If your location, work schedule, and/or life make attending a distance program the best option, embrace that option if you think you will get what you want out of the experience.  As educational technology gets better and better, it is surely the case that a distance-based interactive class can increasingly feel like a bricks and mortar one. Like with any MBA program or any graduate school program in general, closely consider what you hope to learn and what kind of return on investment you are anticipating. 


In the final post in this series, I will briefly look at alternatives to MBA programs.



-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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