Even in a world where there are an increasing number of options, as the technology behind distance-learned and online MBA degrees improves, research by TopMBA.com shows that just under 80% of MBA candidates prefer the full-time MBA degree option to part-time or online offerings.
Though business education has been around since the early 20th Century in the US – Harvard Business School and Tuck School of Business debate which of their MBA courses came first – it started life as a ‘non-experience’ postgraduate program. In other words, students straight from college could do an MBA degree.
Nowadays, the best business schools require some years of work experience prior to enrolment.
Again, QS research suggests that the average requirement to get into a top business school is about four years of work experience, though at IMD in Switzerland for example, the requirement is a minimum of seven years.
This is partly what sets the MBA degree apart from a master’s. In a full-time MBA course, students can expect to rub shoulders with a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds. And in this sense, the full-time MBA program gives students unrivalled access to a peer-to-peer education with talented business people from all over the world.
As Mary Granger of ESADE Business School in Spain, which prides itself on attracting a diverse range of students, says: “The professors at the school are only part of the equation in terms of education. The peer-to-peer learning and networking among the students is equally, if not more, important.”
The full-time MBA degree is a general management course that provides students with a detailed overview of how businesses work, across the board.
MBA alumni will have a detailed grasp of a number of core specializations, from almost all of the best business schools. These will almost always include finance, marketing, strategy, human resources and operations management.
The difference from a master’s degree is one of intensity.
A master’s in accounting may spend 90% of the time on accounting in depth, and 10% glancing at other aspects of business. On an MBA course the idea is to spend a lot of time on each important aspect of business.
Many of the best business schools will offer specialization modules of some kind.
Increasingly popular are modules in corporate social responsibility (CSR), leadership, communication and entrepreneurship, as the business world realizes that to succeed in business it requires employees that are well-rounded leaders, and not just experts at financial models.
A ‘specialized MBA’ is different, though the concept is proliferating.
Some schools have courses such as an MBA in Football Management at Liverpool, International Luxury Brand Management at ESSEC Business School in France, and Oil and Gas Management at Aberdeen Business School in Scotland.
Debate rages as to whether a specialized MBA is valuable or not as, to people such as Professor Simon Stockley at Imperial College Business School in London, “the MBA is a general management degree by definition… a specialized MBA is an oxymoron.”
To others, there is nothing wrong with specializing on an MBA degree. After all, if you know you want to work in the wine industry for most of your career, why not do the Wine MBA at Bordeaux Management School?
As long as an applicant is aware that such MBAs are quite niche and targeted, the specialized MBA can be a good option.
North American business schools tend to offer two-year MBA programs while the European preferred model takes one year. Which option is ‘better’ depends largely on the opinion of the MBA candidate themselves.
The two-year MBA generally has an assisted internship during the intermediate summer, allowing the MBA student to spend some weeks in a company of their choice, gaining valuable work experience on the ground. Often, the company offering the internship will seek to employ the intern after they have completed their time there, so it’s important for a student to show the company that they are keen and diligent.
Others say that the two-year MBA allows more time for self-reflection and consideration and more time for networking with fellow MBA students, and these are two very valuable points.
On the downside, the two-year degree is, of course, more of an investment for the student, and it also means that they are out of the workplace, and not earning a salary for two years. This restricts the option for some people, particularly during difficult economic times.
The one-year MBA allows students what Eric King, an MBA student at ESADE, refers to as a “short, sharp shock… it’s amazing what they cram into one year.” Clearly, the shorter program is extremely intense and will take up almost all of the student’s time.
However the course will be less of a financial investment.
Although these programs rarely include internships, it does allow the alumni back into the workplace after one year of not earning a salary, an attractive option for an increasing number of people, according to the QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey 2010. For the first time, this survey shows that the international MBA audience prefers the one-year to the two-year full-time MBA.