Part-Time or Full-Time MBA: Which is Right For You?

Part-Time or Full-Time MBA: Which is Right For You? main image

Full-time and part-time MBA programs have their similarities, but there are distinctions that can help you decide between the two when applying to business school. As well as offering a different level of study intensity, full-time and part-time MBA programs offer slightly different things and there are pros and cons to each one.

Here’s what you should consider before you decide what to pursue.

Firstly, ask yourself what form of study will suit you best

At the heart of the decision between studying full-time or part-time is the stage at which you are in life. "Are you in the position to go 'all in' and commit 100 percent to a full-time experience?" asks Cliff McCormick, assistant dean of MBA and Specialty Masters Admissions at University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business. "Or, are you looking to embark on your MBA journey in parallel with your personal and professional commitments?"

Time commitments aren’t the only consideration though. You should also ask yourself:

  • Why are you pursuing the MBA? Is it so you can change careers or to climb the ladder in the industry in which you're already working?
  • How much networking do you want to do?
  • What are your finances like? How much money do you have for grad school? How much debt are you willing and able to take on?
  • What's happening in your personal life? Are you single? Do you have kids?
  • Do you want to move somewhere else? If so, are you able to make a move at this time?

Once you've determined your answers to these questions, you can begin to decipher which program is best for you.

Full-time for career changers, part-time for moving up the ladder

One of the main reasons people dive into full-time programs is to switch careers entirely. If that's not your end goal, then you might not need the perks of going to school full time. For instance, career changers spend the summer at an internship in order to pick up new skills and experience. This allows them to boost their resume while finishing the degree, in preparation for the full-time job recruiting that happens on campus in the second year.

"A full-time program is a more immersive experience that allows you to step back and focus on your personal and professional development through the academic content, career support, and wider opportunities for experiential learning and networking," says Crystal Grant, director of Admissions at Imperial College Business School. "In today’s fast-moving world, opportunities for this amount of reflection and exploration are increasingly rare – and can lead to significant career transformation."

In general, part-time students require less help with job hunting. Many remain with their employers and seek promotions post-graduation. As a result, an internship is redundant and unnecessary. During their time at school, they find it beneficial to test theories they're learning in the classroom immediately in the workplace.

"[Going part-time] also allowed me to get the full benefit of getting all the knowledge and tools I would get from the MBA, while still gaining experience as a practicing litigation attorney," says Gustavo Mayen, sole proprietor of the Law Office of Gustavo Mayen and 2017 graduate of Babson College Franklin W. Olin Graduate School of Business.

"I was also able to use the new knowledge and skills I gained throughout the MBA in a quick and practical way, as they allowed me to develop the business part of my law office."

Part-time may be more affordable if you haven’t saved money up

Sometimes, your bank account makes the decision for you. Some applicants simply cannot afford to take one or two years off work to pursue a graduate degree. In those instances, the part-time program is appealing, as you can continue to work while going to school.

"Part-time students pay per credit hour with reduced levels of student fees," says J. Barry Dickinson, dean of the School of Business Administration at Holy Family University, of a typical but not necessarily universal pay structure. "This is more of a pay-as-you-go model. It makes tuition manageable for part-time students who are still employed and paying out-of-pocket.

“Full-time students pay full graduate tuition and are required to carry a minimum number of credit hours per term. There is often tuition assistance available for full-time students in the form of scholarships and teaching/research assistant positions."

In some cases, the employer is willing to at least partially sponsor the employee's part-time education. When that happens, the student might have to sign an agreement saying he or she will remain with the company for a certain time after graduating.

In addition, students with full or partial sponsorship from an employer might not participate in any recruiting events on campus. You can always take on debt in the form of student loans, but you'll have to assess your savings, financial commitments, ability to take on loans, and potential return on investment (ROI). Then, you have to make a decision with which you're comfortable.

Full-time MBAs may have more chance to build a strong network

MBA programs aren’t just vehicles for education. They’re also a way to broaden the network of professionals on which you can rely. To some degree, both full-time and part-time MBA programs provide students and alumni with great business connections.

"Another core reason to get an MBA is the network you join, and both programs give you access to the alumni network, though a full-time MBA creates stronger relationships with your classmates, as you spend more time with them, as compared to in a part-time program," says Jeevan Balani, founder of RocketInterview.com and 2009 MBA graduate of Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management.

Because part-time students often have other responsibilities besides school, they don't always interact as much with the community. As a result, they don't get as rich a network enhancement from attending a graduate program as their full-time counterparts do.

Places on part-time MBA programs aren’t always as competitive

Full-time MBA admissions tend to be more competitive than part-time. "While your college record will, of course, still be considered by part-time MBA programs, these types of programs tend to be more forgiving of poor college grades – especially if you attended college many years ago and you have had a lot of professional successes since then," says Nita Losoponkul, head consultant at Veritas Prep, an admissions consulting firm

Taking these things into consideration, you should be able to get a better idea of which program is right for you.

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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