Pros and Cons of Studying a Part-Time MBA

Pros and Cons of Studying a Part-Time MBA main image

Part-time MBAs, long popular among time-poor managers, are in decline. Data from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) show that in each year since 2009, the majority of part-time MBAs in the US have had flat or falling application volumes.

By contrast, prestigious business schools are enjoying stellar application growth in their full-time MBAs. Michigan’s Ross School of Business last year received 3,485 applications and admitted 25 percent of candidates.  

However, choosing whether to study full-time or part-time isn’t as straightforward as just choosing the degree that’s currently in vogue. There are important differences between full-time and part-time study that prospective MBA students should be aware of before deciding where to apply.

Cost

The biggest barrier to an MBA is cost. A top school’s tuition fees will set you back a six-figure sum. But, crucially, part-time students don’t have to sacrifice a salary to get their MBA. At Ross, part-time students take classes every weekend and earn their qualification in two years.

However, employer funding is on the wane. Executives who have historically had their part-time MBA fees paid for them are questioning the return on investment (ROI).

Full-time MBA degrees, on the other hand, offer vast scholarships to help students saddle the cost of tuition. “There are fewer scholarships available for the part-time MBA program than the full-time program, because there’s more space available relative to applications in the part-time program than the full-time one, and students in the part-time MBA generally continue to work full-time,” says Soojin Kwon, managing director of part-time MBA programs at Ross.

Format

While part-time MBA students can work full-time, it means they have less spare time to enjoy activities outside of work or study. It can be very challenging indeed to balance the demands of a full-time job and a rigorous academic curriculum, says Zoltán Antal-Mokos, dean of degree programs at ESMT Berlin.

“You must face and be prepared to accept inevitable trade-offs,” he says. “A walk with your partner on a Sunday afternoon versus polishing the presentation for the Monday morning regional sales meeting versus perfecting a course paper in hope of an even better grade – the choice is yours.”

A full-time MBA is still pretty intense, however. Plus, many business schools are now opting for shorter 12-month courses rather the traditional two-year format — including Babson College and the Goizueta School at Emory University — which means you’ll have to work hard whichever format you choose.

Admissions requirements

While full-time MBA programs seem to be more popular than their part-time cousins, it’s perhaps harder than ever to secure a spot on a top course.

The admissions requirements for both are generally very extensive. They typically include an online application form with CV, admissions essays, recommendation letters and in-person or video interviews.  

Work experience is usually less of an issue for part-time MBA admissions committees, as students generally work full-time throughout the course, but part-time candidates may need to get proof of employer support before a business school admits them to their program.

“At the application stage, students are required to demonstrate they have informed their employer of their intention to seek to join the program,” says Doug Hyatt, academic director of morning, evening and executive MBAs at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Career ambitions

The big difference between part-time and full-time MBA students is that full-timers typically want to switch jobs, industries or locations, according to Russo at Ross. “Almost 90 percent of full-time MBA graduates switch careers — primarily into consulting and tech. Nearly 60 percent of our full-time graduates went into those two careers alone,” she says.

“Geographically, our full-time MBA graduates are also more dispersed, with nearly a third going to the West Coast (San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles) and a quarter going to the East Coast (New York, Washington DC and Boston),” she adds.

“The majority of part-time MBA graduates stay at the organizations they were working in during the MBA — 55 percent in new positions. Only a quarter change organizations.”

Some believe that career networking is better in full-time MBAs because students spend more time together than in part-time programs. However, Jamie Breen, assistant dean for MBA programs for working professionals at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, says: “We use a cohort model, under which students are assigned to one of four groups.

“The students remain in their assigned cohorts throughout the first half of the program, during their core classes, forging deep personal and professional relationships.”

He believes that, ultimately, both the part-time and full-time MBAs offer outstanding career advancement opportunities. “Our data show that a significant percentage (close to 70) of our students get promotions, switch jobs or start companies while they’re in the part-time program,” Breen says.

“We offer the same level of career management support in the part-time program, but we adapt what we offer to meet the needs of these mid-career professionals.”

So, how can you tell if a part-time MBA is right for you? The most important things to consider are how you plan to finance your studies and whether you’re hoping to change careers after you graduate. If the answer to the latter is yes, and you’re unable to secure financial support from your employer, then a part-time MBA probably isn’t for you.

However, if you want to continue working at the same organization, can secure financial assistance from your employer and feel comfortable fitting the teaching around your other commitments then a part-time MBA could be the perfect solution to getting you further up that career ladder. Click here  to learn more about the part-time MBA.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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