The Debate: The Case for 12 and 16 Month MBAs

course formats

The modern MBA student values choice. This is reflected in the vast array of program types, specializations and formats on offer. Even candidates who are sure that full-time study is the right path for them are presented with a huge array of options – from as few as 10 to as many as 24 months.

One thing is for certain – the traditional two-year format can no longer claim total dominance of the market. Here, two representatives argue the case for 12 and 16-month offerings offered at their respective institutions.

What do you think? Are you flexible in terms of the length of program you would consider – could you be persuaded? Or is there only one right length for you?

John Barniville, ESMT Nick Barniville, ESMT

12-months is more than enough!

In business, it is entirely normal that products or services morph into other forms as market conditions change. Customers evolve, societies develop and decision-making criteria are rebalanced.  Therefore, it is no surprise that the two-year graduate business degree, invented as an undergraduate add-on program in 1900 at Tuck, is currently seeing its relevance and efficiency challenged more than 100 years later.  

In the recent years, The Financial Times, Fortune, Poets & Quants and many others have written about the ‘rise of the one-year MBA’ or its ‘coming of age’. The majority of the top-50 MBA programs ranked by the Financial Times are now one-year programs. Almost every new entrant to the FT ranking in the past five years has been a one-year program. The market is clearly voting with its feet.

The question is why? Here are five straightforward reasons:

1. Tuition and costs: One-year MBA programs cost 50% less than two-year programs. Living expenses are also half as much.

2. Opportunity cost: Taking one year out of work means that a participant will forego half of the salary that would be foregone by taking two years out of work.

3. Earning potential: All evidence from major rankings suggests that graduates from one-year programs earn roughly the same as those graduating from similarly ranked two-year programs.

4. Efficiency: Participants on one-year programs get less vacation and have a more intense work schedule (this is included as an efficiency benefit because it makes little sense to be paying a lot of money to have free time).

5. Relevance: You can apply what you learn in the classroom quickly. You don’t have to wait an extra year to put your MBA core to work.

In countering the argument in favour of the two-year MBA, I am going to try to deconstruct five myths.

1. MBA internships are a must and only possible on two-year programs: Many US employers and a few elsewhere make permanent offers mainly after hiring through summer MBA internship programs. But this doesn’t explain why placement and salary statistics are practically as good from one-year programs as from two-year ones. Maybe it’s because students on one year programs tend to have more experience already and know better what they want to do afterwards?

Younger, less experienced students might be better off doing a two year program, but for others it is often difficult to see the logic beyond further exploring the self.

2. More time to grow up in two years than one: There is a reason why the average age of those entering two-year programs (about 27) is two to three years younger than those attending one-year programs. The question should be whether you need to pay an extra $100k for personal development opportunities that you could get far more cost-efficiently before coming to school through gaining more experience, or by discovering your inner motivations by spending time travelling or meditating.

3. Opportunity to specialize:  True, participants on a two-year program can take more electives. But the MBA is designed to be a general management degree and there is no evidence that the market, i.e. employers, are willing to pay for this specialist knowledge in MBA roles. A specialization is a very expensive nice-to-have. If you know you want to specialize, you could save yourself a lot of money taking a specialist master’s program instead of the MBA in the first place.

4. Extracurricular opportunities: Here it is difficult to argue against the luxury offered by a two-year option. Generally no classes on Fridays, long holidays, generally more time to get involved in clubs and social activities. The two-year program will definitely give you more time to explore interests outside the formal curriculum, but ask yourself if it’s worth the time and money.

5. Transformation: Many a US-business school dean has argued that the MBA is so transformative to a person’s fundamental nature that this cannot be achieved in 12 months, but needs the intense bonding offered by a two-year program.

If you take apart a typical one-year curriculum and map the hours spent together in class, you will come to about 80% of the contact hours of a typical two-year program. Given the intensity of the challenge, it is reasonable to argue that this type of experience creates equally intense bonds.

And besides, let’s be honest, the MBA will help you make you make a better version of yourself, whether it takes you one year or two, but you will still be you.

Nick Barniville is the director of the MBA program at ESMT European School of Management and Technology in Berlin

Andrea Masini, HEC ParisAndrea Masini, HEC Paris

16 months strikes the right balance

The typical target candidate for an MBA program is 25 to 34 years old with a number of years of experience, often in a function-related job. Considering this, an MBA is usually used to achieve one of two career goals

  • To secure a top job in a general management position
  • To switch careers

In either case, a 16-month MBA course is the perfect solution. To successfully achieve either of those two major career goals naturally requires a strong involvement from the candidates, and an inevitable time lag that I believe can’t be compressed into less than 16-months – the length of the program at HEC Paris.

At HEC Paris, we organize this time into eight months of fundamental courses, four months of either electives or a fieldwork project, and then four months of MBA specialization courses in a specific domain. This could be in the likes of strategy, marketing, finance, advanced management, or entrepreneurship.

To ensure that we were providing the business leaders of the future, we designed our curriculum with top management consulting firm Bain & Company. The 16-month MBA format provides students with eight months of advanced training in essential business disciplines, with the addition of a language course, leadership development, and career building and coaching.

The following eight months is more flexible in nature, giving participants the opportunity to tailor their program by choosing from a range of MBA specializations and fieldwork projects or by taking part in an international exchange with another top business school elsewhere in the world. The 16-month MBA format has the added bonus of allowing time for those opting for individual or group fieldwork projects and internships to gain corporate exposure.

So for the participants who aim for general management positions from a functional background, such as engineers or accountants, they’ll get enough time to digest the fundamentals in all of the core disciplines that they are not familiar with. After all, a CEO who does know the ABCs of finance or operations is simply not credible.

They’ll also have enough time to fully profit from the richness and the complexity of the classroom environment they face. MBA classes have a wonderful diversity of both nationalities and backgrounds. This gives students a global perspective on the world of business as they interact with and learn from their colleagues.

At HEC Paris, 90% of the class is international. These 200 students come from over 50 countries. It’s an environment that allows them to test their leadership skills, and they can later apply this knowledge to become better future global leaders while creating a genuine lifelong network.

This program length also means that those looking to switch careers will have long enough to build a credible CV and convince future employers that they have not only mastered the fundamentals of management, but also that they have specialized knowledge in the new field they have chosen.

In order to do that, they’ll have studied MBA courses and have been exposed to real projects in their new field.

These career goals would be impossible to achieve through a 10-month program.

A 16-month MBA course is the best compromise between the need to deepen knowledge in certain topics and the need to reduce the opportunity cost. This is the cost that results from time spent studying without a job. It’s generally much more costly for those on two year MBA programs.

And since our ability to create business leaders has been proven over the years – 90% of our graduating class finds work within three months of graduation, with the likes of Amazon, Google, GoldmanSachs, McKinsey and L’Oréal amongst our top MBA recruiters – we’re proving that the 16-month program empowers MBA students from any background to achieve their career goals come graduation.

Andrea Masini is associate dean of the MBA program at HEC Paris 

Written by Mike Grill

Mike's remit covers content, SEO and blogger outreach. Outside of his work for, he is an assistant coach for MLU outfit, the Portland Stags.

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