One-Year or Two-Year MBA: Is There a Simple Answer?

McGill Desautels' Steve Fortin looks at some advantages to opting for the two-year MBA's longer period of study

There are now literally hundreds of MBA programs available worldwide. Evaluating an MBA today is roughly the equivalent of talking about a car - one needs more specific details to really understand how one program compares to another. In the same way that there is often little in common between a small sports car and a large SUV, MBA programs come in many variations. Indeed, there are many comparative factors to consider, including a program’s standing in global rankings, academic design, specializations, entry requirements, delivery mode, or, most relevant to this discussion, its duration.

MBAs have become diversified products, catering to segmented clientele’s needs. Upon exploring whether a two-year MBA program is superior to a one-year program, there is, unfortunately, no simple answer to suit all circumstances.

Internships and career changes

The first argument in support of a two-year MBA program pertains to the job market. Even within a two-year program, students are under pressure, as they juggle academics with career-prep workshops. Most programs begin in August and employers arrive on campus as early as September to recruit, both for summer internships and full-time jobs. Many students tell us that they are unsure of the field in which they wish to specialize, yet are asked to commit to a job search within a chosen industry almost immediately. 

In a two-year MBA program, such as that available from the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, this issue is actually less problematic. Specifically, students complete internships first and are then provided with additional opportunities to engage with employers the following autumn. Of our most recent graduating class, 97% of students seeking an internship were placed. Moreover, some students accept full-time jobs with the same employer, usually during the last two weeks of their summer internship. Most remain in the same industry, but move laterally to a different employer and/or to a different job category. Finally, some realize that the chosen industry was not for them and move to a different one altogether, typically seeking a different field of specialization in their MBA. Given the duration of the program (the actual duration at McGill averages 20 months, although it is possible to complete it in 18 months) students will have one more round of campus recruitment and a full eight months of courses left, making such transitions possible and easy to make. We have found that students enter the next round of recruitment better prepared, more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their goals and aspirations.

“A two-year MBA program allows more time to build a strong foundation”

The second argument in support of a two-year MBA program relates to academics. To acquire in-depth knowledge, one needs time flexibility in order to build their schedule, as well as to digest and integrate content. While knowledge can often be acquired relatively quickly, developing competency requires more time. One needs to read, apply the material, build presentations, study, write exams, and experience the use of the material in real life.

One aspect that most professors will likely agree on is that the faster one is forced to learn something, the faster this material will be forgotten. This is why everyone advises against waiting until the night before an exam to cram! A two-year MBA program allows more time to build a strong foundation, as well as to consider and select options within a given field. For example, we often cover the basis of a field in mandatory courses, which are then followed by several electives. More time allows for more informed choices, and more informed choices translate to a more adapted education.

The third and final strength of a two-year MBA program is its resilience to errors. Students may not be aware of the different choices that exist in management education, or on the management job market. If a student begins his or her studies in marketing and either struggles academically or lacks interest, there is time to reorient. As mentioned previously, if a student completes an internship and does not appreciate the practical aspects of a field, there is still time to change direction. Finally, it is also noteworthy to mention that a key advantage of an MBA is the networking opportunities that it brings. However, it can be more challenging to build lasting relationships over a more condensed period of time.

Value of one-year vs. two-year MBA may hinge on your circumstances

To summarize, the value of a two-year MBA program over a shorter one is essentially a matter of, “it depends”. As a rule of thumb, the more removed an applicant is from the world of management at the time of admission, the more he or she should contemplate the two-year degree. The strength of a two-year program is the additional time that it affords to build expertise, explore the job market, and validate both academic and career choices. In my opinion, ideal candidates for such a program would be international students, as well as those seeking a career change, such as engineers, lawyers, teachers, artists and others who are interested in a management career and/or in relocating to a different country.

However, the closer one is to the world of management, the stronger the argument in favor of a one-year MBA. Those looking to move up in their career are the target clientele. Career climbers are less likely to feel the need to acquire knowledge of the job market, or to build strong foundations in management. Thus, students who meet this profile will likely be well-served by a one-year degree. This is why, after all, MBA programs of varying durations exist in the first place, as they are built to adapt to different clienteles and their respective needs.

Nevertheless, as the saying goes, the proof is often in the pudding. While Desautels MBA students can complete their degree within 18 months, few opt to do so. Indeed, this is probably the strongest argument of all: When given a choice to go faster, our well-informed students choose to take more time!

Steve Fortin
Written by Steve Fortin

Steve Fortin is academic director of the MBA program at the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University. He holds a PhD in accounting and specializes in the areas of auditing quality and financial accounting, the latter being the subject he teaches at MBA level.

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