Two or three decades ago the choice of how to study an MBA was limited. The original MBA programme, which is a two-year course, was the only option available on the market. However, with changing economic realities requiring faster and more flexible learning, business schools have started to innovate and provide alternative MBA formats of their sought-after courses.
Adapting quickly to market needs, especially after the global economy crash in 2008, has become a priority for business schools offering MBA programmes around the globe. Nowadays, MBA programmes are delivered in different formats adjusted to the dynamic market demands. So selecting between MBA formats can be a daunting task. In all this, one thing is sure. Picking the right MBA format should be seen in the larger context of personal preferences, career stage, professional goals, and time and budget available, among other factors.
“There are many factors that should influence your decision. However, you should first determine which format of the MBA programme is best suited for you – according to your career stage and aspirations,” says Ivana Goossen, a former director of the Executive MBA Programme and Centre for Executive Education of the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business of the University of Pittsburgh in the Czech Republic.
What are the options?
The full-time MBA is a programme in which students attend class full time, during the day. Students typically take four or five classes per semester and complete the degree in 10 to 24 months. Most European full-time MBA programmes last between 10 and 12 months. Traditionally, US full-time MBA programmes take two years to complete, but some business schools offer the so-called “Accelerated MBA”. This format is designed for professionals with extensive business experience seeking a fast-paced, academically rigorous programme. Coursework and projects tend to focus on more advanced aspects of business.
A full-time MBA programme, known also as an “on-campus” or a “traditional classroom” MBA, requires students to commit fully to their studies. Aspirants usually relocate to the place where the business school is situated. Courses are divided over terms/semesters with core courses usually held in the first or second semesters and electives held in the last semester. The programme ends with a thesis, dissertation, business project, or internship. Students have easy access to an academic environment, their professors and teaching resources, the school’s career services, and networking opportunities.
This programme is best for younger professionals with less work experience seeking full-time employment in a new field or industry and looking for the most immersive MBA experience in their targeted post-graduation region and industry. Usually, a full-time MBA class comprises students with six to seven years of work experience, and a minimum of two to three years. For those who cannot relocate due to family responsibilities or who do not want to leave their job while studying, other MBA formats are better options.
The part-time MBA programme, known also as “Evening MBA”, “Weekend MBA” or “MBA for Working Professionals”, was introduced in particular to meet the needs of candidates who wish to qualify for a full-time MBA course but cannot afford to take one or two years off work. Classes are usually held in the evenings or during the weekend, and often take two to three years or more to complete.
There are two main formats for part-time programmes – regular and modular MBAs. The regular format consists of one or two evenings per week in class and some 15 hours per week for individual study, preparation, and group work. The modular MBA format combines modules that are delivered on-campus with lengthy periods spent off-campus. Modular programmes require students to be on-campus from four days to up to two weeks at a time over a period of 15 to 22 months. The degree is earned when students have completed all their modules in campus residencies. Professors may stay in touch with their students via the Internet during periods of non-classroom activities.
Because of its format, the part-time MBA is best for early-to-mid career professionals seeking rigorous MBA experience while working full time. Keeping full-time work commitment is the key advantage of this MBA format. “The most critical factor was not taking a break from work. I did not want to run the risk of losing momentum I had established in my career to date. Fortunately, I was even able to accelerate my professional development over the three-year programme, which turned out to be a big win-win situation for me. The financial benefits of not putting a hold on your earnings are also worth noting,” says Patrick Brayley who graduated from the Part-time MBA of McGills Desautels Faculty of Management (Canada) in 2016.
Students can immediately and directly apply the knowledge learned in the course to their job. That is why many companies offer tuition assistance to offset the cost of the degree. Because graduates of part-time programmes usually have several years of experience, companies often see them as great candidates for middle-management positions or fast-track programmes.
The preference for Distance MBA or Online MBA programmes has been on the rise in recent years, mainly due to the economic downturn. Online programmes have gained popularity as they are less expensive compared to on-campus or modular programmes that require the additional expenses of relocation or travel. The online MBA programmes provide attendees with the opportunity to keep their full-time jobs and flexibility to balance their study, job, and family responsibilities.
This makes the programme the most suitable for professionals looking for the MBA option with the most flexibility. The format provides students with the flexibility to study at a time and place that is most convenient to them without the need to spend time or money to get to class.
The structure of the programme calls for students to submit papers online and attend online seminars. This gives greater academic accountability to students and professors, as classroom interaction and participation is in written form and therefore recorded. Students in these programmes have minimal face-to-face interaction with professors and other students, which limits networking opportunities. However, to offset this, numerous schools have developed online platforms that enable students to stay in touch and to get together for web study sessions as frequently as they choose. In addition, some programmes have workshops and other on-site events organised every three to six months.
The Blended MBA format, also known as the Hybrid MBA, is one of the newest on the market. It is a flexible MBA that provides elements of both the on-campus and distance-learning formats. A hybrid MBA combines online and in-class instruction. The majority of coursework of this format is completely online but some group workshops or sessions, usually lasting several days every two or three months, are held on-campus per course. The format is best for professionals looking for the flexibility of an online programme coupled with networking opportunities and face-to-face interactions with faculty and classmates.
The Executive MBA (EMBA) programme is essentially a part-time MBA but with a completely different target group and class profile. The programme is designed for mid-to-senior career professionals seeking top management or executive leadership roles. It is best for experienced professionals looking for a high-touch MBA experience with abundant networking opportunities and senior leadership focus.
Students in an Executive MBA class are typically high-calibre managers, executives, and entrepreneurs who have the potential and motivation to become truly global, multi-skilled business leaders and move from a functional C-level role to a CEO role. EMBA participants are usually aged between 33 and 45, with average professional experience around 12-14 years, of which about eight or nine years in managerial roles. EMBA programmes generally have a strong focus on team-based learning, where peers in class share their real-life experience and work on case studies to discuss real situations and solve real problems. EMBA programmes are delivered in part-time, modular or blended formats.
Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) programmes enable senior managers and executives to lead businesses and address social and economic matters on a global scale. The cultural diversity of participants reflects the goals of this type of programme. The learning experience takes place beyond campus with residency modules across continents.
Pick the right format
Picking the right format is definitely an important step in your overall MBA experience. However, the format should not be the only factor taken into consideration when deciding on whether and how to go for an MBA. Katz Graduate School of Business’ Ivana Goossen highlights that one also has to consider the “programme’s features such as accreditation, ranking, reputation, and quality of faculty; the programme’s selectivity towards students or career services offered; and your own individual limiting factors such as the support of your employer and family, available finances, ability to travel”.
In this way you can be as fulfilled as Patrick Brayley, who views his whole MBA experience as a “life transformation” thanks to having selected the right MBA format for his career goals.