One-Year MBA Vs. Two-Year MBA: Which Should You Choose?

INSEAD’s one-year MBA tops the Financial Times rankings. Yet five out of the top 10-ranked programs are two-year MBAs from the US

The one-year MBA format is on the rise. 74% of one-year MBA programs in Europe reported growing numbers of applications in 2016.

INSEAD’s 10-month full-time MBA tops the Financial Times’ global MBA rankings. Value for money, including the reduced opportunity costs of not working for the duration of the course, plays a big part.

At the same time, the traditional, two-year full-time MBA format is showing signs of decline. Applications to two-year MBA programs fell in 53% of US business schools in 2016; just 43% recorded growth.

Still, five out of the Financial Times’ global top 10 are two-year MBA programs from the US.

So, should you go for a one-year or two-year MBA program?

The Two-Year Traditionalists

“The two-year MBA’s biggest marker is the internship between the first and second years,” says Shashi Matta, MBA director at The Ohio State University’s Max M. Fisher College of Business.

“Employers are interested in someone who they can be confident about – who not only has immersed themselves in learning about business over a two-year period, but also has that clear evidence shown by the internship.

“Quite a few of our MBA students are career switchers,” he continues. “The internship lets students experience their new industry or function of choice before they get into the jobs market.

“Career advancers who know their area of interest – those students are far more prone to apply for a one-year MBA.”

Certainly, in the US, the big advantage of the two-year MBA format is the internship. Shashi estimates that around 60% of Fisher MBAs get their post-MBA jobs out of their internships. Between 60% and 70% of Fisher MBAs are career switchers.

Many in the industry assume the following: two-year MBAs cater for career switchers, one-year MBAs do not. And yet 78% of INSEAD MBA grads changed either role, industry, or location in 2016; 27% changed all three. Even so, one-year MBA programs do tend to cater for the more experienced professional.

“For students, it ultimately comes down to their business education background,” says Matt Merrick, associate dean of degree operations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management – one of the few top-ranked US business schools to offer both a two-year and a one-year MBA program.

“Our one-year MBA program is not an accelerated pace program in which we fit two years of study into one,” he continues. “Our program allows students to skip over core courses that feel redundant with their pre-existing skillset.

“Those who still need to gain business fundamentals will always need a traditional, two-year MBA program to fully gain the skills sets necessary to propel their career forwards.”

One-Year MBA on the Rise

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38% of students on EDHEC Business School’s 10-month MBA have between seven and 10 years of work experience. 90% of EDHEC’s class of 2015 made a career change after graduation.

“Our students are not ready to give up two years of their career,” says Michelle Sisto, the French school’s MBA director.

“It’s mostly about the cost,” she continues. “People are more sensitive to the return on investment now. And the two-year investment in the US can cost upwards of $300,000-to-$400,000 including salary opportunity cost. In Europe, the opportunity cost is significantly lower.”

There are a number of popular, affordable, two-year MBA programs in Europe. ESADE Business School’s Barcelona-based MBA is ranked among the 20 best MBA programs in the world by the Financial Times. ESADE also offers a flexible tailor-made experience with 12, 15, and 18-month options.

Still, Michelle predicts that two-year MBA programs in Europe will become less common while one-year MBA programs will continue to grow. Could the same trend take hold in the US?

Johnson at Cornell is the only Ivy League school in the US to offer a one-year MBA program. Again, it’s targeted specifically at more experienced students looking to advance their careers in the same industry.

“For these students, we figured there was no need for an internship. It made sense to offer a three-semester version of the MBA,” says Vishal Gaur, associate dean for MBA programs at Johnson at Cornell.

“We have not seen a decline in applications to the two-year MBA program,” he continues. “But, if I look to the future, I do see growth prospects in the one-year MBA.”

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Flexibility is Key

London Business School (LBS) recently redesigned its two-year MBA program to include flexible exit points – at 15, 18, and 21 months – allowing students who land jobs to move into the workplace sooner. MBA students have three options for the summer after first year: a paid internship, an entrepreneurship summer school, or a team consulting project.

“We’re allowing students to tailor their experience to their individual interests and career path,” says Gareth Howells, executive director of MBA programs at LBS.

“The new program is a recognition of just how much the market has changed,” he continues. “The two-year MBA model is a rare breed in Europe. But we’ve always had the two-year model, and we’re proud of it”

What of the decline in applications to two-year MBA programs in the US?  “We don’t think that this is a beginning of a trend,” he says. “Programs change and the market changes. There is volatility, but, if we take a longer-term view, we’re likely to see a fluctuation going back and forth between one and two-year MBA programs.

“We have actually seen a broad trend of increase in applications,” Gareth continues. “We’re about 20% up in comparison to last year.”

Two-Year, One-Year, Or Somewhere in Between?

One-year MBA versus the two-year MBA? It doesn’t have to be an either-or. Beijing’s Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB) offers a 14-month MBA program, somewhere in between Harvard’s two-years and INSEAD’s 10-month format.

“We feel that the 10-month MBA is too stressful,” says Ji Bo, CKGSB’s chief representative in Europe. “Most students go crazy during the INSEAD MBA. The 10 months is unbearable – you have to learn so much in such a short amount of time. And the quality might not be as good as on a two-year program.

“But the problem with the two-year MBA program is how to deal with the final semester,” he continues. “I went to the US for my two-year MBA, and I finished six months early.

“I didn’t want to waste my time so I squeezed everything into the first two semesters. I hadn’t graduated yet, but I had no courses left to do.

“Our research shows that 14 months is the best option.”

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