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When Should You Consider A One-Year MBA?

The one-year MBA format has become increasingly popular globally and even in the United States. But who is a one-year MBA for?


Wed Jan 9 2019

Karthika Nair’s son, Shiv, was just six months old when she joined the One-Year MBA program at Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. She left her consulting job at Deloitte and moved her family a four-hour drive north of Philadelphia to live for a year in Ithaca, New York.

Karthika chose an MBA degree to complement her background in life sciences—she’d previously earned a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at Cornell—and to advance her career in management consulting.

For Karthika, the one-year MBA format was the ideal option. “I had a very clear idea of where I wanted to end up,” she explains. “I didn’t want to pivot my career; I just wanted to augment my skills and get the full business school experience.”

While one-year MBAs have become convention in Europe and Asia, two-year MBA programs have historically dominated the MBA market in the United States—Cornell is the only Ivy League school to offer a one-year MBA.

But today, more working professionals want an affordable, top-ranked MBA experience without having to take too much time out of the workplace. Globally, 40% of one-year MBA programs recorded growth in 2018 compared with 32% of two-year MBAs, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2018 Application Trends Survey Report.

When should you consider a one-year MBA?

Outside the US, one-year MBAs are targeted at a range of profiles. Inside the US, Karthika says one and two-year MBAs are for different people at different stages of their careers. Most people in her class, she says, had a clear idea of where they wanted to be after graduation.

Students in the One-Year MBA and Two-Year MBA programs at Cornell share a similar average age and years of work experience. But the One-Year MBA is targeted at career enhancers rather than career switchers, and all One-Year MBA students have some form of advanced degree.

The One-Year MBA program format does not include the summer internship, taken between two-year MBA students’ first and second years and often critical for those in search of a career switch. In some industries in the US—investment banking on Wall Street for example—companies recruit almost exclusively from their internship programs.

Vishal Gaur, associate dean for MBA programs at Cornell (pictured below), says he sees two types of students in the One-Year MBA: those with a significant understanding of their chosen career path and dual degree students majoring in medicine or law and adding an MBA qualification to their degree with just one extra year.

This diversity of backgrounds, Vishal says, is complemented by the international and gender diversity of the program. Out of the 69 students in the One-Year MBA class of 2019, 46% are women and 59% are international.

The One-Year MBA in Ithaca is a generalized management degree; different from the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA, which is specifically focused on the technology industry. From 2018 however—alongside collaboration opportunities with the wider university across areas like entrepreneurship, healthcare, and hospitality—One-Year MBA students can choose to spend seven weeks of their final semester at Cornell Tech for intensive courses in fintech or digital marketing alongside Cornell Tech MBA students.


Fitting two years of MBA into one

Cornell’s One-Year MBA costs around $102,000 in tuition; its Two-Year MBA costs just over $132,000. The shorter format and lower cost is not to say that One-Year MBA students miss out on the same kind of experiences offered to Two-Year MBAs.

Karthika chose to spend a semester at the Cornell Tech campus which brought her in front of tech giants like Amazon and Google. Prior to that, through the Management Practicum, she got a real-life, internship-like experience working on a semester-long project for a healthcare company. She went on career treks to Colombia and South Africa, working on consulting projects for manufacturers and retail firms. She also took salsa dance classes in Ithaca every Wednesday night.

“It’s not just about taking MBA classes; I have friends who took wine classes, food and nutrition,” Karthika smiles. “With the One-Year MBA, your time is crunched. You have 12 months to study, be part of the community, and recruit at the same time. Having a plan is really important,” she continues.

“Juggling an MBA and a family was difficult but I had a lot of support from the community at Cornell.”

Since completing her MBA in 2018, Karthika has switched departments and secured a new job at Deloitte—which offered to sponsor her MBA if she returned post-graduation. Now, she manages portfolio strategy in a group focused on life sciences products.

“It’s almost like a little startup on its own,” Karthika explains. “The main reason they hired me for this role was because I did my MBA. Now, in addition to my industry knowledge, they thought I’d be able to run operations and take this project to the next level.”

Although most of her colleagues advanced their careers within the same industry, Karthika says that there were people who change their career paths in the One-Year MBA, and many of her international classmates landed new jobs in the US. According to the latest available figures from Cornell’s one-year MBA class of 2017, 81% of students got job offers within three months of graduation with an average base salary of over $122,000.

“For a one-year MBA, whether you’re 22 or 30, it doesn’t matter,” says Karthika. “It’s about knowing where you want to go. In terms of content and outcomes, it’s a full-time MBA and you get exactly the same benefits as you would on a two-year program.”