A part-time vs full-time MBA program—which one is right for you? The answer to this question comes down to your profile and your ability to forgo an income for two years.
But let's look at some of the other details that might factor into your decision, starting with a brief overview of the two alternatives to full-time programs: part-time and Executive MBA (EMBA).
What are your part-time options?
Part-time MBA program
In many ways, part-time programs are similar to traditional programs in curriculum, professors, and student profiles.
Applicants are usually in their mid-20s to their early 30s and are about five years out of college, with a desire to learn from first-class faculty, gain valuable soft skills, and improve their network—all traits that might sound identical to full-time MBA applicants.
The main difference is that part-time MBA classes occur at night or on the weekends instead of during the daytime. Part-time programs are meant to accommodate students who need to balance school, families, and work, while full-time programs require a more dedicated time commitment.
Put differently, leaving your job (and income) for a full-time, two-year MBA program is not something that everyone can achieve, and part-time programs try to meet the needs of these students.
One downside to keep in mind is that for the majority of part-time students, scholarships are rare. To pay tuition for a part-time program, you'll likely need to rely on loans or savings (but more on that in a moment).
An Executive MBA program, or EMBA, caters to older students (the average age is 39) who have more work experience than the average full-time applicant. Like part-time programs, the EMBA allows you to continue working so you don’t have to give up your job and income.
Having spent more time in the workforce, EMBA students tend to come to the classroom with senior leadership experience.
With this in mind, EMBA programs are specifically designed to boost already-established leadership skills and to help students advance further into the mid- and later stages of their careers.
EMBA classes are generally smaller than full-time and part-time programs and emphasize networking. Note that there is little interaction with traditional MBA students.
EMBA programs are relatively expensive, though schools usually expect your employer to assist with finances.
What are the benefits of part-time programs?
The flexibility afforded to students by part-time and EMBA programs is the main draw for many applicants, and the ability to scale back the number of classes if your workload gets too heavy is essential for students looking to maintain a healthy work-life-school balance.
Another benefit is that part-time and EMBA programs occur alongside your current job, which means that the business skills you learn in the classroom will be applicable directly to your working hours in the office.
That’s why it’s sometimes possible to secure funding from your employer to support your education, which is an excellent option considering that scholarships are hard to come by.
How to decide: part-time vs full-time MBA programs
While applicant profiles might be similar between part-time and full-time MBA programs, the scheduling, funding, and time commitment differ.
Full-time programs are seen as more competitive and better-suited for applicants who can afford to take two years off from their careers. There are also far more scholarships available for full-time students.
However, a part-time MBA is ideal for someone who wants to keep their job while studying.
And finally, an EMBA is best for a student who wants an executive or managerial position and already has a decade or more of work experience.
How the GMAT factors in
There is one other consideration that comes into play in the decision, and that is your GMAT score.
Full-time applicants know all-to-well how important the GMAT can be for their profile. As recent data has shown, the GMAT remains crucially important for both your chances of admission as well as your chances for a scholarship.
It may come as some relief to know that part-time programs are less focused on the GMAT, which might be another consideration for someone who has not been able to secure a competitive score.
And for those applying to executive MBA programs, you don't need the GMAT at all. Rather, you will take the Executive Assessment (EA), which in general requires less study time. (Some part-time programs also accept the EA, but it is not standard).
Picking a program
If you think that a part-time or EMBA program might be right for you, take the time to do your homework when it comes to program offerings, as not all business schools offer both part-time and EMBA programs.
For example, there are no part-time or EMBA options at HBS or Stanford GSB. Instead, they offer Program for Leadership Development and Leadership and General Management programs respectively (which are still worth considering if their full-time program is not right for you).
On the other hand, business schools that offer only EMBAs include UPenn Wharton, MIT Sloan, Yale SOM, and Duke Fuqua.
For some students, a part-time or EMBA program is a better option than the traditional, full-time MBA.
Because the content of most part-time MBA programs is not significantly different from a full-time MBA, part-time students will walk away from the degree with the exact same information as a full-time student—it is only the experience of the program that differs.
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