So, what’s the difference between a one-year and a two-year MBA program? The answer is much more complex than 365 days. Four crucial differences are outlined below, which should all be carefully considered when determining the most appropriate program to pursue.
1. The cost
Less time spent in a program means less cost-of-living expenses and only one year of tuition to fund. If you’re looking for a high ROI based on both time and financial commitment, the one-year MBA is an excellent option.
Keep in mind, however, that just because the one-year MBA takes half the time, it won’t necessarily cost half the money. When calculated on a ‘cost-per-hour’ basis (believe it or not, a few of my fellow MBA students did indeed use this calculation to decide whether waking up for an 8am class was literally ‘worth their time’), one year MBAs are almost always marginally more expensive.
After factoring in an entire additional year’s salary, however, that increased cost is typically made up several times over.
2. The content
I like to think of the one-year MBA as diving straight into the deep end of a swimming pool, while a two-year MBA is metaphorically easing into the shallow end and taking time to get your feet wet, adjust to the temperature, and contemplate exactly what you are about to plunge yourself into.
One-year MBA programs typically do not waste time with an overview of the basics and instead jump into the deeper content within the first few weeks. This means students must either choose their areas of focus sooner or do a lot of research on the basics on their own.
Consider this when reflecting on your purpose for pursuing an MBA in the first place: career switchers may find more value in an extended exploratory phase, while those looking to advance at a more rapid pace may prefer one-year MBAs.
3. The jobs
An obvious difference between the two types of programs is that a two-year MBA requires students to be away from the workforce for double the amount of time. This means one year less salary, one year away from coveted promotion opportunities, and one year of potentially missing out on chances to build a long-term reputation in the workplace.
However, one critical benefit of the two-year MBA is that the course structure is literally built for pursuing a summer internship. Having an entire summer dedicated to trying your post-MBA position before fully committing can be instrumental for a person switching industries, changing geographies, or trying a new type of role.
Speaking from experience, I feel obligated to warn prospective students that they will likely have to do a lot of cold-calling and independent searching to even have a chance for an MBA internship if they are pursuing a one-year program. When weighing the two types of programs, consider what is more important to you: another year in a full-time position, or an opportunity to test the waters before diving into a new role?
4. The people
Having only one year to form bonds with classmates is both an upside and a downside to the one-year MBA. A massive benefit of earning an MBA is building relationships—both personal and professional—that will last long after graduation.
A two-year MBA offers the opportunity to cultivate those bonds gradually and meaningfully, with ample opportunity to find your crew and experiment with new groups along the way. By the last few months of your program, you’ll undoubtedly start to feel a sense of nostalgia for the memories you’ve made and develop a sense of tenderness for your classmates.
What surprised me about a one-year program, however, is that those inevitable warm fuzzy feelings started early—the intensity of the program, the sense of urgency in an accelerated timeframe, and the jam-packed schedule of a one-year MBA quickened the pace of the relationship-forming stage and lit a fire under students to reach out to each other proactively in ways they never would have if they had an entire year more to get to know each other.
While there was certainly less time to bond, there was a sense of camaraderie almost from the start in my one-year program. That feeling of community was special, and likely could not have been achieved in a longer program.
There is no perfect MBA program and no definitive answer for which type of MBA structure is ‘better’; but there is absolutely an answer for which is best for you—the guidelines outlined here can help you start to discover it.
Andrea Coulis is a senior tutor for MyGuru, a provider of online GMAT tutoring. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business and an MBA from the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School.