New Programs Mean More MBA Options

New Programs Mean More MBA Options

Take two years off to immerse yourself in the MBA experience.

That's the standard formula for getting your degree, but it's not necessarily the norm. Options for part-time MBA candidates are expanding, as evening, weekend, online, executive and on-site programs at work gain popularity.

The core MBA curriculum is essentially the same across programs and schools, says Muhammad Abdullah, former director of the MBA program at Pfeiffer University in Charlotte, North Carolina, and now an associate professor of business law. Candidates take courses in accounting, economics, finance, law, marketing and organizational behavior, with some programs providing opportunities to specialize once students master the basics, he says. But the various program types cater to MBA seekers whose schedules, finances and other commitments don't permit them to give up their jobs.

Weekend MBAs for Execs

According to the GMAC 2004 Registrants Survey, the average age of students in full-time MBA programs is about 28. "But many can't make the commitment at that time [in their lives]," says David Fetherston, director of the MBA Center for Career Development at Wellesley, Massachusetts-based Babson College, which offers full- and part-time MBA programs. "Later, they say, 'I wish I had done my MBA.'"

Executive MBA programs are aimed at older students, many of whom are already senior-level execs. The 2009 GMAC Registrants survey reveals that respondents 33 and older were more likely than younger respondents to have enrolled in executive MBA programs. Babson's executive offering takes about 26 months to complete and requires students to spend one long weekend per month on campus, completing their remaining coursework on the Web, says Fetherston.

Graduates of Boston-based Suffolk University's executive MBA programs are a tight-knit group, says Michelle Rapp, associate director of the university's graduate student career services. "They have a chunk of work experience behind them, so [in the classroom], they are speaking to real-world issues."

Online MBA, Anytime

The most flexible option for prospective MBA students, online-only programs promote their ability to cater to any student's schedule or time frame for earning a degree. But online-only MBA offerings, which deliver course syllabuses, study guides, reading lists and exams over the Web, may be missing some of the face-to-face cameraderie.

The lack of personal interaction can be a limitation, says Michael Kraten, who has taught part-time MBA students at Suffolk, the University of Connecticut and the University of Massachusetts. "The face-to-face, reaching-out experience is missing," says Kraten, who earned his MBA in a traditional full-time program. The lessons learned from immersing himself with his fellow MBA students, such as how to respect opposing points of view, have stayed with Kraten. "Online, you don't get that," he says.

Work Days, MBA Nights

Beyond online and executive programs, part-time MBA offerings for working professionals of any age and experience level are widely available. Babson, among many other institutions, offers evening programs that allow students to take one or two courses a semester. They typically complete the degree in three or four years. "It's a great option if you live in the area," says Fetherston.

The part-time approach is popular among professionals who want to expand their career horizons. The 2004 GMAC survey says the average age for part-time students is 31.

On-Site MBAs

Less popular but not uncommon are programs that don't require part-time MBA students to leave the office. Pfeiffer is among the schools that offer what the university calls "cohort experiences," targeted to a single organization's employees and delivered where they work. The university has developed such offerings for local organizations, including medical insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and Northeast Medical Center, a nonprofit hospital. Employees earn the same degree as those who complete their MBA coursework on Pfeiffer's campus, Abdullah says.

One-Year MBA Intensive Programs

Most alternatives to the two-year, full-time MBA are part-time. But Babson and a few other schools across the country offer a one-year intensive program. This full-time program takes just 12 months to complete and requires an undergraduate degree in business, says Fetherston.

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