Is a One-Year MBA Program Right for You?

In a climate where there has been increased debate about the ‘value for money’ you get from a traditional full time MBA program, you may wonder whether a one-year MBA program is an option worth considering. After all, the cost of attending these programs can be significantly lower than their two-year counterparts. At Kellogg, for instance, the all-in cost for the one-year MBA is estimated at $141,000 compared with roughly $214,000 for the two-year option. And these figures don’t take into account the shorter duration of time you are out of the workforce.

Another factor in the ‘pros’ column is that one-year MBA students have full access to the classes, professors, and clubs as those in the traditional two-year format. They get to network with a global and highly diverse class of peers and leverage the resources of the full time MBA career center. And, by not having to juggle a ‘day job’, they can focus their attention on absorbing everything they can from the business school experience (yes, even the travel and partying that many look forward to after several years in the workforce).

Seems like a no brainer, right? As you may have guessed, it’s not that simple.

One-Year MBAs Work for a Niche Type of Student 

The most significant difference between one-year and two-year MBA programs is that the former does not allow for a formal summer internship, which is oftentimes a necessary step for those making a career pivot. One-year students enter the full-time recruiting cycle alongside second years (fresh off their summer internships) in the fall and must compete accordingly.  Depending on staffing needs, certain companies may not even return to campus to recruit full time hires, instead relying on the pool of summer interns that have ‘passed the test’ and received offers to return after graduation.

For some, the lack of a summer internship is not a concern. Those with offers to return to their pre-MBA employer, for instance, or someone planning to launch an entrepreneurial venture (or commit to an existing one full time) after graduation. The common thread is that these students don’t need the summer internship to ‘put theory into practice’ in a new field or prove to potential employers that they will be successful in a new function or industry.

Prior Business Coursework is Often Important

While many of the top programs stop short of making it a requirement, prior business coursework (in other words, a business focused undergraduate degree) is helpful for those considering a one-year MBA.

In most cases, one-year students bypass the most basic core courses or take them on a condensed timeline. Admissions committees need to have confidence that an applicant will be successful in this rigorous format. Foundational knowledge of and strong performance in fundamental business coursework is the best way to put their minds (and your own) at ease.

Which Programs Offer a One-Year Option?

Several of the top US-based MBA programs have well-established one-year options. Kellogg’s ‘1Y’ program was one of the first and remains one of the largest. While technically longer than one year in duration at 16 months, Columbia’s ‘J-Term’ where students start in January instead of August also fits the bill. Outside of the ‘M7’, Cornell and Emory also offer one-year options.

In addition to the ‘general curriculum’ programs, Cornell and Stern offer one-year ‘Tech MBAs’ and Stern offers a one-year ‘Fashion and Luxury MBA’. These highly specialized programs are targeted at those already in the focus industry who wish to remain there after graduation.

It seems that new programs are entering the one-year space each year, so this list is far from exhaustive! It also doesn’t include European MBA programs, many of which are shorter in duration than the typical two-year track of US programs.

At the end of the day, for someone with the right profile, a one-year MBA can be a great option, allowing you to fill in skill gaps on an expedited timeline and likely at a reduced cost.

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