The MBA options

by Des Dearlove

Studying for an MBA need not be a worry with the increasing range of options available at most MBA schools, from studying part-time to taking your MBA over the Internet.

Our guide covers the following options:

  • Full time
  • Part time
  • Modular
  • Single company and consortium MBAs
  • Executive MBAs
  • Distance learning
  • Internet based MBAs

Full Time MBAs
The full-time MBA is the traditional campus experience and comes in two varieties:

  • Two-year programmes
  • The classic “American” MBA is a two-year programme. The first year covers the core curriculum and the workload is famously heavy. The second year gives students the opportunity to follow their interests through electives. These are optional courses, requiring students to make their own choices, depending on personal interests and future career plans.

  • One-year programmes
  • One-year MBAs typically squeeze the core courses into the first two semesters, leaving the third for students to focus on electives – although, inevitably, there is less time for specialisation.
One big advantage of the longer version of the MBA is that it allows plenty of time for the summer internship, which comes halfway through the course. This is often an assignment or project carried out in a company and paid for by it. In some cases, the fee can make a significant contribution to the costs of the programme. Students on full-time programmes are mostly self-financed. Many are career changers.

Part Time MBAs
Part-time MBAs account for a growing share of the total MBA market and include:

  • Modular MBAs
  • Single company and consortium MBAs
  • Executive MBAs
  • Distance-learning MBAs
  • Internet-based MBAs

Part-time MBAs usually take between two and three years to complete. Juggling work, study and family commitments is hard and, typically, students have a more restricted choice of electives. However, the obvious benefits are being able to learn while you earn and not having to chase a job when you graduate. Part-time MBA participants are a mix of self-funded and sponsored students.

  • Modular MBAs
  • Modular MBAs are essentially sandwich courses. Longer blocks – or modules – of residential study are interspersed with assignments, online seminars, discussion groups and distance-learning modules. They are full-time learning experiences that blend classroom and practical learning. Most students are sponsored by their employer and alternate between modules of classroom MBA education and periods spent back at their company working on projects linked to what they’ve learned on campus. The modular approach is popular with employers. Corporate universities, whose numbers are growing rapidly, are also likely to link up with business schools to provide more modular MBAs in the future. The advent of online courses and learning materials also favours the modular approach.

  • Single company and consortium MBAs
  • A number of business schools operate company MBA programmes in partnership with sponsoring employers. Typically modular in design, places are filled by managers from the same company (single-company MBA) or a group of companies (consortium MBA). Restricted entry to these programmes means that the mix of student backgrounds is less diverse. Company MBAs may also include a degree of tailoring to the particular industry or company.

  • Executive MBAs
  • So-called ‘Executive MBAs’ (EMBAs) are another variant. Targeted at more senior managers, EMBAs typically combine part-time and modular course delivery. They tend to be individually supported by employers, ranging from full financial backing for the cost of the course to, at the very least, giving employees time off before exams and permission to leave early on study evenings. The delivery of EMBAs has been greatly facilitated by developments in e-learning and alliances between business schools. Indeed, some of the most significant developments in the delivery of the MBA are occurring in this area, notably partnerships between schools to combine their strongest suits. A number of business schools now offer multi-centre international or global MBA programmes. EMBA participants tend to be slightly older and more senior in their organisations.

  • Distance learning
  • Distance-learning programmes have the same content as part- and full-time ones, but the difference is that almost all are undertaken by private study. Most schools also have a mandatory residential week at least once a year and also encourage students to get together in study groups. Typically, a distance-learning MBA takes three to four years and involves on average 15 hours’ study a week. Online teaching and the Internet have given distance learning an enormous boost, both in turnaround time on assignments, and in facilitating contact between students and faculty through chat rooms. Distance learners benefit from flexible study hours and working at their own speed.

  • Internet-based MBAs
    Beyond these established MBA delivery modes, there are now also a number of Internet-based MBA courses. Despite the obvious attractions of online MBAs, however, they have some way to go to become accepted as equal to traditional MBA delivery modes.

Des Dearlove is a business journalist and co-founder of the media content, concepts and consulting business, Suntop Media. A former commissioning editor for The Times in the UK, he contributes to newspapers and magazines all over the world. He is co-author of Gravy Training: Inside the Business of Business Schools (Jossey-Bass, 1999).

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