Which MBA format is right for me?

Full-time, part-time, hybrid, online… MBA programs come in a range of formats, making it difficult to know which one is best for you. We decided to ask admissions consultant Barbara Coward for some advice on choosing the right MBA format.

In short

Barbara’s role as an admissions consultant

When it comes to applying for an MBA, it’s important to seek advice from as many people as possible. While friends, family, and colleagues can help, you’re likely to learn more from someone who has been through the process. In the case of Barbara Coward, she has seen both sides.

Barbara has worked in a number of admissions roles for business schools in the UK and the US. She is now an independent MBA admissions consultant. She believes those years of experience have given her some valuable insights into the admissions process.

“One of the things I do is look at it from the perspective of being ‘inside the curtain’ – because I’ve done that and I know what the decision-making process is like,” she explains. “I always say that the biggest job you have to do as an applicant is to help [the admissions team] make a decision.” (02:05)

When you send off an MBA application to a team of people you’ve never met, it could feel like you’re not in control of the outcome. But Barbara says that you actually have more control over the process than you might think. Her job is to make sure you take full advantage of the things you can control.

“What you can do, and what you have control over, is presenting a clear and compelling message or presentation of who you are, how you would take advantage of the program, and what you would do afterward,” she asserts. “It’s basically creating that vision. That’s really what I spend a lot of time doing with applicants at all stages of the admissions journey.” (02:52)

How to choose between a full-time or part-time MBA

MBA programs come in a number of different formats. Choosing the MBA format that’s right for you can be a challenge. Part-time programs, for instance, tend to appeal to the type of person that can juggle multiple things at once.

“If you’re somebody who likes your job or likes earning a living, and you don’t want to give that up, then a part-time program is great. You continue to get your paycheck, you continue to go to work and you learn on the evenings and weekends,” Barbara says. “The challenge is that there’s a lot on your plate. All of a sudden you have not only school time and classes, but you have studying [and] team meetings on top of everything else.” (04:14)

On the other hand, a full-time program means putting everything aside and focusing entirely on a program for 1-2 years. Although this is a riskier option on paper, there are some upsides to full-time programs compared to part-time MBAs. In the end, it really depends on what type of person you are.

“The full-time is riskier because you’re giving up your job and your income and you don’t know what you’re going to do afterward, but people say with the full-time it’s better for a career-switcher because you typically have an internship where you can try out a company. You don’t have that with part-time,” she tells us. (05:36)

“If you’re somebody who can juggle a bunch of different things then part-time is probably okay, but if you’re somebody who just wants to focus on one thing then full-time is better,” she concludes. (05:23)

Does age matter when choosing an MBA format?

So, where does age come into this? The conventional wisdom is that part-time programs tend to attract older applicants, who have more professional and personal responsibilities. However, Barbara says you actually tend to find a real mix of ages in a part-time class. Executive programs, rather than part-time, are where you’ll find a slightly higher average age.

“I separate part-time programs from executive programs, so that’s where I see that age matters. A lot of times in the part-time programs, there are some people who are just one year out of college. But then you’re also going to have people who graduated 30 years ago. So you’re going to have a mixture of perspectives in the classroom,” she explains. (06:57)

“The executive program is going to be much more strict on the 5-7 years of not only work experience, but leadership experience,” she adds. (07:30)

When it comes to full-time MBA programs, it’s all about finding the balance. You don’t want to rush into applying when you don’t have enough work experience. But, you also don’t want to wait too long and miss the optimum time for applying. 

“I always think there’s more latitude with the part-time MBA program however many years’ work experience you have. Whereas with the full-time it’s like, ‘Okay, do I have enough experience for it to be sensible to do it now? Or do I have too much [experience] and a big consulting firm will be afraid to hire me?’” adds Barbara. (08:22)

How Barbara’s advice differs for full-time and part-time applicants

As an admissions consultant, Barbara also has to find a balance. Having seen both sides of the curtain, she knows that the demands are different for a full-time and part-time student. This is something she takes into account when advising her own clients.

“It’s a different decision-making process, and typically a full-time program is much more competitive [than a part-time program],” she explains. “By and large, you really have to differentiate yourself with the full-time program, whereas with the part-time executive programs, the concerns are a little different.” (08:52)

“They really want to make sure before they let you in that you’re going to be able to balance part-time studies with working, with perhaps a family. So it’s a different way of advising for the full-time program.” (10:06)

Choosing an MBA format that meets your requirements is an essential part of the MBA search and it shouldn’t be neglected. By working with an admissions consultant from early on in the process, you’re giving yourself the best possible chance of settling on the format that’s right for you. It is the first step of a long but rewarding journey to finding your dream MBA.

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