Choosing an MBA program format that works for you

There are many different types of MBA’s out there, making it difficult when it comes to choosing an MBA program format. To understand the different formats and help you choose the right MBA program, we spoke to Chris Healy, Head of MBA Marketing and Recruitment at Alliance Manchester Business School.

In short

The Full-time MBA

Arguably the most common MBA format is the full-time option. It’s also the easiest to understand. Full-time MBAs are typically studied Monday to Friday over the course of one to two years (depending on the program). While two-year programs are the norm in North America, full-time MBA programs in Europe typically last 12 months.

Whether it’s one year, two years, or 18 months, you’ve got to put everything aside in a full-time MBA. You may have to leave your job, move countries, and commit 100% to the program. Chris Healy is the Head of MBA Marketing and Recruitment at Alliance Manchester Business School. He says it’s worth questioning whether you’re willing to do that.

“I think the first question to ask yourself is: Can you do a full-time MBA or are you going to continue to work full-time? I always believe that should be a fairly easy decision because in your heart of hearts, you know what your current situation is,” he says. “A full-time MBA does require more commitment. There’s no doubt about that. On the other hand, with part-time MBA programs you have to balance your job, studies, and family life as well.” (00:55)

The part-time MBA

Part-time MBA programs are typically studied over evenings, weekends, or both. However, it may be a surprise to learn that Chris thinks this type of MBA program is waning in popularity. The issue is part-time MBAs tend to attract local applicants, which doesn’t give students the global cohort they’re looking for.

“I think a lot of schools would probably use ‘part-time MBA’ in the past tense because they’re a lot less popular now,” he explains. “The reason I say that is because part-time evening/weekend MBAs mean you’re attending class for, say, three hours on a Tuesday evening and three hours on a Thursday evening. And in a program like that, you would only be recruiting local students.” (04:11)

Chris continues, “What I’m seeing from MBA students is that they really want to be in a big global cohort. They don’t just want to be with students from that specific city that they work in. So there are advantages and disadvantages.” (04:55)

A part-time MBA requires less commitment than a full-time program, and it means you can keep your current job. However, the in-person nature of a part-time program means they tend to attract more applicants from the local area. If you want the flexibility of part-time study, as well as an international mix of classmates, an online MBA might be an interesting option to explore.

The online MBA

As one program format declines in popularity, another one rises. It may not be a surprise to learn that online MBAs have been steadily growing in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic led to travel restrictions all over the world.

“There has been such a huge growth of online MBA programs, and that was the case before the pandemic,” reveals Chris. “Of course, they have grown even more since. An online MBA has so many advantages. You can take it from anywhere in the world, you don’t have to travel, and it can all be done online.” (02:16)

Choosing an MBA program is all about weighing up its advantages and disadvantages. Chris outlines a perennial issue for online programs: the lack of social interaction.

“Of course, one of the disadvantages of the online MBA is that you do miss out on that face-to-face contact. So again, it’s up to the individual to balance it out. Yes, there are advantages online, but also the disadvantage of not having face-to-face contact,” he says. (02:52)

The modular, distance, and/or blended MBA

To help us understand these different types of MBA programs, let’s place them on a sliding scale. At one end, there’s the online program. At the other end, there’s the in-person program. Positioned at the “online” end is a program you may have heard referred to as a “modular” or “distance” MBA. Chris says these types of MBAs offer the flexibility of an online program, but also the chance for you to meet your fellow students and staff face-to-face.

“You might have a week residential at the start of the program, and then a week residential at the end. So there’s still a lot of online study, but it’s mixed in with more face-to-face contact than an online MBA,” he tells us. (03:19)

Alliance Manchester Business School also offers what is known as a “blended MBA.” You might place it at the halfway point of our sliding scale, as it offers an equal mix of online and in-person study.

“At Manchester, we have more of a blended program,” Chris says. “Yes there’s online study, but you also come onto campus three times per year for one-week blocks.” (03:48)

The executive MBA

Executive MBA programs tend to be targeted at older, more experienced candidates who are further along in their careers. For this reason, they’re typically studied alongside existing work and family commitments – either online, in-person, or both. But, they do tend to come at a higher cost than traditional MBAs, so Chris says you should take this into account before applying.

“I think Executive MBAs are great, and you have to consider the face-to-face element – up to 90 days on some of the top Executive MBA programs. But they do come with a significant cost, so if you can commit to 70 days out of the office in an 18-month period, and that works for you, go for it,” he says. “But the reality is: how many people can commit to that amount of time out of the office, as well as the huge program fees?” (05:18)

It’s a valid point, and Executive MBAs certainly take up less of the market share than full-time MBAs. However, GMAC research shows that 14% of MBA applicants are considering studying an Executive MBA – which is not too dissimilar to part-time (19%), flexible (16%), and online (11%) programs. Of course, this may change in the coming years.

Choosing an MBA program format that works for you

Cost, career ambitions, free time, work experience, flexibility… These are all factors that you have to take into account when choosing an MBA program format. Ultimately, it comes down to you.

“Back when I started in this industry, people would always say there’s a specific Executive MBA type of student, and that it would be different to a blended or online student. But I don’t think that’s the case anymore,” he states. (06:32)

“I think for the traditional part-time programs, you perhaps had a younger demographic. Although that younger demographic were previously looking at full-time MBAs, they’re also now looking at the wealth of professional MBA options that are available to them,” he adds. (07:18)

Do you have the time for a full-time MBA? Would you prefer the flexibility of an online program? Do you want a mix of online and in-person studies?

These are the sorts of questions you need to answer when choosing an MBA program format. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each, then figure out the format that’s right for you. This is one of the first steps of your MBA journey, but it could be one of the most important. Good luck!

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