One-Year MBA Programs: Faster and Cheaper, but Better?

An increasing percentage of MBA applicants are opting for a 12-month, continuous curriculum rather than the traditional two-year MBA program.

Drawing from my admission consulting firm’s experience with nearly 4,000 future MBAs, I’m pleased to share the following observations with those who are considering this "accelerated" option.

The academic structure of a one-year MBA education is identical to the two-year equivalent in that both include a set of core courses in the basic business disciplines (e.g., marketing, finance, operations, and so on) as well as a set of elective classes. Both programs feature the “cohort” model in which you take core classes with the same group of fellow students, with the freedom to choose your own electives. And graduates of both programs have the same "standing" within and access to their respective global alumni networks.

In deciding whether a one-year MBA program is the right choice for you, there are a number of differences to consider. To help you choose, I have identified key benefits and drawbacks experienced by those who elected to follow the faster track.

What are the benefits?

1. You’ll save money and time.

You’ll earn the same degree in half the time. This means that you’ll save thousands of dollars in tuition expense and begin earning a post-MBA salary sooner. This is the primary driver for those who prefer a one-year program.

2. You’ll have an equal or even better financial outcome vs. grads of two-year programs.

You may be surprised to learn that the average compensation for grads of one-year programs is identical to — and sometimes higher than — that awarded to graduates of two-year programs. Why? Well, one-year students tend to be a little older, more experienced, and more committed to their current career path, so some employers believe they deserve a premium salary.

3. One-year programs are offered by excellent business schools around the world.

Your target list of schools can include some of the world’s highest-ranked programs — including America’s own Kellogg School, France’s INSEAD, Switzerland’s International Institute of Management Development (IMD), and Spain’s IE Business School — each of which features one-year MBA programs.

What are the drawbacks?

1. You’ll miss out on a summer internship.

The most obvious sacrifice is the chance for a summer internship to explore a new role and/or a new industry. This is especially meaningful for students interested in post-MBA jobs in management consulting and investment banking since the top firms in those fields use internships as a way to identify and vet their eventual full-time hires.

2. You’ll have less time to network with fewer people.

On a more personal note, one-year programs allow less time for bonding and socializing among classmates. Moreover, you’ll be exposed to only your own cohort. By contrast, students in two-year MBA programs effectively triple their network by getting to interact with their own cohort plus their school's prior and subsequent cohorts.

3. There’s a limited number of U.S.-schools offering one-year programs.

Finally, the list of business schools in the U.S. that offer one-year MBA programs is quite limited. The only top-10 program offering a one-year MBA is the previously-mentioned Kellogg School — and only a dozen b-schools in the top 100 offer this option.

Who is best suited for a one-year MBA?

Based on these pros and cons, the ideal candidate for the one-year option has some or all of these traits:

  • Experienced and mature; not seeking to replicate her “college days”
  • Knows exactly what she wants to do post-MBA; not a career-switcher
  • Leans towards a corporate or entrepreneurial future
  • Financially motivated to minimize the cost of MBA tuition and forgone income
  • Internationally oriented, seeks a global education and network

How can I make a decision?

If you’re still having a hard time choosing between one- or two-year programs, you’re not alone. Many applicants find it difficult to compare these options and determine which is the better path for them.

So, consider reaching out to people in your network who have completed a one- or two-year MBA. Ask them questions about what you can anticipate, and what they wish they had known when they were applying. If you are having trouble finding MBA graduates or candidates, reach out to the schools you are considering and ask if they can put you in touch with current students or recent alumni.

Admissions consultants, such as my company, The MBA Exchange, can provide a professional evaluation of your candidacy as well as help steer you to programs that align best with your background and goals.

In either case, you’ll want to attend a highly ranked school that offers the knowledge, perspective, and network to achieve your greatest potential. So, the sooner you narrow your focus and launch your admissions campaign, the more competitive your candidacy will be.

Use Noodle to search for MBA programs based on the criteria that matter most to you.