Part-Time vs. Full-Time MBA: 6 Points to Consider

Why do some students choose part-time MBA programs, while others opt for full-time experiences?

A large proportion — more than 50 percent — of business school students opt for part-time programs. While this option is popular, it has drawbacks. My experience with The MBA Exchange, a company that has advised thousands of applicants, has led me to see and understand the factors that prospective b-school students consider in their decision-making processes.

If you’re wrestling with this decision yourself, here are six factors to consider when comparing part-time and full-time programs:

1. Credential

The curriculum and faculty are pretty much identical for part-time and full-time programs, and the diploma earned by part-timers reads "MBA," with no distinction from the full-time equivalent. (Note: This is not necessarily true for executive MBA programs, which are technically "part-time" but have classes and requirements different from those of the standard — part-time or full-time — MBA program.)

2. Finances

For some individuals, attending a full-time MBA program requires taking a vow of poverty to pay for it. Not only do they tap deeply into their savings accounts, but in most cases, there's also a need for substantial borrowing. Tuition is roughly the same for part-timers, but the big difference is that they don't have to give up their day jobs in order to attend business school. In short, the opportunity costs of attending b-school are not as high for part-timers.

Merit-based scholarships, grants, and fellowships typically go to full-time MBA students, however.

In some cases, the employer of a part-time student may be willing to subsidize the cost of attending b-school. (Full-time students may also receive employer assistance for their programs, typically on the condition that they return to the company and stay for a fixed period of time after completing their degrees.)

The bottom line is, consider your assets, the available subsidies, and your cash-flow needs when making the part-time vs. full-time MBA comparison.

3. Family

Most part-time MBA programs hold classes on evenings and/or weekends, while full-time students take courses on weekdays. A spouse, significant other, kids, or other dependents will factor into your decision. Whether you attend school part-time or full-time, you'll feel stress — and even some guilt — when you're in class, meeting with a study group, or attending an on-campus event. For those who have a demanding day job plus a "second job" of engaging with family, the option of earning a part-time MBA may be impossible.

For further advice, read Nedda Gilbert's series on Going to Business School with a Family.

4. Career

If you like the direction of your current career and see solid growth potential with your present employer, then a part-time MBA represents an ideal way to solidify, accelerate, and elevate your trajectory. Each day, you'll have the chance to show senior management how much value you're adding by bringing your b-school knowledge to the workplace.

Or, does your plan for pursuing an MBA education include doing a summer internship in a new role or industry that you want to explore? Are you seeking to re-engineer your professional profile in order to make a significant career change upon graduation? If so, a full-time MBA is probably a better fit. Recruiters line up every spring to meet and hire grads from full-time programs, while part-timers tend to do more independent searches.

5. Culture

For many MBA students, b-school is an extension of the fun they had in college — or a "do-over" for a less-than-positive undergrad experience. Social events, athletic competitions, club meetings, road trips, study breaks, and after-class coffee chats are standard components of the full-time MBA education. Lifelong friendships are fostered by the "cohort" learning model, in which a group of students attends the same classes together for a full year. While part-time programs offer more scheduling flexibility, there is a tradeoff; these programs also have far fewer informal opportunities to socialize and bond with classmates.

In addition, the student body in full-time programs tends to be more international than in part-time programs. Whereas full-timers hail from the four corners of the world, part-timers tend to be domestic — often, commuters with full-time jobs.

6. Admissions

How do your GPA and GMAT or GRE score compare to the median for full-time admits at your dream business school? It's a fact that the academic requirements for full-time MBA admission are higher than those for part-time programs. So, if you're attracted to the prestige of top-10 MBA "brands" — such as Berkeley Haas, Chicago Booth, or Northwestern Kellogg — but your academic stats fall short of the "middle 80 percent" of full-time admits, then you should consider the part-time offerings of such schools.

Caveat: Your classes won't be any easier as a part-time student than as a full-timer, but at least you'll have a better chance of getting admitted.

A Final Word

Is your head spinning a bit by all of these considerations and comparisons? If you're still uncertain about whether to pursue a part-time or full-time MBA, then think about getting an evaluation of your candidacy by a professional admissions consultant who has worked with both kinds of applicants. She can share real-world examples of past clients who have faced this decision, made a confident choice, and went on to have a truly amazing and valuable business school experience.

Use Noodle to search for MBA programs based on the criteria that matter to you, including filters for schools that offer part-time and executive programs.