January 17, 2013
We often get questions about part-time MBA programs and their value. We thought it would be good to take a look at some of the pros and cons of this MBA option.
As for the pros, the one candidates cite most frequently is that the part-time MBA has a limited opportunity cost. Unlike the full-time MBA student, the part-time MBA student does not miss out on two years of salary and still has the opportunity to earn raises and promotions while completing his/her studies. Furthermore, firm sponsorship seems to be more prevalent for part-time MBAs, so candidates who have this option can truly come out ahead, with a free education and continued earning throughout. Beyond the financial rationale, many part-time MBA students see an academic advantage; they can learn both in the classroom and at work and can then turn theory into practice (and vice versa) in real time, on an ongoing basis. Of course, a cynic might add that another pro is that part-time MBA programs are generally less selective. So, some candidates who may have had a hard time getting accepted to a traditional two-year program may have a better chance of being admitted to a well-regarded school in its part-time program rather than in its full-time program.
As for the cons, many part-time MBA candidates feel that the comparative lack of structure means that networking opportunities within the class are more limited. While one part-time Kellogg student could complete the school’s MBA program in two years, another might complete it in five. As a result, with candidates completing the program at such different paces, students will not likely see each other regularly in the same classes, at the same social events, etc. In addition, in a traditional MBA environment, academics always come first; in a part-time environment, work typically comes first, and academics come second (or even third, after family). In other words, the full-time program generally involves greater intensity with regard to the classroom experience, given that it is the sole focal point of students’ lives. Another thing to consider is that some MBA programs do not offer all of their “star” faculty to part-time students (something that candidates should definitely ask about before enrolling) and offer limited access to on-grounds recruiting.
With this post, we are not trying to offer a definitive “answer” or present a bias for a particular kind of program, but are simply trying to present some objective facts for candidates to consider as they make informed choices for themselves.
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Let me begin by introducing the 700lb gorilla in the room: creating a sound financial argument for choosing to quit your job and go to b-school full-time is extremely difficult. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the financial reasons to consider a part-time MBA program.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to move beyond the money issue and speak about what going full-time meant to my experience as compared with the many part-time students I worked with while in school. Then I’ll kick it over to my colleague, Jonathan Wylie (a current part-time MBAer) to see what he has to say about his experience as he finishes up his first year in Berkeley’s program. I’ll begin at the beginning…
Upon entering business school in pursuit of an MBA, the “non-traditional” label fit me like an old pair of jeans. My undergraduate degree was in fine arts with a concentration in sculpture. I spent most of my twenties working as a studio artist and craftsman in various small businesses from North Carolina all the way up to Alaska. I made my money with my hands and my eyes. I saw myself as a journeyman: out to learn all I could about materials and the processes for working with them, creating designs and writing proposals, managing client expectations with the realities of a project, and developing a small business while keeping the creative fires burning and, well, creating.
I am fundamentally bent toward immersion, and after a path that took me across the oceans and around the globe, I made the decision to get a Master’s in Business Administration about 3 months before applications were due. For me, attending part-time was never an option. I knew that this would represent a sea-change in my life and I had every intention of making the most of it. I took the GMAT, applied, and, when the time came, was glad to leave the job I held. I was excited to get back into academia with the drive and purpose only a graduate student can muster.
Choosing to go full-time presented me with options I would never have had otherwise. It began with a graduate assistantship position (one of few offered and only offered to full-timers) and a scholarship (again, only offered to full-time students and although it was not comprehensive, it did pay for approximately my first year of classes). What’s more, as a full-time student I was able to exploit the incredible array of opportunities one can only find either in or by way of an institution of higher learning. Classes were important for me, to be sure, but what I did outside of class was just as valuable, if not more so.
For example, I am a diehard advocate of experiential learning. Business competitions require an immense time commitment. I was able to participated in three. I also led 50 MBA students on three separate economic development service trips on the back of $60,000 in university funding. Those programs remain in place to this day and are specifically reserved for the school’s full-time learners. Beyond that, internships and study abroad programs (both highly valuable learning opportunities) are often out of reach for many part-time students due to their continuous professional commitments.
Upon completing the first year of core curriculum, my full-time cohort went their separate ways in order to pursue individual concentrations. During year 2, the majority of my classmates were part-time students and full-time professionals. While I was taking a full class load, working on a project with a Rwandan co-op, banging out the final version of a presentation for a conference, and writing a business plan, my new-found colleagues were using toothpicks to hold their eyes open during the lecture. I often spoke of all I did at the school when the tie-in was clear and relevant (something which happened with notable frequency). These instances were often met with lament: “That would be nice if I had any extra time.”
After enough of those conversations, I took on the task of building bridges between our university’s full- and part-time students. I made it a point to offer up opportunities that came my way to everyone. I remember holding a meeting with the assistant dean of the business school to figure out why taking one part-time student out of a group of twenty with me on a trip to New Orleans was met with so much resistance. In the end, he allowed the student to go, but he conveyed the strategic importance of building a strong F/T program and, thus, of exhausting opportunities in that pursuit first.
All the way to graduation, I maintained the call for my part-time colleagues to do what they could to involve themselves in whatever possible outside of scheduled classes. I still sound that drum when I stand in front of them as their MGT500 instructor and bang it frequently for my Kaplan students who will soon be at graduate school themselves. In the end, I am much more concerned with expanding what graduate school has to offer beyond the classroom.
I am an advocate of choosing to attend full-time if that is a viable option for you. This will very likely be your last gulp of academia, and I implore you to drink every last drop. What do you think Jonathan?
January 28, 2012
You are going to be very busy in business school. Whether a part-time or full-time student, time will be in short supply. So does it make sense to add even more work to an already heavy load? Unequivocally, “Yes!”
I have written before about the importance of getting involved in extra-curricular activities while in grad school. In fact, experiential learning initiatives are becoming part of the curriculum at our nation’s b-schools. Why? Because of their inarguable value in terms of augmenting your education.
OK, so how do you get involved? The most common way is to enter into a business competition. There are many of these competitions throughout the year, each unique in its own way. Perhaps your institution even hosts one, or regularly participates in some long-standing competitions year after year. Whether or not there is a participation precedent set, b-school administration is usually very supportive of such initiatives.
Do your research, gather a team, and get into the game. The experience will be well worth the extra work.