What’s In It For Them?

When Evaluating MBA Program Formats, Take A Closer Look at the Incentives Driving Business Schools

At that last information session you attended, the Associate Director of Admissions gave an impressive presentation and sold you on the idea of pursuing your MBA part-time.  Not only would you be able to keep your job to attend classes at night, at the end of three years, you would also have a newly minted degree along with additional years of full-time work experience and maybe even another promotion.  As the seemingly endless possibilities raced through your mind, the presenter also claimed you would get the same quality of education as the full-timers complete with the same professors and career placement opportunities.  A part-time MBA seemed like the obvious choice.

The advantage you may gain by continuing on a steady career trajectory while also working towards an MBA, may be worth more than you could have ever imagined. However, before you make the final decision on whether or not to pursue a full-time, part-time, or executive MBA, you must evaluate the real advantages and disadvantages of each format.  Start by looking at the incentives driving business schools.

The Full-Time MBA and Rankings:

Full-time MBA programs in the U.S. are driven by rankings.  Business schools are incentivized to do everything they can to land the top slots in the Business Week and U.S. News and World Report rankings, which are released annually in March and November.  Rankings systems that evaluate full time programs have the most time intensive methodologies that incorporate a number of quantitative factors, so schools have a lot to be accountable for.   Factors including the average GMAT score, GPA of incoming classes, student evaluations of the school, and the percentage of graduates employed within three months of graduation are evaluated.  So what does this mean for you as a prospective applicant to a full-time program?  It means that because business schools devote a lot of time and attention to upholding competitive admissions standards along with a highly qualified career placement staff, you will be entering a full-time class that is far more diverse and competitive than its part-time or executive counterparts.  Your full-time experience will also be complete with a plethora of resources devoted to helping you find an internship and job post-MBA.  Applicants who apply to full-time programs come from all around the world and those who are accepted meet stringent admissions standards that require competitive GMAT scores and GPAs, an impressive professional track record and an ability to set themselves apart and articulate their short and long term goals throughout their essays and interviews.  As a full-time admit, you may also qualify for generous merit-based scholarships, that is if the schools want you and believe you will contribute favorably to their class and rankings placement. 

The Part-Time/Executive MBA Programs and Revenue:

Merit based scholarships are not available in part-time or executive programs.  This is because part-time and executive MBA programs are huge revenue-generators, rather than rankings generators, for the schools.  Admissions directors are incentivized to fill their classes even if it means compromising the same admissions standards applied to their full-time applicants and/or painting a rosier picture to prospective students regarding the similarities between the full-time and part-time experience.  It is important to note that part-time and executive rankings are based on subjective data, so admissions statistics don’t play an important role.  When it comes to part-time and executive admissions standards, it is also important to note that the bar is set lower simply because part-time and executive applicants are a fairly self-selecting group.  They are typically only those who are living and working in the city where the MBA program is based (there are some exceptions for EMBA programs).  So what does this mean for you as a prospective applicant to a part-time or executive program?  It means admissions will be less competitive, but you will still be able to get a degree from a prestigious business school, one you may not have been granted access to if you applied to their full-time program; You will have a less diverse class with far fewer international classmates than if you were to enroll in the full-time program; You won’t qualify for any scholarships, but you won’t forgo the opportunity cost of quitting your job for two years; In their sales pitch, schools may say you will be taught by the same faculty members as the full-time program, but usually this isn’t entirely the case; Schools may also say you will have access to the same career placement resources, but this is usually never the case.  You may not even need career placement assistance, especially if you just want to progress at your current company.  However, if you want to switch careers entirely, a full-time program will be a better bet for you.

Just like the contrasting rankings methodologies employed for full-time and part-time programs, the differences between the two MBA formats are stark.  Don’t let any sales pitch convince you otherwise.  Take the time to get the right information to help you make the best decision for your future.